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DUBLIN, Ohio – As is an annual occurrence, Jack Nicklaus met with the media Tuesday ahead of the start of The Memorial he hosts at Muirfield Village Golf Club, which he built, and did what he always does – talk at length on a variety of subjects for over more than one hour.
One subject, however, he only touched on briefly – a complaint filed against him on May 13 by Nicklaus Companies which alleges tortious interference, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty.
Nicklaus, 82, said in a statement two weeks ago that the claims by Howard Milstein, executive chairman of the Nicklaus Companies who also oversees Golf Magazine and Golf.com., were untrue.
“I’m not worried about that,” Nicklaus said. “I feel very comfortable with where we are. And I’m here to talk about The Memorial Tournament and not that.”
This is the 47th playing of The Memorial, which Nicklaus won in 1977 and 1984. This year, he welcomes another loaded field, topped by seven of the top-10 players in the world – world No. 2 Jon Rahm, No. 3 Cameron Smith, No. 4 Collin Morikawa, No. 6 and defending champion Patrick Cantlay, No. 7 Viktor Hovland, No. 8 Rory McIlroy and No. 10 Jordan Spieth.
After a major renovation of the course completed in 2021, Nicklaus feels the players will be challenged by a firm and fast track.
“This year now that we’ve had a year of maturity, the fairways are excellent,” Nicklaus said. “The guys were coming in today and telling me how firm they were. I like firm greens, but I don’t like ridiculous greens. I like them so that if you play a good shot, you’re rewarded and the ball will take it right out a little bit, but it won’t hit and go.
“The rough is not particularly thick this year. I don’t know why that is, but I think there’s plenty of it. Certainly, around the greens, there’s plenty of it.
“The golf course is excellent. I even played it. I played it for the first time. I played it Saturday and Sunday, and I hadn’t been playing. I didn’t play golf last year. Anyway, I cruised it around Sunday in 84. That was pretty good for me.”
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Here are some other subjects Nicklaus touched on.
On the bountiful, youthful talent on the PGA Tour
“When I played I thought we had a pretty good group of players. Just before us was the Hogan, Snead, Nelson era, then Arnold came along and it sort of dropped a little bit. Then Gary came along and I came along, so we built it back up, Trevino, Watson, Weiskopf, Miller, et cetera. When I played, I thought we had a pretty darned good bunch of guys. Maybe 20 guys who could win a golf tournament.
“All of a sudden, the Tour is not just the U.S. Tour anymore. The Tour has guys coming from everywhere in the world that are the best players from everywhere in the world that are now making their living and living in the United States. They’re good. They’re really good.
“Tiger kept them down for a while – he kept winning every week and nobody could learn how to win. Well, all of a sudden when Tiger got hurt, all of a sudden these young guys learned how to win golf tournaments. That all of a sudden sort of fueled some of these other young guys to say, hey, if these guys can do it, I can do it, too. Right now I think we have more good players in the game of golf on the PGA Tour than we have ever had in the history of the game, and I think it’s wonderful.”
On being approached by the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series. Nicklaus said he was offered $100 million to be the CEO of the series, which is scheduled to start next week in London
“They obviously called me. And we’ve had a contract on a golf course in Saudi Arabia for over a couple of years. Essentially the same group. They came into the Bear’s Club. We met a couple of guys. John Rees and Paul Stringer from the Nicklaus Companies were there because we were doing the golf course, and they proposed this thing to me.
“I did it out of courtesy to them because we’re doing a golf course for them. I’ve got zero interest in wanting to do something like that. I don’t care what kind of money they would have thrown at me. My allegiance has been to the PGA Tour. I grew up on the PGA Tour. I helped found the PGA Tour as it is today.
“My allegiance is there and it’s going to stay there.”
