Welcome to Teeing Off, where Devil Ball editor Jay Busbee and head writer Jonathan Wall take a day's topic and smack it all over the course. Suggest a future topic by writing firstname.lastname@example.org, or hit us on Twitter at @jaybusbee and @jonathanrwall. Today, we consider how the Golden Bear might do were he playing today.
Busbee: So this week we're in Jack Nicklaus territory, and with that in mind, let's do a little thought experiment: how well would Jack Nicklaus fare on Tour today? Not the 2012 Jack, of course. I'm talking 1965 Jack Nicklaus, coming off a Masters win, inspiring that famous Bobby Jones quote about playing a game with which Jones was not familiar. Drop that Jack in 2012, give him some current-model sticks, keep him away from those newfangled iPhones, don't tell him about John Lennon...how's he going to do?
Wall: Now this is a topic! If we're going with Jack Nicklaus (circa 1965), then we're talking about a legend who was about to enter the prime of his career. He still had 14 major championship wins left in him, which is the same number Tiger Woods is stuck on at the moment. So how would he do, huh? That's like asking how Michael Jordan (circa 1991) would do in today's NBA. Obviously, I think Nicklaus would still thrive on today's tour, especially with the new technology. Staying in shape on the course wasn't that big of a deal back in the 1960s, so I think he'd lose out in the distance battle, but with the exception of Tiger Woods, nobody in the game had a better killer instinct than Jack. He stared down Arnold Palmer and Gary Player early in his career, and took on Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson as things were winding down. I know the PGA Tour is as deep as it's ever been, but when you realize how many great players Nicklaus had to go up against and what he was able to accomplish, I think he wouldn't have any problem with today's crop of youngsters. Would he win 14 majors over the rest of his career? I'm not sure. But I still think '65 Jack Nicklaus would be one hell of a force on today's tour. What do you think?
Busbee: Let's put aside the idea that Nicklaus would've been training on longer courses all along; the Tiger-proofed courses of the 21st century would give him some trouble. But here's where Nicklaus has an unwavering edge: confidence. As you pointed out, the guy knew on the first tee on Thursday if he was going to beat you. And if he couldn't outdrive a JB Holmes or a Dustin Johnson, he'd beat them on the green. Here's my question, though: how would a young Nicklaus handle the media scrutiny? Although his image has softened into a golden (ha!) glow with time, there were years when he was derided by Arnie's Army, in both the gallery and the press box, and he took it very, very hard. How would he do with all these filthy blogs weighing in on him?
Wall: That's a great question. You and I both know social media and the Internet age have changed the game in a number of ways. The best players in the game are constantly in the spotlight on a 24/7 basis, so naturally Nicklaus would've been leading the weekly coverage, even if he wasn't playing well. I think like a lot of guys he probably would have tolerated all the media scrutiny at first, but over time, I think he would've fired back ... on Twitter. OK, I doubt young Jack would've had an account, but I still think he would've had a couple verbal battles with the media. But overall, if he was playing at a high level, I doubt the media would've had much too much to talk about. Nicklaus was a clean-cut guy; we don't have to worry about him showing up on TMZ. So that leaves the occasional rough stretch in the season where he maybe didn't win. Nicklaus was always good at letting his clubs do the talking. But that's just me. What do you think?
Busbee: I think Nicklaus would have some Tiger-esque moments with the press, and I don't think he'd have stopped at cool indifference. But then Tiger would be the majors leader, and Jack would be chasing him, and ... we're pretty far down the rabbit hole here now. Anyway, Nicklaus is one of those few figures who would have thrived in every era of golf. Shame we don't have him in the spotlight any longer, but glad he's still around anyway.
All right, your turn. How would Jack Nicklaus handle the golf world of 2012? Have your say!
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