JACK NICKLAUS PRESS CONFERENCE
July 24, 2014
KELLY ELBIN: Jack, thank you very much for joining us today.
JACK NICKLAUS: Thank you.
KELLY ELBIN: In 1987, both the PGA Championship and The Ryder Cup were conducted on golf courses that Jack designed. That year, PGA National here in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, as well as Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, were the venues for the PGA Championship and The Ryder Cup, respectively. And now in 2014, we have an encore performance of sorts with the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club next month, and the 40th Ryder Cup at the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles in Scotland both being played on Nicklaus Design courses in the next 45 days.
Jack, in all, I understand a company record 26 Nicklaus Design courses will host a PGA Tour sanctioned event in 2014, a very busy year for you and your company, and certainly with the excitement to build up to both the PGA Championship and The Ryder Cup.
If you would, talk a little bit, please, let’s focus first on the renovations that the PGA of America undertook, with you certainly being the lead on this at Valhalla, and what some of the changes that were made and modifications and differences that the players will see from what they saw at the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla.
JACK NICKLAUS: Okay. I’ll see if I can remember all that, Kelly. The changes at Valhalla were initiated because the construction of the greens failed over time, which is not uncommon after 25 years. The gravel layer and the mix in the greens seemed to not work anymore. They said, “Well, since you’re going to do that, maybe it would be a good time to renovate and make a few odd changes from some comments that have been over the years at events held at Valhalla.”
So we embarked upon that, and we went and changed the first hole a little bit and naturally changed the size of the green a little bit, expanded it a little bit more in the front and put a bunker in the front right in a deep grass hollow. The green did not drain in any direction before. Now it drains off the front and the front left, and actually drains a little bit off the back left and the back right, but now functions very well.
The second hole, which was converted to a par 4, and I believe it will be played as a par 4 in the PGA Championship if I’m not mistaken, really didn’t have a par-4 green. It had a par-5 green. So while we were constructing it, we changed it and we took a hollow out of the right center of the green and changed the bunkering a little bit and made it a little bit more user friendly for a par 4 receiving a second shot than it would be receiving a wedge on a par 5.
Third hole, we stored some of the pin placements, particularly on the back left of the green, which made me actually even a fan of them, so got a pin position in the back left of the bunker. Changed the bunker a little bit on the left side of the green. Changed some minor things in the middle of green and that’s basically what we did.
Fourth hole, we felt the green was probably a little bit too severe from top to bottom. Didn’t have enough cupping area on it so we expanded the cupping areas both on the right side and the left side of the green and lessened the slope between the two sides. But I hope I got this right, because it’s been three or four years since I’ve done this and I’m doing it off the top of my head. I think that’s pretty close.
The fifth hole, I think we added a bunker down on the right side of it. And we didn’t really do much to the green there. We left that pretty much alone. I don’t know, maybe softened the contour but that was about it.
Sixth hole, which is a very, very strong par 4, we moved the green back previously. We had played it and decided that they needed more pin placements so we made some adjustments on the green, the right side of the green but essentially left the hole pretty much alone.
Seventh hole, there were some changes made on the driving area a little bit, added another bunker I think on the left side—right driving area. Brought the hazard right up to the green’s edge. Didn’t do a lot with the green. Minor things with the green. You know, just little tweaks.
Eighth hole, we had redone a couple of times. The eighth hole is kind of a unique golf hole in that when Floyd’s Fork floods, that green was in jeopardy. That’s why it sticks so high up in the air. It’s an area that seemed to—couldn’t get a tremendous amount of length on it.
We had the green probably a little bit more severe than it needed to be, and so we softened the green a little bit, keeping the contours similar, but softened it to make more pin placements and a little bit more bail out, and I think a much more user-friendly hole. I think the players will like it a lot better.
The ninth hole, we changed a little bit of the bunkering off the tee. Couldn’t do much around the greens. Left that pretty much alone.
10, we took the second shot into the green. I’m not sure whether we put a bunker on the right side of 10 or did that previously on the tee shot. But on the second shot there’s a swale that goes from the second shot to the green. We opened that swale up so you could actually get a view down to the green. Before it gave you a glimpse, but now you have a pretty good view and the hole still feeds in from a shot that’s hit down the left with a fade, runs down the green, can run on green in two. So pretty good hole.
The 11th hole was the par 3. We moved the green to the left. Put it into the side of the hill. We made some—I think it was done previously but we made adjustments to it, and I think it’s a much better hole than the hole that was there.
