Nicklaus wants to challenge, not punish, players
AP Golf Writer
DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) ” The morning calm at Muirfield Village was shattered by a sound that was sure to be sweet music to players.
It came from the engine of a lawn mower.
Mowers were thought to be a myth last year at the Memorial. The rough was supposed to be 4 inches, yet it doubled in length by the end of the week, and was particularly punishing around the greens. It felt as though the U.S. Open had arrived two weeks early.
Geoff Ogilvy feared some players would stop coming.
Phil Mickelson showed his displeasure by praising the course of every tournament he had played that year except for the Memorial. Even before his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, Lefty did not have Muirfield Village on his schedule this year.
“We were over the top last year,” said Slugger White, the PGA Tour official in charge of setting up the course.
The fault fell to Jack Nicklaus ” at least that’s the perception of most players.
After all, this is the course Jack built for a tournament he has hosted since 1976. Nicklaus built his career around the majors, and he wants the Memorial to be the next best thing.
But even Nicklaus was troubled by the high grass, not to mention the complaints.
“The one thing I never liked as a golfer was hack-out rough,” Nicklaus said Tuesday. “I’ve always felt that if you put the ball in the rough, there should be some chance of playing a shot to reach the green, but not be able to control the ball like you would normally. I think recovery is a beautiful part of the game.”
Muirfield Village is spectacular as ever, but not the same this year. The rough is not as dense, not as high. The wooden rakes that created furrows in the bunkers the last three years have been replaced by standard rakes that leave the sand smooth.
This came not from concession, rather discussion.
Nicklaus met with PGA Tour officials, as always, after Kenny Perry won last year with the highest winning score (280) in 23 years.
“I don’t think Mr. Nicklaus or the tour liked what came out of last year,” said Steve Rintoul, the tour official who oversaw the course setup this year. “The rules committee, in conjunction with Jack, thought it better to have shorter rough.”
Ultimately, the tour has the final word in how the course plays.
But if Nicklaus is the one taking the heat whenever someone complains ” a chief hobby for most players on this tour ” then why not just take full authority of his golf tournament?
Nicklaus chuckled at the suggestion.
“We are part of the tour,” he said. “What I want to do is cooperate the best I can, have middle round on what I want to do and what the players like. My feeling is, do I want them to not like it? Of course not. I want everybody to be happy, everybody to enjoy it. But not everyone thinks the way I think. I’m 69. Guys are 40 years younger than I am, or more. They haven’t been brought up the way I was.
“It’s more my job to adjust to them than their job to adjust to me.”
But there are some areas where Nicklaus will not budge.
Bunkers that had furrows now are smooth. High rough is now shorter. The tour also suggested that Nicklaus slow the speed of the greens, and that’s where he drew the line.
“I’ll yield to the other two, but that’s our golf course,” he said. “The golf course has always had fast greens.”
Neither will Nicklaus budge on his belief that players are to be challenged.
There are some who believe golf should be about entertainment, that fans would rather see birdies than players grinding over par.
It’s not for every tournament. It’s not for the Memorial.
For Nicklaus, there is a difference between “tournament golf” and “entertaining golf,” even if both can provide a similar outcome. Carl Pettersson, who won the Memorial three years ago, understood what Nicklaus was talking about.
“Tournament golf is hard work,” he said. “It’s like a doctor going into surgery; you’re worn out when it’s over. In tournament golf, you have to be thinking on every shot.”
Nicklaus recalls one PGA Tour event that kept begging him to play. He finally relented, shot four rounds in the 60s and kept falling farther and farther down the leaderboard.
“My feeling is when you’re setting up a golf tournament, you should try to have the best test you can have that week for the players,” Nicklaus said. “When I played, I chose my tournaments based on how the golf course would be and how the challenge would be. I knew if I had a good challenge, it would not only help my game, but improve my ability to prepare for when I got to a major. To come in town and collect money and get out and not have a challenge … was something I didn’t want to do.
“But maybe I’m different.”
In one aspect, he is no different from any other tournament host. No longer a player, no longer Presidents Cup captain after three straight terms, his primary involvement in the PGA Tour comes through the Memorial. And he still looks at a golf course the way he would want to see it if he were still playing.
“For the most part, this is most guys’ favorite tournament, and I want it to stay that way,” he said. “But I want tournament golf.”