In 1950, when the PGA Championship was held at the Scioto Golf Club, a 10-year-old boy was roaming the grounds near Columbus, Ohio, asking for autographs. He had just started playing golf that year, and the likes of Sam Snead and Lloyd Mangrum were flocking to his home course.
The boy was Jack Nicklaus.
The sight, he recalled this spring, was one of the first inspirations for a golfing career whose brilliance was so evident 60 years ago. Nicklaus had won his first major title by then, but in 1963 the 23-year-old won his first Masters Tournament and first PGA Championship.
Nicklaus’ fifth and final PGA Championship victory came in 1980 at Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford, New York, with the tournament beginning Thursday.
In two interviews last month, one at the Augusta National Golf Club and the other by phone, Nicklaus discussed Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, the new Saudi-backed LIV golf league, and the future of golf balls. , and considered whether anyone could possibly win at Oak Hill. He was 7 at bat, as in 1980.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
In 2013, the last time the PGA Championship was held at Oak Hill, there were 21 players below par. There were only four in the last two PGA Championships, 1980 and 2003. Has Oakhill gotten too easy?
I won there in 1980 and I think 280 was par. Oak Hill played pretty tough. I didn’t play very well that week, hitting here and there but holed out every time I put it on the green. I was leading in the final round, but I remember being nervous because I wasn’t hitting very well. I hit it out of the rough and landed on the green, so I shot 35 feet on the first hole. I said, “Okay, let’s go,” and I felt a little better.
If a designer wants to challenge today’s players, how much of a challenge can he create by rewinding the clock and looking back at the original Donald Ross designs, as Andrew Green does at Oak Hill? can you
you can’t. Rolling back and adding only the distance. I thought Oak Hill was quite different. Most Ross Golf Courses have relatively small greens, but Oak Hill had a very large green. And of course I remember Fazio coming there and playing the middle three or four holes on the front nine, but they didn’t look much like the other holes on the golf course I’ve seen in the movies. bottom. ’68. i like oak hill I think it’s a great golf course. But you can tweak something based on tradition.
What happens to golf balls?
According to them, golf balls are growing “only” 0.82 yards per year, which translates to 8.2 yards in the last decade. A line has to be drawn somewhere in the sand.
And I don’t think the United States Golf Association and the R&A really rolled the ball back too much. What they’ve done is, “I really don’t want it to be any more.” And it really only applies to elite players. They left golf balls alone for the average golfer.
Trying to put the line in the sand was a really good move. So, like Augusta, not everyone can go buy the golf course next door. You can’t keep buying and adding land. There were probably thousands of golf courses in this country at one time, which were probably tournament golf courses. There are probably 100 today.
Many players say: “Why would you want to change something that’s really good?”
Well, not because it’s really good. Because it needs to be really good for the few and better for the many. This is a game that I hope many people will enjoy.
Part of the fun is that the pros can play with the amateurs. I was able to do an exhibition with the club champion before. We played on the back tees and I might get hit by him 15, 20 yards, but he knew the golf course and we could have a game.
Can you imagine Tiger Woods or Jon Rahm playing club champions and exhibitions today? So it’s not a game.
there is also Discussion about the world ranking system. Who is the best player in the world right now?
It’s highly controversial. Probably the best player in the world is Rory McIlroy, but Rory didn’t even make it to his first major. Why would the best player in the world miss his first major appearance?
Jon Rahm is pretty good. And Brooks Koepka is back and leading the tournament.
I think that’s the beauty of golf. It’s not tennis where you knew you were going to get Nadal or Djokovic.
Gary Player doesn’t think golf has an era-defining figure at this point — there’s no Tiger, and there’s no player like you.
No, it’s not.
Is there a player who can be that person?
Ram is the closest.
Is golf better off with megawatt-class superstars that everyone knows about, or is it better off with players with big fans but not enough attention?
I think most sports are probably healthier with more stars, more variety in what’s going on, and more people paying attention. When Arnold Palmer, Gary, and I were playing, if one of us three of him didn’t make it to the tournament, they felt the tournament was a failure.
But if you have 10 or 12 players who are really at the top, you don’t need to get more than 2 or 3 of them to create a tournament and you have a very good field. . I don’t think it’s a very good thing if there is only one guy, because he will have everything on his back.
You mentioned Rory, what’s holding him back?