The 12th hole, mostly just green changes. We really haven’t done anything off the tee. The green was a decent-sized green, but it had too much pitch off the front going into the green and too much pitch off the back coming into the green which limited the pin placements. So we spread it a little bit to get more pin placements on the 13th green, or 12th hole. I think it’s a much better hole.
13, we took one of the bunkers out on the right. Instead of stopping the ball on the right and letting it play from the bunker to the green, it now gets way down the hill, which probably if somebody does bail out to the right, it makes a more demanding second shot.
The green, we put a little bit more contour in it to more define the pin placements and we tried to correct some of the walk-off wear problems behind the green going to the next tee. But essentially the same hole.
14, there’s more pitch in the back of the green than needed to be. A lot of times, the ball would hit in the back and just roll right back into the middle of the green. We changed a little bit of that. Laid the green down a little bit. I can’t remember whether we put the bunkers in or took the bunkers out. But it plays a little bit different than it did. I think there’s more pin placements on the green and I think it’s a little bit better golf hole.
15, I believe we have a bunker on the left side now, and we have better pin positions on that green. Before we had a hollow in there that got a little dysfunctional at times and we put a little pot bunker in the right of the green next to the water. All that makes for a more attractive and also a better visually playing golf hole.
16, it was a long hole, totally rebuilt the green to a bunker front right and a bunker left and a bunker in the back—I think a bunker in the back. And they have created several pin positions. We are going to use that for the fans’ Pick the Hole Challenge. I think it’s a good hole for that.
17, we did a little bit off the tee. Not a lot off the tee. I’m not sure how much recently, I think even after I left in the last year, we’ve taken a big tree down off the left and I think that opens it up. The green, we just made it a little bit more user friendly but didn’t really change it much.
The 18th green, again, we made it a little more user friendly. Instead of making it look like three tiers, we tried to blend the tiers together a little bit more and create more pin placements and a little bit more aesthetically pleasing looking green.
I think that’s basically what we did. Redid the driving range a little bit. I think the golf course, it was a good golf course to start with. I just think it’s a better golf course now.
KELLY ELBIN: You mentioned several times the term “user friendly” and giving more hole locations. I know for Kerry Haigh, our Chief Championships Officer, the ability to have more hole locations on greens is important. That appears to be part of the mission of the work that was done.
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, we worked with Kerry, and worked with the PGA of America and made sure that they had all the pin placements they needed and wanted for the PGA Championship or The Ryder Cup, or whatever event happens to be played there.
KELLY ELBIN: Jack, we go from the bluegrass of Kentucky over to Gleneagles and the PGA Centenary Course that you also designed. Would you talk just for a minute maybe about a few of the renovations, and what your thoughts are on this golf course as it relates to being a match-play course, which it clearly will be for this Ryder Cup.
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I think, you know, any time you’re playing golf in Scotland, particularly the end of September, weather will probably play a large factor in what goes on.
I think that if played in fairly benign weather, I don’t really consider it an extremely difficult golf course. With weather and firm conditions, the golf course can play as tough as you want it to play. What we basically did over there was we revised most of the fairway lines. Brought them in a little bit for The Ryder Cup.
I played over there a couple weeks ago because I wanted to take one last look at the golf course before The Ryder Cup, and the golf course looks actually quite nice. They have it in very nice condition.
The first hole, we adjusted the bunker off the tee a little bit. We took a bunker out behind the green and put it into a grass hollow, which we felt like probably allowed for more walk off of the green and made better distribution for traffic. And the shot, probably the grass is always is equally as the bunker, maybe it’s more difficult for some guys, but at least you have the option to put it out of the bunker now, or out of the grass hollow.
With the second hole, we really didn’t do a lot there. Redefined the fairway edges and we took a deep bunker behind the green, which was blind. We took it out and put it into a grass hollow. That’s basically what we did there.
Third hole, we redid the whole bunkering on the right side of the fairway and that makes for a much more attractive tee shot. The second shot in the green, we opened up—we had high grass down the edge of the green and we opened those back up to where it’s not high grass down the edge of the green and you have a little bit more forgiving area around the green. Redid the bunker on the front and made it a little bit more visible getting into the green.
Fourth hole, we didn’t really do a lot. The par 3, it was a pretty darned good par 3, minor adjustments.
Fifth hole, really a demanding tee shot. We left the tee shot alone. Second shot, there were a couple of beech trees that were overhanging the left side short of the green. They were getting pretty big. We took those out to open up a bail-out short left of the green. Got water short right and a bunker left. Pretty strong golf hole but I think it’s a little bit more, again, user friendly, to use the word.
