5 Things: Nicklaus talks on eve of Father/Son
ORLANDO, Fla. – Jack Nicklaus had plenty to chat about Friday after his pro-am round at the PNC Father/Son Challenge at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club.
From his Saturday pairing with Arnold Palmer to his lunch date Thursday with Rory McIlroy to his feelings on Tom Watson being selected as the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, Nicklaus shared his thoughts on a variety of topics as he prepares for Saturday’s first round.
Here are 5 Things from Friday afternoon’s interview session with Nicklaus:
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THE PAIRING: With the first of two rounds beginning Saturday, you can bet most every eye on site at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club will be on Jack and Arnie.
And per usual, Nicklaus joked about yet another pairing of two of golf’s biggest icons.
“We playing with Arnold tomorrow? Are we? Nicklaus asked. Yeah, Arnold and I played a few times together. I think we'll have fun. I don't think there is any question about that.”
With 25 majors between them, Nicklaus and Palmer will play together for the first time since May, when they competed in an exhibition match in Houston. There were times back in the day when the two would play themselves out of contention trying to beat the other, Nicklaus concedes. But Saturday’s reunion will just be another chapter in the friendly rivalry that has developed between them.
“We've tried to beat each other's brains out the best we could on the golf course,” Nicklaus said. “When we walk off the golf course, we shake hands and say, ‘Where you going to dinner?’ That's good. That's what we've done all our lives. The rivalry has never become a bitter rivalry, which I would hope certainly that nothing like that would never be part of it.”
Nicklaus will team up with his son Gary while Palmer will play with grandson Will Wears. They will tee off at 9:58 a.m.
“I think that we'll all play Gary and Will's tee shots, and Arnold and I might do a little putting,” Nicklaus said. “That'll be about it.”
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PAIR OF RETURNS: The 2012 PNC Father/Son Challenge will mark a pair of returns. First, it will be the first time the event has been played since 2008, when Larry Nelson and son Drew won what was then called the Del Webb Father/Son Challenge. And secondly, it will mark the first time Nicklaus has played significant golf since May.
Nicklaus said he played all of about 18 holes from May 31 to Oct. 31. And in the time since, he has played a few rounds and practiced a bit. “This week, I went out and hit some balls a couple times,” he said.
Nicklaus put it simply: “It’s kind of a crash course.”
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TOM ‘REALLY WANTED’ CAPTAINCY: Tom Watson is set to become the seventh repeat U.S. Ryder Cup captain and first since Nicklaus led the American squad at Muirfield Village in 1987.
So what does Nicklaus think of the pick? He expanded on his initial statement of support Thursday during his news conference Friday in Orlando.
“I can understand why Watson was selected,” Nicklaus said. “I think the PGA wanted a real leader coming down the stretch. Not that the other guys that could have been selected were not leaders. They just felt that Tom was, in Scotland, the strongest of the people that could be considered.
“There are other guys that I'm sure will have their turn. But I was selected twice to do it. I think it's a nice honor for Tom. He'll do a good job – no question about that.”
Nicklaus said Watson texted him – well, texted Nicklaus’ wife, Barbara, “because I don’t get texts,” he said – after Nicklaus’ comments Thursday.
“He texted Barbara and said to thank Jack for his nice comments,” Nicklaus said. “He said, ‘I really wanted to do this.’ I thought that was nice.”
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LUNCH WITH RORY: Nicklaus wasn’t present during Thursday’s pro-am portion of the Father/Son Challenge. Instead, he spent time having lunch with Rory McIlroy.
And the first thing Nicklaus noticed about the two-time major winner who won the money titles on the PGA and European tours this season?
“He’s gotten a lot bigger,” Nicklaus said. “I said, ‘Don't lift yourself out of your golf game.’ His shoulders have gotten very big, and his arms have gotten big. He said he's really been working out a lot.”
Nicklaus said he invited McIlroy and his girlfriend, tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, over to play a little grass-court tennis, too.
Said Nicklaus: “I said (to Rory), ‘You and I will be partners. You can run, can't you?’ He said, ‘Yeah. My strokes aren't very good.’ I said, ‘Well, my strokes are all right, but I can't run.’”
There’s no question that Palmer’s presence, and later the competition from Lee Trevino and Tom Watson, made Nicklaus a better player. In fact, Nicklaus said as much Friday: “No question about it.” So when it comes to McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, and the notion of his pushing Tiger Woods to be a better player?
“It would definitely be helpful,” Nicklaus said. “I think for Tiger, Tiger probably needs somebody to pop him a few times so he gets a chance to go pop it back, you know what I mean? I think that's the way all sports work.
“It's kind of good for you to get drummed a couple times, and then all of a sudden you say, ‘I'm not getting drummed anymore. I'm going to go drum that guy back.’”
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PRESIDENT-SIZED CLUBHOUSE RENOVATION: As part of its preparation for the 2013 Presidents Cup, Nicklaus' Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, is undergoing significant upgrades to its clubhouse.
“If we can afford it, it'll be very nice,” Nicklaus said jokingly. “Don't laugh, man. It's expensive.”
The renovations include essentially a total makeover of the clubhouse, including adding 6,000 square feet of space for a fitness center and cart barn, an iconic tower to be used as reading space, and the addition of a six-suite pavilion that will connect both parts of the current clubhouse. The existing portions of the clubhouse also will undergo improvements – “Except the locker room,” Nicklaus said. “Haven't done anything in the locker room. We’ll do that next phase – if we can afford a next phase.”