Nicklaus' scouting report on Merion: Don't hold back
DUBLIN, Ohio Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.
Per custom, host Jack Nicklaus grabbed a microphone on Memorial Tournament eve and waxed extensively on topics past, present and future. This annual “World According to Jack” address is among the most interesting staples in golf, because of what is being said and who is weighing in.
This time, early on, the subject matter swung around to Merion, site of next month’s U.S. Open. And Nicklaus wasted no time in throwing a fastball at the common belief that players will hit few drivers off the tee at a course measuring almost 7,000 yards.
“If they’re only using (driver) two or three times, you’re not going to win a golf tournament,” said Nicklaus, who lost an 18-hole Open playoff to Lee Trevino there in 1971 when the course measured 6,544 yards. “That’s my opinion at Merion. You’ve got 2, 4, 5, 6, 14, maybe 15, and 16 and 18 where you’re going to use your driver. That’s a number of times. And you may try to drive the green on one.”
As it happened, at least one golfer pulled out the big stick several times Tuesday at Merion. Tiger Woods, the defending Memorial champion, played a practice round at the suburban Philadelphia course and used “quite a few” drivers because of cold, wet and rainy conditions.
“I don’t think it’ll ever play as long,” Woods said.
He isn’t certain how often he’ll use driver in the Open. It depends on the conditions. If they are firm, Woods will lean on chasing 3-wood shots out there some 300 yards, which he did in winning The Players on a fast TPC Sawgrass track recently.
Woods sensed that in dry conditions players sometimes will hit 5-irons off tees on short par 4s and fire away from flags even when using a sand wedge. He said it makes sense that past winners at Merion, from Bobby Jones to Lee Trevino, were among the game’s best shotmakers.
Woods observed a place that has several easy holes and several hard ones. Or, as Nicklaus said, players will “abuse” some holes and some holes will “abuse” players.
“It’s not one of the golf courses that are in the middle road,” said Nicklaus, who last saw Merion last spring.
Nicklaus, whose record 18 majors outnumbers Woods by four, weighed in on a variety of other topics. Some highlights:
• On 2013 Memorial honoree Raymond Floyd, a four-time major champion: “If you ever want to have a short game to copy, he has a short game to copy.”
• On first being aware of big-time professional golf in 1953 when Ben Hogan won the Masters and then falling in love with the movie about Hogan’s comeback from near-fatal accident, “Follow the Sun”: “(It’s) one of the worst movies you’ll ever want to look at, but I’ve watched it 20 times (because) I enjoy the story. I’d go watch it again if it was on.”
• On wife Barbara, from the back of the room, motioning for him to fix his hair early in the news conference: “My wife is telling me my hair is blown out. I have to fix my hair. Is that better? She’s back there doing this (with her hands by her head). She used to do that when I lifted my head when I putted. (More laughter.)”
• On the 1971 Open at Merion: “I lost.” After laughter and a lengthy pause for effect, he elaborated with, “Outside of (two poor bunker shots and) catching a (fake) snake (playfully tossed by Trevino), I don’t remember much else.”
• On going on a Weight Watchers diet after the 1969 Ryder Cup and dropping 25 pounds, to 185. “At the time I was just shy of 6 feet. I’m about 5-8 now; I shrunk 4 inches. But they used to call me Big Jack. I was anywhere but big by the standard of the guys today.”
• On a recent controversy inflamed when Sergio Garcia insensitively joked about “fried chicken” and Woods did not accept an apology: “Guys usually resolve (issues) themselves. You guys want to resolve it in the newspapers today. I mean nobody needs that. And I think they both finally said it’s enough.”
• On whether he exercised back in his 20s or 30s: “Not even the football players lifted weights when I played.”
• On watching leaderboards down the stretch: “You’re seeing three guys that can really play (and) three guys that, they’re not going to win, they’re going to self-destruct. So you play your last few holes a little differently. ... a little smarter and you make sure you don’t make any dumb mistakes.”
• • •
Someone reading between the lines of comments made Wednesday by Davis Love III could get the impression the PGA Tour will follow the U.S. Golf Association ban on putter anchoring (effective 2016).
Asked if anchoring is going away on Tour, the man who has served multiple terms on the Tour policy board said, “I would assume so ... unless we want to be another rulemaking body.”
Love maintains that his close friend Tim Finchem, the Tour commissioner since 1994, said “let’s just get this done and then the golf ball or driver or ... whatever the next rule is, we’ll have more of a voice. He’s thinking ahead.”
Sounds like trading a political poker chip for a powerful one later.