The sixth hole, the par 3, we redid that one dramatically. The green was I didn’t think a very good green. It was changed from the time I originally did it to when I came back. And we redid that green, making more pin placements, a better relationship to a bunker on the left, and it looks like a better golf hole.
Seventh hole, they had moved the green to the right. I did not move it back to where I originally had it. I left it to the right but we redid part of the green because you couldn’t keep the ball on it. It’s a nice tee shot, a little second shot up the hill. Pretty good golf hole. Not long, but a nice golf hole.
Eighth, we really didn’t do a lot to the tee shot. We reworked the bunkers a little bit. Ultimately, you can try and risk and carry it all, a set of cross bunkers and get the ball very close to the green. Put two bunkers in the front right of the green, front right in the middle of the green to really set up a couple of pin positions. Better golf hole. Nice little golf hole now. It was a very awkwardly placed hole before. I think we have a good hole there.
Ninth hole, secondary tee put in between the back tee and member’s tee for wind conditions, and it’s a 600-some-odd-yard hole. I think ultimately that will help it be a little better if conditions changed. The second shot we got a water hazard on the right that really wasn’t in play; and so it created a secondary fairway separated to where you can take your second shot and play it up the right side, challenge the water. But have a chance to get it up into the green, or you play it as a three-shot hole and then the bunkers force you to play out to the left and play up the length of the green. So it’s an option hole, depending on what conditions are and how the guys will be able to play it, a two-shot or a three-shot hole. I think a very attractive tee shot, a very attractive second shot. I think it’s very pretty.
10th tee, we squashed the tees a little bit to provide a little space for the gallery. A little better viewing area, but we really didn’t do a whole lot to the hole.
11, didn’t do a lot to 11. There really wasn’t a whole lot we could do. It’s a hole that’s a lay up off the tee, playing across the ravine. It’s a nice, short little par 4, a lot of birdies will be made there but it’s a nice hole.
12th hole we changed from a par 5 to a par4. We had the par-5 green, they needed a concession area, so we adjusted that hole to that and moved the green to the right and made it shorter. Adjusted the tee shot a little bit with the rough lines and some mounds along the left, bunker on the front left of the green, pretty darned strong and really nice par 4.
The next hole is a little bit of mystery off the tee. We have got some mounds about 200 yards off the tee to sort of say, okay, come challenge me or not challenge me. We had a bunker in the middle of the fairway which we took out. I think the tee shot, we’ll have a little mystery; once we play it, the mystery will not be as great. There’s a bunker that’s about 40 yards short of the green which I wanted to remove. We haven’t got it removed yet, and I think we’re not going to remove it for The Ryder Cup, but it’s deceptive how it tells you what’s there. I’m not really wild about that but that’s what’s there. I don’t think it really affects the play very much because you’ll get used to it. Tough, strong par 4.
The next hole was changed from a par 3 to a par 4. Could possibly be a drivable par 4. I did not change that. I just readjusted the bunkering and so I think it’s a pretty nice little golf hole. It’s sort of drag it to the left with an iron or 3 wood and pitch in, or you take a shot at the green. It’s got some penal bunkers that are on the way on the tee shot if you don’t hit it right or hit it properly. It will be tough.
The next hole has got good length to it. Nice bunker on the right side of the fairway, a long green, long thin green bunker on the right side. Good, strong golf hole.
16 is a par 5. We’ve narrowed the fairway, changed the bunkering up around the green. It’s a reachable par 5. I think that’s a good, strong hole that I think the players will enjoy.
KELLY ELBIN: By the way on 16, that looks like there could be a lot of drama there, just the length of it. Many of the players will go for it in two and probably see a lot of birdies and an eagle or two.
JACK NICKLAUS: I don’t think they will find it a very difficult hole, but I think they will find it a fun and interesting hole. If you drive the ball in the rough or in a bunker, you won’t be going for it in two. And so if somebody does hit that good tee shot, they will be on the green in two or close to it.
So you really need to drive it well there. And right now, the fairway is only about—I wouldn’t think it’s more than 14, 15 paces at the present time. Probably a little narrower than it needs to be but I think you can always adjust that prior to The Ryder Cup if that’s a big deal.
17 is a nice par 3. Bunker short left, back left and right. A little bit of movement in the green, not a tremendous amount, but a little bit. But it’s a nice 100—probably almost 200 yard par 3. The card says—
KELLY ELBIN: 194.