On sports gambling now being legal in Ohio and online sportsbooks being operational in the near future
“It’s the way of the times. We’re part of it. I think they offered it to, what, nine organizations within the state of Ohio or something and we were the one golf tournament, so we’re involved in that. If we don’t do it, somebody else is going to do it, and it’s better to be involved where you control something where there was someplace you can’t control.”
On the only bet he said he ever made on golf
“My one and only wager I made in the game, I was 20 years old, I was playing the (1960) U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, and my dad came to me. I’m an amateur now, this is June. I’m getting married in July. He goes, ‘Jack, you’re 35 to 1. Do you want some of that?’ Dad, I’ll take $20 of that. He said, ‘Do you want win, place or show?’ I said, I’m not here for place or show.
“So I’m coming down the stretch at the U.S. Open as a 20-year-old amateur. I’m thinking about the $700 that I might make to go start our marriage. Well, I didn’t win, so I didn’t get the $700. I lost my $20, my one and only bet in golf.”
On Justin Thomas, who won the PGA Championship two weeks ago, not playing this week
Justin Thomas poses with the Wanamaker trophy after winning the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club. (Photo: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)
“He called Barbara (Nicklaus’ wife), then called me. He called the boss first because he knew if he could get by her, he could get by me. Anyway, JT called and he said, ‘I hate making this phone call.’ You know how much I love Muirfield and I love your tournament and I love what you’re doing and the things you and I have been involved in together. I said, I know that. He says, but I tried something before the PGA; I played the week before, and I won the tournament. He said, ‘I think I should do that again.’ I said, JT, I understand; I had the same situation when I was your age. Everybody wanted us to play everywhere, and you can’t play everywhere. I understand. I said, I know that you’ll be back. So I just wished him good luck. Go play. I’m saddened by him not playing, but everybody can’t play.”
On playing four rounds of golf recently – two at Augusta National and two at Muirfield Village – after not playing all of last year
“About two weeks ago, I took (son) Jackie and (grandson) J3, his son, and Charlie, who is one of his boys, up to Augusta. I had played a scramble, an odd three or four holes here or there. But inflammation has been my problem, and most of the inflammation I seem for some reason to have gotten out of me. I said, okay, I can play with you guys. Really, you’re going to play with us?
“I said, yeah. So I played nine holes. He said, we’ll see you after. I said, what do you mean? I’m going to play the back nine. I whizzed it around and shot a slick 88 without a birdie, which I haven’t made birdie yet this year incidentally.
“But I enjoyed it. I said, well, I’m going to see if I can play again tomorrow. I played again the next day. Why am I playing? I don’t know. I’m tired of not playing, I think. I really love to play golf. I don’t enjoy playing golf the way I’ve been playing, that’s for sure, but I enjoyed it. I had a chance to shoot my age both days (at Memorial), and I choked.
“I don’t know why I’m playing. I’m going to continue to play. You’ve got to do something for crying out loud. I’ve been sitting around feeling sorry for myself because I haven’t been able to do anything. It’s time to get out and do something.”
On the albatross made by his grandson, J3, on the 15th hole at Augusta National
“On the second day, we got to the 15th hole, and the boys played a mixture of front tees and back tees, going back and forth. I play far forward. They don’t have forward tees. I don’t know where Condoleezza Rice plays from, but she’s got to play the same tees back here that the members play, and that’s too long. Half the membership out there is over 80 years old. I don’t know how they play the golf course. I’m serious actually. It’s tough.
“Anyway, we got around to 15 and I said, ‘Guys, you don’t want to play that new tee, you’ll be laying it up. So they played the next tee up. J3 hit a really nice drive down there, and they had the pins in every tough pin placement you could – far left on 15, far left on 14. He birdied 14, too. Far right on 12, far back as you could get it on 11. I don’t know why; I should never tell them I’m coming there because they do that to me all the time.
“Anyway, we got down there and he killed a drive and played an 8-iron, hit just to the right of the pin, ball trickled down, boom, into the hole. Everybody is cheering, yelling, so forth. Went down and took our picture by the Sarazen Bridge.”