Sports

Jack Nicklaus has experienced all golf has to offer. Then, at age 78, came the memory of a lifetime

Golf legend Jack Nicklaus was in Manatee County this week to promote the Concession Cup at The Concession Golf Club.

The bi-annual match play competition pitting mid-amateurs, senior amateurs and super amateurs from the United States and Great Britain & Ireland against each other is in its third year and runs Thursday-Saturday.

Nicklaus is serving as an honorary captain.

The Golden Bear spoke during a press conference at the club, where he addressed a wide variety of golf-related topics.

Here's a sample of what the 78-year-old Nicklaus, the all-time leader in professional major championships with 18, had to say:

Your grandson, G.T., had his first hole-in-one at the Masters' Par-3 contest. How special was that moment?

The moment started for me on Sunday. We had an Easter brunch and after brunch we went to church ... and then G.T. and I went out and played nine holes of golf. And I said to him — I always ask all the grandkids and he was slated to caddie, he and his sister Nina, Gary's kids — I said, 'G.T., do you really want to hit a ball on Wednesday?' He said, 'Oh yeah. None of my cousins have gotten one on the green yet.' I said, 'Yeah, that's true. Nick (O'Leary) is the only one that's gotten it over the water.'

Jack-Masters.jpg
Jack Nicklaus' grandson and caddie GT Nicklaus reacts after his hole in one on the ninth hole during the par three competition at the Masters. Chris Carlson AP

So I said, 'Well, if you're going to do that, you might as well go make a hole-in-one.' He said, 'That sounds like a good idea.' So on Tuesday night he's with his dad and he says, 'Dad, peepaw — peepaw, that's what I'm called — he and I were talking and he said he thought I ought to go make a hole-in-one. Wouldn't it be great if I could make my first hole-in-one at Augusta on the ninth hole?' C'mon, one shot? He's in one of the monkey suits. ... He's got my golf club, he doesn't play my balls so he doesn't know how my ball is going to fly. And he knocks it in the hole.

Is that special? I mean, the tears were running down my face. And I walked by Curtis Strange, who was in the booth, and Curtis says, 'How does that rank as far as Augusta experiences?' And I just went ... No. 1. I said, 'In all due respect to all my Masters wins, they are all great. But when you do something, that's nice. But when your kids or your grandkids do something, that's what's special. G.T. is the only one of my grandkids that really plays golf. He's going to be a really nice player.

He's just starting to learn how to play golf. He's got a ball speed that's 180 miles an hour. ... He hits it a ton, and he hits it pretty straight. And he's got a pretty good short game, but he's just learning and that's OK. We haven't pushed him too far. He's 15 years old, about 6-1, 220. Has a pair of legs like I had. ... My thighs were 29 1/2 inches and I think that's what his are. That's big legs. ... Anyways, what an experience."

How important is it for golf in 2018 for Tiger Woods to be relevant?

I really thought he would be relevant at Augusta. I really did, the way he played at the Valspar (in Palm Harbor) and the way he was swinging. Whether that will continue or not, he's accommodated his fusion. I think he's changed his swing for the better. He has a much-better golf swing than he did before it. It looked to me like he can control the ball with what he's got. Now his back isn't hurting to stand over a chip or a putt. When your back's hurting you, it's hard to stand over a chip and a putt. He's got a phenomenal short game to start with. I thought he would have been more relevant.

Jack 2-Masters.jpg
Jack Nicklaus is introduced before hitting an honorary first tee shot before the first round at the Masters. David J. Phillip AP

I think he maybe put a little too much pressure on himself or maybe expected a little bit too much of himself too early. I still think he's going to do very well this year. But what a good year we're going to have. Phil (Mickelson) is playing well. So we've got a couple old guys and the young guys are coming along. Rory (McIlroy), who did not play a good round the last round (at the Masters) as you saw. I felt bad for him, because he did not swing well all day. Rickie Fowler played a great tournament. Jordan Spieth is back on his game again. Patrick Reed, who just showed a lot of guts to come down the stretch and play that way and win (at Augusta). I thought that was fantastic."

tt_jacknicklaus_2.JPG
Jack Nicklaus talks about his grandson's hole in one at the Concession Cup press conference at The Concession Golf Club. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

What do you think about Topgolf and other ways to grow the game for the younger generations?

Topgolf has been terrific for the game. I know the people that do Topgolf pretty well, and I think they do a really nice job. I think it doesn't make a difference between if you're a golfer or not. You can go and play, and have fun and enjoy it. It's a little bit like going to a bowling alley and have never bowled. You still have fun, because you're with friends and do what you want to do. It's a little bit like that. But every time you hit a shot, you get some kind of number for it whether you hit it good or bad. I think it's brought a lot of people to the game that we haven't seen before. And it's going to bring a lot more people into the game, and there's going to be more of those types of things. It won't only be Topgolf, but it will be other companies that will do similar type things that will probably be very, very good for the game of golf.

What does it mean to you to be back at a tournament and course named after the 1969 Ryder Cup concession moment?

Tony (Jacklin) is the one who really came up with the idea and called it The Concession. This is his baby. He did this. I was involved, obviously, in doing the golf course and helped Tony with his idea. I thought it was nice when he and Kevin Davis came over to see me, and they talked about what they wanted to do and how they wanted to commemorate that moment in the game of golf. I said, 'Are you kidding? You want to commemorate that?' He said, 'Yeah, I think it's a big deal.' I said OK. Not only did they make a golf course and a club out of it, but they made an event out of it. I think I can give Tony a lot of credit for that. He's done a great job."

  Comments