JACK NICKLAUS: 194. I’m not far off.
The 18th hole we totally rebuilt. It was a par 5 prior. We kept it as a par 5/par 4. Could be played either way. Put a bunker on the right side on the tee shot. From there, we took the green and probably cut it down, oh, probably 10 meters, and the fairway approach up into it, created gallery mounds around it. Created a gambling couple of cross bunkers, a big swale over the green to the left for bail out, for a tough, difficult recovery. Two good shots will put you on the green. A bad first shot without a lie—a good tee shot but a bad second will put you in a hard position to make four. I don’t think you’ll find a lot of 6s on this golf hole but I think you’ll find some eagles, you’ll find some birdies and you’ll find some fellas that they are not going to be happy with making par.
I think you are going to play it as a par 5, are you not?
KELLY ELBIN: That is correct.
JACK NICKLAUS: I think that’s what will happen. The golf course, it’s very hard to get it in good shape, and it is.
KELLY ELBIN: In your opinion, does the PGA Centenary Course favor a particular style or type of player?
JACK NICKLAUS: I think it’s a bit of a combination between an American golf course and an inland Scottish golf course. It’s got a lot of target greens and target shots. Has a lot of run-up shots, too. I think both of them will be there.
I think the weather will be the demanding and determining factor of it. You’re going to see a lot of pretty good golf scores because I don’t think that it was intended to be a back-breaking golf course, just a good, solid golf course. I have no idea what they shot there in recent years in the Johnnie Walker. Matter of fact, what did they shoot there, in 2013, they played the Johnnie Walker, did they not?
In September you’ll see a lot of 66, 67 rounds, which will provide a lot of excitement for the Match Play and a good event.
Q. How do you think Valhalla sets up for a guy like Rory McIlroy, and would love your thoughts on Tiger Woods heading into the PGA Championship, as well?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I’ve never met a golf course that doesn’t set up for Rory McIlroy or Tiger Woods when they are on their game. It’s a golf course that—you’re talking about which one, Valhalla, or you’re talking about Gleneagles?
Well, Tiger won last time at Valhalla, and I think it sets up for playing good golf. You’ve got ample space to drive the ball. The fairways have been narrowed to make it so that you have to drive the ball in the fairway.
I don’t know how tough the rough will be. That’s a question that I think Kerry Haigh could answer better than I can. But the golf course itself I think will be certainly challenging enough, and I think it’s going to require playing very well.
You talk about Rory or you talk about Tiger, if they both are playing their game, there’s not a golf course in the world that doesn’t set up well for them.
Q. What do you make of the state of Tiger’s game?
JACK NICKLAUS: I don’t have any idea. I saw him on television at the British Open, and I actually thought his swing looked pretty good. But obviously the results weren’t what he wanted. I suspect that he’ll be back and do just fine.
Q. I was just wondering on the course or in your conversations with Rory if he reminds he of your 25-year-old self?
JACK NICKLAUS: In some ways. When I was 25, I think I was a little bit more concerned about—well, not concerned. I played golf courses more with power than I did with finesse, and I think Rory has a tendency to do that, and it’s served him well on several occasions, but probably doesn’t serve him well on other occasions and didn’t serve me well on some other occasions.
But as you get older, you sort of say, you know, hey, I think I would rather play that from 160 yards than 120 yards out of a foot-deep rough. That’s maturity and age.
You know, I certainly don’t have any criticism of Rory by any means. I think his career is progressing very nicely and I think he’s going to win a lot of major championships. I love his swagger. I love his demeanor. I love the way he sort of has a confident cockiness, yet he’s not offensive with it. It’s self-confidence, I guess you would call it. I like that in him, because I like the kid. I’ve spent a little bit of time with him and I like him very much. That’s sort of my impression of him.
Q. I read a report after Sunday, after Rory had won, that you had actually given him a swing tip down in South Florida that maybe you saw during the telecast. Can you talk about that at all?
JACK NICKLAUS: No. I’ll let Rory tell you. I don’t know whether he used it or didn’t use it. But I don’t think it’s my place to talk about what Rory’s swing is.
But we talked—Rory came to see me after the Memorial Tournament and after he had gone to Pinehurst. We talked a little bit about business and we talked a little bit about golf and about his swing, and I saw a couple of things that I thought could help him. I said, I didn’t want to interfere with his teacher, I said, “But someday you and your teacher and I can go to the golf course and do that.”
