Interview: Jack Nicklaus on Merion and Tiger Woods

Golf Equipment

The 18-time Major champion was vocal as ever in his annual hour-long press conference at his Memorial Tournament...

On reports that players will use drivers only two or three times at this year’s US Open..

Well, if they’re only using it [a driver] two or three times, you’re not going to win a golf tournament.  That’s my opinion at Merion.  
You’ve got 2, 4, 5, 6, 14, maybe 15, but 16 and 18 you’re going to use your driver. That’s a number of times.  
You may try to drive the green on 1, you may hit the driver.  
But I think that Merion will do very well for the U.S. Open.
I was there last spring and I think it will do very well. It’s going to have some holes that they’re going to abuse the golf course with, but they’re also going to have some holes on the golf course that are going to abuse them.  It’s not one of the golf courses that are in the middle road. It’s either tough or they’ll birdie the hole. Merion is a great golf course. I’d love to still have the golf game to go play it.

On Merion’s ability to host and test the world’s best players

Merion, in 1971 and 1981, was a golf course that was considered short. It was probably 6,600 yards is about what we played in those days, I think.
Today you’ve got it up to 69‑something.
You can play all of it, but they won’t. They’ll play it 68‑something or 69.  That’s what they’ll play. By today’s standards that’s very short. So what have they had to do to Merion to bring it up‑to‑date to be able to compete?  They can’t do anything with 1.  They could do very little with 2, except they took the fairway against the road. No. 3, 270 yard par‑3. With 619 yards is No. 4. And I mean, do you need 619 yards to have a par‑5?  
And then they go to about 530.  And then they go to about 515 or 20 or something on 6. All of a sudden that 475/80 yard par‑4, they’ve got a half a dozen holes that are around 500 yards.
That’s what they’ve had to do to make the golf course, so Merion can compete.  Because they can’t really do anything with holes like 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13.  Nice little holes, but by today’s standards that’s the ones that we’re talking about they’re going to abuse. But they will get abused back the other way to even it up.
I still think Merion is a wonderful golf course. To me they don’t really need to do that to the golf course. Go play Merion as Merion is. Will they break The Open record there if they would have played the old golf course? Yes.  But what does that mean? Is it that important? The importance is that you have a great championship and you win up with a great player who has played his best golf to win the championship. That’s what it’s all about, not the preservation of Merion as a golf course.

The importance is that you have a great championship and you win up with a great player who has played his best golf to win the championship. That’s what it’s all about, not the preservation of Merion as a golf course.

On fitness in the game and what it was like in his playing days

When I was in my 20s, I was about 210lbs, and at that time I was just shy of six foot. I’m about five‑eight now; I shrunk four inches. But they used to call me Big Jack. I was anywhere but big by the standard of the guys today.  The standard of the guys today is six‑two, three, four, they are big strong guys with big arms and can hit it a long way.
I was powerful in the lower part of my body and I used my legs.
I was at the Ryder Cup match in 1969 and playing 36 holes, the last day I got tired. The first time in my life I got tired.
My doctor always told me, Jack, he said you’re healthy, he said you play well, he said there will be a time when you need to know you’ll need to lose weight. Don’t worry about it.
I got tired in ’69. I told Barbara coming home on the plane I’m going to lose 20 pounds.  
I came home and a friend of mine had just used the Weight Watchers diet. I said let me try your diet. I’ve never tried a diet before. I used the Weight Watchers diet and I put on my shorts and a pair of golf shoes and went to the golf course with four or five clubs and would hit and run around the golf course.  
I did that for two weeks while I was doing the diet.  
I was worrying about my golf game being hurt by it.
I called a tailor, I said I would like to have somebody down in two weeks to adjust my clothes. I’m going to lose 15 pounds, but I will lose 20 ultimately. I lost 15 pounds in those two weeks. I lost five as I slipped off the diet. I actually ended up losing another five. I went from 210 to 185 eventually, which is where I played most of my career.
I went down to Kaiser International at Silverado, which was my first tournament and I won that. I went to Las Vegas the next week and won that.  Went to Hawaii the next week and I finished second there. It didn’t hurt my golf game too badly, so I didn’t worry too much about that.
Until I got probably mid‑30s did I ever do much running. I did a little bit after that. And a little bit in my late 30s started using a little bit of weights occasionally. Not a lot, more to keep my legs stronger.
But I was not like the guys are today. The guys today, they actually do have a program workout. We didn’t know what we were doing, we went out there and said I think we’ll do this and we did that. Not even the football players lifted weights when I played.  

On the influence of media in today’s game

We were trying to figure out how to get somebody to write about anything when we played. I think today you have to figure out how do you keep somebody from writing about anything.  It’s a big difference.
I’ve never had any issues with you guys here because I think I’ve tried to work with you and tried to do what you’ve asked for. And I’ve always handled the press that way. I’ve always said you guys have a job to do and I said I think it’s my job to be able to spend the time with you – it’s necessary for me to spend the time for you to get your information.
But in turn for that, nobody has ever hammered me very often. Occasionally a new guy comes on the block and hammers you for something. You consider the source and forget it. But for the most part, today you’re in a fish bowl.  
If I were to go have dinner with Shed 30 years ago, and we sat and talked about something that was going and so forth, it would never appear in the newspaper the next day.

On the Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods spat

Things get moved beyond where they are. The Sergio‑Tiger thing, I mean it’s stupid.  I mean, two guys have an issue one with another? They usually resolve it 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.  Forget it, guys. Let’s move on.

On disagreements in his time

I suppose there was times when you had an issue with somebody and it came about, you never read about it. There wasn’t 20 people sitting around for one guy to write it.
We never really had issues in those days. We had an old guard that followed the Tour, Bob Green followed the Tour, and later you had Pat Ward Thomas, and you had Kaye Kessler and you had Dick Taylor, Herbert Warren Wind, those guys. They were interested in writing about what happened, not gossip. And we didn’t have an issue with it. It was never an issue, it really wasn’t.

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