Keeping Score

Nicklaus’ golf fix: Livelier play, deader ball

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Jack Nicklaus showed that he still can shoot a score.

In a charity event Monday, Nicklaus shot his age, 78, at The Bear’s Club, which he founded and designed, in nearby Jupiter.

Nicklaus plays infrequently, so shooting his age was impressive, even if he had to move up to the 5,805-yard 3 Bear tees to do it.

Since effectively retiring in the 1990s from competitive golf after 73 PGA Tour victories, including an all-time-high 18 major titles, Nicklaus has thrived as a course designer. He also frequently shares his thoughts on the game. On Tuesday evening, after speaking at a mandatory PGA Tour player meeting, Nicklaus made some time for the media. He was unfiltered and at times provocative.

“In ’62, when I first started, I was a slower player, obviously,” he said. “I got penalized at Portland that year. I was playing with Bruce Crampton and Billy Casper, who all day long was saying, ‘Crampton, would you please play?’ I said, ‘Huh?’ And I got penalized. He didn't get penalized. (Laughter) I still won the tournament.”

Since J.B. Holmes took 4 minutes and 10 seconds to play a layup shot in the 18th fairway during the final round at the recent Farmers Insurance Open (“Keeping score,” Jan. 29), pace of play has become a hot topic in golf.

“Then Joe Black, who penalized me and was running the tournament at the time, came and sat down with me,” Nicklaus said. “He said, ‘Jack, you've got to be ready to play when it's your turn.’ ”

Nicklaus told Black that he wasn’t comfortable moving around during another golfer’s turn to play. Black advised Nicklaus to get ready to hit once it’s his turn.

“Finally, I got tired of being slow,” Nicklaus said. “I never really tried to rapidly play another shot. I basically just prepared myself and learned how to play golf and learned how not to really be a guy that would hold up everybody else.”

Nicklaus steered the slow-play discussion back toward his top area of concern in golf: the ball. In Nicklaus’ prime, courses on the PGA Tour typically played about 6,500-6,600 yards. Now, many of the Tour stops stretch to 7,500-7,600 yards. Longer courses take longer to play, he said.

“If you bring it back 20 percent,” he said, “that really brings it back to about what it was in about 1995 when we last played the wound golf ball.”

During a recent dinner with Mike Davis, who heads the U.S. Golf Association, Nicklaus said that he offered to help the governing body deal with the issue.

“I’m happy to help you," Nicklaus said he told Davis. “I’ve only been yelling at you for 40 years. 1977 is the first time I went to the USGA. I said, ‘I assume you're going to study for another 10 years or so, though.’ ”

According to Nicklaus, Davis said, “We’re not going to do that,” and added, “I think we're getting closer to agreements with the R&A and be able to do some things and be able to help.”

Nicklaus said that when he was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, a round of golf took 3 hours and 10 minutes. That doesn’t happen today.

“The game is a great game today, the way it is. The game when I played was a great game. The game they played 20 years before me is a great game,” Nicklaus said. “However, as time changes, I think you need to change with the times. People don’t have the time to spend five hours to play golf. A lot of people don’t have the money to be able to do that, and they find the game very frustrating and very difficult.”

Nicklaus blamed many of golf’s problems on the ball and was adamant that a ball rollback would make the game more appealing.

Nicklaus also talked about the PGA Tour’s future schedule.

Beginning in 2019, the Players Championship will return to its former time slot in March from its current spot in May, and the PGA Championship will move forward three months, to May.

“I don't know where the PGA is going to play in May, except they might play at Valhalla [in Louisville, Ky.], but they are not going to play any farther north than that,” Nicklaus said. “The PGA is eliminating the whole northern part of the United States by doing that.”

When informed that Oak Hill in Pittsford, N.Y., will play host to the 2023 PGA, Nicklaus was incredulous.

“What? Oak Hill? In May? You’ve got to be kidding,” Nicklaus said. “Seriously. What year are they doing that? Then prove me wrong, please. But I would say that I don’t think that’s smart.”

Nicklaus knows the challenges of hosting a Tour event in the North. His Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, some 400 miles southwest of Oak Hill, will be played a few weeks after the 2023 PGA.

“I remember my senior year in high school, I played a high school match on the third of June in Sandusky, Ohio [about 120 miles north of Columbus], and we played in snow the whole day,” Nicklaus said. “That could happen.”

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email:; Twitter: @AlexMiceli

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