I saw him doing a couple things at the U.S. Open that I thought that he was trying to do that I was talking about. And then I saw at the British Open, he looked very much at ease with what we were talking about. I’ll let him talk about that. And he may not even have remembered it or thought about it.
So I don’t want to take any credit whatsoever. I think Rory’s swing looked great at the British Open, and some of the faults that I’ve seen in his swing previously that caused him problems, I did not see.
So whether I helped him on that, I don’t know. I don’t really wish to take credit unless he wants to give it to me but I don’t know whether that’s the case or not.
KELLY ELBIN: By the way, Tommy Fleetwood at Gleneagles last year, finishing at 18 under par. He won in a playoff, but 18 under par was the winning score.
JACK NICKLAUS: So they can shoot good scores there. So they probably had good weather; that was in the middle of the summer.
KELLY ELBIN: Correct.
JACK NICKLAUS: So the weather will be the determining factor.
KELLY ELBIN: It was played in August last year.
Q. I wanted to ask you, talking about Rory McIlroy and younger players, regarding Jordan Spieth, what are your thoughts? Still only his second year on Tour, he’s fifth in the FedEx and sixth in The Ryder Cup right now, close calls in the majors. Your thoughts on his second season and how do you feel his game and mental attitude sets up for Valhalla and the rest of the year?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, Jordan is obviously a very good player. At 20 years old, he’s got a lot of growth in front of him. He’s a very good player right now and it’s only going to get better.
As he gets more experience, as he plays more; he’s only had one win so far. Even though he’s been in contention on numerous occasions, he probably is in the position of most 20-year-olds, where he would like to finish but is not sure how to finish.
And what I mean by that is that you have to be there and have to go through it and have to learn why you made mistakes and why you do things a certain way and how you avoid problems, and that comes from experience.
But he’s got a tremendous amount of talent. I think he should be very proud of his growth in the game so far. I don’t think there’s ever been a 20-year-old that’s done as much as he has at this point in his career. Maybe Rory has, or maybe even Tiger, probably. He’s right on that par.
Give him some time. He’s going to be very, very good.
Q. The last time the PGA was at Valhalla was your last time playing in the PGA Championship. Can you kind of reflect a little bit on your memories of that tournament and what stood out for you the last time you played the PGA?
JACK NICKLAUS: I think my standard answer to that would be I missed the cut. I don’t remember a whole lot other than I guess I played with Tiger, and it was quite obvious to me it was time to pass the baton after playing with him. He was obviously playing very well at that point in time.
My mother passed away the Wednesday of that tournament, and I was not going to play originally, but I knew she would have wanted me to play, so I did. So I played, but I didn’t play very well. I don’t remember much about how I played except at the last hole, I almost holed a wedge shot I needed to make from about 75 yards, I guess, to make the cut, and I just put it a foot or so from the hole. But that was about it.
I remember I thought Tiger played extremely well, and I enjoyed playing with him. Matter of fact, I think that’s probably the last time I played with him.
Q. Did you see then that was one of his better tournaments, especially early in his career, and that he was in for something big the next few years?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I said it was quite obvious to me it was time to pass the baton, if I even had a baton left to pass at that point in time. He was so much the better golfer at that time and it was quite obvious his career was going to continue to escalate.
KELLY ELBIN: Winning a major championship is obviously a highlight for many, for you, as well. The PGA is bringing back something that I know you’ve got to be tickled about, the Long Drive Competition. You I know proudly have that money clip from winning the long drive title back in 1963 at the PGA Championship, and that was with, I believe, a Persimmon driver and a wound golf ball. You still hit it 341 yards, 17 inches Jack.
If you would, talk about the resurgence, the rebirth of the long drive competition during the week at Valhalla on that Tuesday.
JACK NICKLAUS: When we had it, I only recall us having it for two years. I guess maybe there might have been others, but the only two I entered were in ’63 and ’64, the one at Dallas Athletic Club and the one at Columbus Country Club in Columbus. I won both of them. I think the one in Columbus was 308 yards. That was a rainy day, and George Bird hit it 206 and I carried it 308. I had an old Persimmon driver that was 42 3/4 inches, 11 degrees loft. Everybody used a Titleist golf ball, which they provided everybody off the tee that so everybody was hitting the same ball.
You know, I thought it was exciting. I thought it was fun to do. You would go out, warm up, you played your last practice round. It was a great gallery favorite. The people came out and they watched it. You went out and saw big, long drives, things you probably wouldn’t do in the tournament. I think it created some excitement.