I’m a big Rory fan and he’s a good friend of mine and we talk a lot. But I really don’t understand.
His usual thing is to get par, par, birdie, birdie, birdie, 8 and he just can’t do it. He and I talked about it. I said, ‘Rory, you have to be 100 percent focused. I think he understands that very well. Indeed he is very smart.
Justin Thomas unfortunately missed out, but I’m rooting for him too. i spend a lot of time with him. he is a wonderful boy He’s been struggling, and now he’s just missing something.
And Ram looks brimming with confidence. He kind of takes pleasure in that.
What reconnaissance reports are produced when sizing rams?
I’ve known him since he won the Nicklaus Award, which is a college award. I liked him back then and followed him from the very beginning. I always thought he would play very smart golf. He played left to right just like me and made a lot of plays to power games. i like what he’s doing he likes the way he does He has a little fire in him. He can get angry, but that’s okay because it usually helps him. He gets mad and ruins himself for some people, but it seems to help him.
How do you think Lahm’s approach to gaming works at Oak Hill?
Oak Hill is the perfect golf course for his alley. I am a left to right player and hit the ball long. When I won in 1980, I was the only one to beat par. he’s a good putter Putt was very good at Oakhill. I didn’t have a particularly great play, but the putter was the deciding factor. My game was a strong game, so I stayed in the tournament and my putter won in my place. I think he falls into pretty much the same category as well. If he was playing good, or half good, he would be. There. If his putt doesn’t go well, he can’t win.
But he’s a very good putter.
Some of your colleagues say they think there is a universe in which LIV exists. Saudi-backed new league, might be good for golf. would you buy it?
Competition is good everywhere. From my own perspective, I was the one who helped launch the PGA Tour. [LIV Golf officials] They asked me to do it, so I just said to them, I started my legacy on the PGA Tour and I have to stay there. ”
No big deal. I think there’s a big place for a lot of people nearing the end of their careers. From that point of view, I think it’s fine.
But for me it wasn’t. And for a young man who really loves golf and the competition, I don’t think 48 players and 3 rounds of golf and shotgun starts really make a living. They will build a family for a long time, and I have no problem with any of those who left. But it wasn’t my cup of tea. And does the universe exist for both? Probably so. don’t know.
You are hosting a memorial tournament in June. What are your thoughts on this uncut plan, which will be implemented from time to time on the PGA Tour next year?
I don’t like it Part of that comes from trying not to secondaryize tournaments that aren’t very well-regarded. If you have 120 people playing in the cut and they suddenly find yourself in a higher tournament, what kind of field are you going to have in other tournaments? And 70 players on one team? is playing, the 71st player would be a very good player on the PGA Tour.
What they’re trying to do, and what it’s going to do, is get people you haven’t heard much about, and they’re going to be your stars. They’re looking to build more names within the PGA Tour, so we’ll have to look at that and see how that plays out.
Memorial tournaments don’t like 70-player fields for several reasons. One is that a lot of people come to watch golf, but I would love to see them playing golf all day, especially on Thursdays and Fridays.
If Oak Hill doesn’t play tougher this time around, should they stay in the majors?
Oak Hill will play pretty tough. Oakhill never bends. A golf course that is second to none. I imagine the PGA Championship in Oak Hill in May is going to be pretty tough rough. Today, the Tour has shorter rough downs on a weekly basis, more emphasis on driving distance and less emphasis on accuracy.
Personally, I don’t think golf should be played that way. Memorial Tournament rough won’t be short.
The game of golf is a combination of shot power, accuracy, intelligence and skill. You’re trying to build a golf course that doesn’t favor the 320-yard hitter, but you also don’t want it to favor the 270-yard hitter. I would like to have diversity there. One hole favors one hole, another hole favors another. And their skills make it possible.
I think whoever plays the best full round of golf should win. The tour was entertainment-heavy and focused on filming low-scoring players. Well, for most of my career I’ve avoided courses where everyone hits low scores. I felt like I wasn’t really tapping into my talent. That’s where better players shine, and Oak Hill will shine when you’ve got a tough, great golf course.
What are the chances that someone like you will win by 7 strokes?
A little stormy weather and a little dry period (maybe windy and unsettled weather) can boost your score. But some guy, like me, might catch lightning in a bottle and win by a few points. you just don’t know