I think to bring it back brings some nice excitement. I hope they keep it within the field, because what happened is they expanded it to an open competition, and I think that lost the flavor of what happens at the PGA Championship. I think the competitive golfers are the ones that should be in that, and then they can have their other driving contests for the guys that are really the gorillas in the game and hit it a long way.
But the little money clip in my head, I’ve had it in my pocket for 51 years, very proud of it. It’s a big talking point and I think it’s going to be a nice event for them to bring back.
KELLY ELBIN: So Jack, it will be just the contestants in the PGA Championship. Each player will have the opportunity to hit one drive from the tees on No. 10 on Tuesday during the practice round, and whoever hits the ball the farthest, we have a nice charitable component for the top three, as well as money clips that are inspired by the money clip that you so proudly have kept all these years.
JACK NICKLAUS: You’re not going to have a special event for it? You’re just going to have it as guys hit practice rounds on 10?
KELLY ELBIN: It’s going to be part of the practice round, that’s right, to encourage the entire field to participate.
JACK NICKLAUS: Okay. And just one shot?
KELLY ELBIN: And just one shot. We’ll keep track of it as the day goes on. As you said, I think it will bring a lot of fun and renewed interest in this.
JACK NICKLAUS: Incidentally, I like the charity aspect of it.
KELLY ELBIN: I know it’s near and dear to your heart, PGA Reach, which is the charitable foundation of The PGA of America benefitting also the golf course that you’ve designed out in Washington, American Lake Veterans Golf Course, also benefitting, very worthy causes.
JACK NICKLAUS: That golf course finally started construction within the last week or two.
So we are finally pleased that that money is going to be put to good use for our veterans. It’s been a very popular facility prior to its time. It was only nine holes and now they are going to have 18 holes. We have made a lot of friends out there by going out there and leading with a lot of the guys. I’ve seen them around the country, and it’s really neat to see the rehabilitation that comes through golf for our Wounded Warriors.
KELLY ELBIN: Amazing what golf can do beyond the golf course, Jack.
Q. Going back to Rory McIlroy, given what he’s achieved at such a young age, do you think he has the potential to emulate some of the greats like perhaps yourself or Tiger Woods?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, certainly at his age he’s on par to do that, and I would be very surprised if he doesn’t. I think a lot of it depends on what Rory’s desire and focus is, and what he wants to accomplish in his life.
I think there’s a lot of guys who decide that they want to be a good player and they have some success and they have some financial success, and they decide that they want to live a normal life rather than totally dedicate it to golf and to their sport. There’s other athletes who decide that records are important to them and it’s important for them to leave a legacy as the best player of their time or ever, and that’s fine, too.
And I think that whichever direction Rory heads, I think he will be successful in whatever he does. He’s a nice young man. He’s very talented, and I think that he’s the one that has to decide how he wants to focus and how hard he wants to work for what he’s going to do. And he certainly has the ability to do so.
Q. If you were coaching Tiger right now, what advice would you give him?
JACK NICKLAUS: First, I haven’t been asked. Second, I actually thought he was swinging well at the British Open. They didn’t show much of him on television the last couple of rounds. But I thought early in the tournament, particularly in the first round, he swung the club very nicely. I wouldn’t have any advice that relates to that.
You know, there must be something that happened in the last three rounds that I didn’t see, because we didn’t see it on television, so I don’t know. I think Tiger probably knows what he has to do. He’s smart. He understands his golf swing. He understands the game and he knows how to play the game. I don’t think it’s my place to give him advice.
Q. Do you know the overall investment in the Valhalla, how much it took?
JACK NICKLAUS: I don’t know. I really don’t. It wasn’t a large number, but I think The PGA of America, if they wish that to be known, will tell you.
Q. Do you see any other changes in the near future?
JACK NICKLAUS: At Valhalla?
JACK NICKLAUS: I don’t really think anything, certainly nothing major. I don’t know. One of the big problems of Valhalla is the floodplain, Floyd’s Fork and the tributaries. The floodplain is always something you have got to worry about there when you start working on things and how you tie it in and how you make it work. So, when you start to make a change there, it’s not just tweaking this or tweaking that. It’s a lot of earth moving to be able to make any major change.
So, I think we’ve done some of that earth moving, and if there’s any more to be done in the future, I’ll be hard pressed to find out where it might be. Regarding the golf course, The PGA of America seems pretty happy with it at the present time, but if there’s some tweaks to iron things out, that will happen at the PGA Championship and then after that they will come back and say, Jack, we found something that needs to happen on whatever hole it might be and come help us with it, and we will. But I think you need to play on it and see how it plays.
Q. As regards The Ryder Cup, just wondering if you can tell us how important it is for the U.S. to win at Gleneagles, bearing in mind Europe’s recent domination.
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I’ve never felt that it was real important who won. That’s never been to me the purpose of The Ryder Cup. I think from a nationalistic standpoint, I think the United States wants to win, and the European Team obviously wants to win, too.
You know, I think everybody goes in with the goal to win The Ryder Cup, sure. But The Ryder Cup is a goodwill match. It’s a match between two golfing organizations to bring them closer together in international competition. That was always the spirit in which I thought The Ryder Cup was played.
We play enough golf tournaments where we beat each other’s heads in, and I think the press makes more out of it than the players make out of it. But there’s always bragging rights, so I think that the U.S. would probably be tired of not dominating it like they used to.
But then again, you have to understand that the European Team has been pretty darned strong and they have got a good team again this year. The U.S. has got their work cut out for them. They are going to have to really play well if they want to try to bring the Cup back home.
Q. Can I ask you—obviously you’ve done the job yourself—what makes a good Ryder Cup Captain?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, you know, I’ve always felt that a captain is there to organize the team, make sure that the players are playing under the right spirit, making sure that—whenever I’d go around in the cart, I always made sure I had a spare towel, extra tees, golf spikes, sunglasses if they need them or sunscreen. Those are the things The Ryder Cup captain does.
I guess it’s progressed beyond that. I guess it’s become a little bit more of a strategy of who is going to carry the team to the next level, which I think is a little silly, but it’s okay. I think Tom Watson will do a great job for the U.S. Team. I think Paul McGinley will do a nice job for the European Team. I don’t know Paul nearly as well, obviously, as I know Tom, but Paul is a really nice guy and I think he will play it in the right spirit; and Tom will play in the right spirit. But Tom was not chosen to go over there and do that, not to—to try to bring the Cup home.
I think you’ll see, Tom has worked very hard all year to try and see as much of his players as he can for our four picks and who he will pick. I think that everybody makes the effort to try to win. I don’t think there’s any question of that. But to me, the spirit of it is far more important.
Q. In the answer you gave to the question about Rory a minute ago, you mentioned how athletes have a point in their life where they kind of decide that records are important to them and their legacy is important. I was just curious kind of when and how that happened for you in your career?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, it never was important to me until I actually—I was playing golf to be the best I could be at any time. In 1970 I won the British Open at St Andrews, and nobody ever counted majors in those days. I walked in the press room and Bob Green at AP turned to me and said, “Jack, that’s your 10th major, now only three more to go to tie Bobby Jones.” That’s the first time I ever thought about it.
And so obviously, I said, well, I never thought about that. I never dreamed that I could come near Jones’ record. So when I passed Jones’ record at Canterbury— They included amateurs at that point in time, because that’s what they were at that time. I got reduced two majors after they took the amateurs out. Of course with Tiger, they reduced him by three.
I never even—when I was playing the game—worried about how many I had won. That was not important to me. What was important to me was that I played the game well and played the game in the right way, and that I left a legacy that I was proud of.
So all of a sudden when Tiger comes along and he starts winning major championships, all of a sudden that becomes a focus, and all of a sudden my 18 number became a focus of different proportions.
So I just sort of never looked at it that way. I mean, could I have won more majors? If I had set out when I was a kid, say in my mid 20s or early 30s, hey, I’m going to win as many majors as I can possibly win—not because of Bob Jones and not because of somebody coming on behind me—if I would have said that, I probably could have won more majors. That was not what was important to me.
What was important to me—and far more important to me—was my family, and being able to know my kids, know my kids as they grew up, spend time with them as they started their careers, and to start to do things with them. Particularly in my early 40s, I was still quite capable of playing golf. I was only playing 11 or 12 tournaments a year, but I was far more interested in my kids’ high school football, basketball, baseball, golf, whatever it amounted to.
And that, to me, I wouldn’t trade that for another two or three majors. There was a balance in my life that I’m very proud of and I’m very happy with. Barbara and I celebrated our 54th wedding anniversary yesterday. Those are the important things in life to me, not whether I won 18, or 19 or 20 major championships.
Rory will make that call and those decisions as he gets a little older, as he sees his career progress. That’s not something for somebody to push onto him one way or the other.
In Tiger’s case, Tiger’s father I think pushed that situation on him. I think Tiger took my record and that’s been a focus of Tiger’s life to break my record. That’s fine. That’s what he has chosen to do, and I support Tiger for that. I think Tiger’s goals are very admirable and he’s been focused to do that and work on it. I would never try to criticize that.
Only thing that I would say is that in Rory’s case, he’ll make his own decision when the time comes.
KELLY ELBIN: Jack, congratulations to you and Barbara.
Q. At the time, Tiger and Bob May set a PGA record in relation to par in 2000 at 18 under. Do you think this course is set up for a similar run?
JACK NICKLAUS: I think it will be about the same. They will shoot pretty good scores. In August in Louisville, it won’t be hard and fast. It will be fairly soft. That is part of the problem of the difficulty of the PGA. It’s the last championship played in the middle of summer when we have thunderstorms and the course can’t get fast, and the weather conditions don’t really vary that much. I don’t think you’re going to see that much difference than what you saw the last time.
KELLY ELBIN: Jack, by the way, if in your prime you were able to hit a drive with a Persimmon driver and wound golf ball 341 yards, in your prime, using equipment today, how far could you hit it?
JACK NICKLAUS: Oh, 500 at least. (Laughter) What kind of golf ball did you say?
KELLY ELBIN: They were playing Titleist wound golf balls.
JACK NICKLAUS: I thought you said a “wow” golf ball. It was a Titleist whatever they played at the time.
I suppose probably not a lot further. But I could probably, if I took—you say with the equipment of today, I would probably hit it another 20, 30, 40 yards I suppose.
I would obviously hit it further because I mean, good gracious, when I was in my 50s, when I could still hit it a little bit, we were using—we were then using the metal woods and using a composite golf ball.
And so I found that I was hitting the golf ball further then than I was in my prime. Obviously in my late 50s, I didn’t have anywhere near the club head speed I had when I was in my 20s and 30s.
Q. As you probably know, this is the 50th anniversary this year of Bobby Nichols winning the PGA Championship in your hometown of Columbus. Could you comment on Bobby’s game and what you do remember of Bobby when he was at his peak?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, that particular week, I think Arnold and I tied for second and I think Bobby beat us by nine shots or something like that? Maybe it was three shots. I don’t remember. But he won fairly easily, played very well.
Bobby was a very good player, but he was a good player on occasion. When he was good, he was very good, and then he didn’t show up for a while, but when he was that good again, he was good. Bobby always had a good golf swing. He always had a nice, smooth, level swing, hit the ball a long way. Good player, nice guy, and had a great career.
KELLY ELBIN: Bobby beat you and Arnold by three that year.
JACK NICKLAUS: 271, 274, is that what it was?
KELLY ELBIN: That’s correct.
JACK NICKLAUS: Okay.
Q. In your personal opinion, can you see Tiger being on the team at Gleneagles?
JACK NICKLAUS: Oh, absolutely. I couldn’t imagine a Ryder Cup Team not being—unless he does absolutely nothing in recovering from his game between now and then. But Tiger, he’s got Firestone and then the PGA, and is that about it?
If I was a captain, I would be hard pressed—I don’t care what he does between now and then. If Tiger wants to play, I would certainly choose him.
My guess is that Tom feels pretty much the same way. Tom would certainly like to have Tiger on his team and I think anybody in their right mind, unless he just doesn’t want to play or doesn’t think he could play, would not choose him.
KELLY ELBIN: Mr. Jack Nicklaus, thank you so much for your time. This has been a wonderful hour.
Any closing thoughts in regards to the PGA Championship and The Ryder Cup if you’d like to?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, the only thing I would say is I’m very flattered that the PGA chooses Valhalla and they have chosen Gleneagles for The Ryder Cup, my golf courses, to have events played on.
This week we have three of our courses being used for events: The Russian Open is being played on my course in Moscow; the Web.com Tour’s Midwest Classic is being played at Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate in Kansas City, and the U.S. Junior Amateur is being played at The Club at Carlton Woods.
So it’s kind of really neat, as I get to be sort of one of the elder statesmen who has had golf courses developed and be used for events. It keeps me current, it keeps me involved, it keeps me interested and keeps me really wanting to work and support the game I love.
KELLY ELBIN: Thanks, Jack. I know you’ve had approximately 110 of your designed courses have hosted more than 770 professional or significant amateur championships, so congratulations and we’re delighted that two of them will be in the eyes of the golf world in the next 60 days.
JACK NICKLAUS: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Kelly Elbin is Director of Communications and Publications for the PGA.