What’s it like to play with Jack Nicklaus? Peter McEvoy explains.
Jack Nicklaus only had fond stories to tell about a couple of Fort Worth golf legends in Ben Hogan and Dan Jenkins during a recent visit to the Metroplex to celebrate the Dallas Athletic Club’s 100th anniversary.
With the start of Colonial week, highlighted by the Charles Schwab Challenge, it’s only fitting to share those now.
Nicklaus recalled how much of a lasting impression and impact Hogan made on his career. The two were paired together in the final round of the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado.
Nicklaus, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion at the time, held the lead going into the back nine. But Nicklaus had a couple of costly three-putts on the back nine and finished runner-up to Arnold Palmer.
After the round, Hogan told Jenkins: “I played with a young kid [Nicklaus]. If he’d known how to win, he would’ve won by seven strokes.”
At the time, Nicklaus didn’t quite understand what that meant.
“I learned that, as you go on, you’ve got to learn how to win, you’ve got to learn how to be smart,” Nicklaus said. “Tiger [Woods] knew how to win [at the Masters]. He knew how to win, so he did. That’s what I did when I was playing.”
Yes, Nicklaus won again and again and again in his career. He is regarded as the greatest golfer of all time with 18 major championships.
But, after that 1960 U.S. Open, Nicklaus and Hogan became regular practice round partners.
“The next year at Augusta is the next time I saw [Hogan] and he walked into the locker room with a couple sacks of shoes over his shoulder and said, ‘Hey, fella, how you doing?’” Nicklaus said. “I said, ‘I’m doing fine, Mr. Hogan. How are you?’ He said, ‘You got a game?’ I said, ‘I do now.’
“I was very flattered by that. I was a 21-year-old kid who nobody sought out to play with and Hogan did the same thing at Oakland Hills [for the U.S. Open] two weeks later. That was a big part of my career.
“Hogan saw something in this young kid.”
Nicklaus and Hogan were paired for the final round of the 1966 Masters, too, which Nicklaus won in a playoff.
Nicklaus went on to talk about his relationship with Jenkins, and the impact the longtime Fort Worth writer made on the game.
“Jenkins was a great writer,” Nicklaus said. “Creative. Funny. I loved his books. I read every one of his books and I don’t read much. He had a great wit.
“He roasted me one time when somebody lost his credentials for the Memorial Tournament the first year it went on. I said, ‘Dan, I don’t do your credentials.’ But that was his way of having fun. He was a good friend right up to the end.
“He added a tremendous amount to the game and a tremendous amount to your industry [of sports writing].”
Nicklaus offered his thoughts on a variety of other topics too --
On putting: “You have certain fundamentals that I think are crucial to putting. I don’t think your eyes have to be over the ball, but I think it should be over the line. I think the shaft of the putter should be straight up or leaning toward the hole. I think grip pressure is probably the one thing that nobody pays much attention to in putting. I think it’s by far the most crucial thing. However you grip it to start, Tom Watson grips it fairly tight, but he keeps it tight. [Ben] Crenshaw barely holds on to it and then barely holds on to it all the way through. I’m a little in the middle of that.”
On biggest concern for golf’s future: “My biggest concern, which has been my concern for 42 years, is the golf ball. You all enjoy hitting the ball long. It’s fun. I enjoy hitting it long. But, for practical purposes, you only have so much land. You only have so much money. You only have so much time. The longer the golf course, the more difficult it is. If you hit it 40 yards shorter, you’ll find your ball a lot more. Not only would you find it more, you’d play about 30-40 minutes faster and it’d be cheaper. All those things are problems we’ve had with golf.”
On course management: “Preparation. Pure preparation. You’ve got to spend the time and effort to prepare and get ready. The rough, speed of greens, I got all of that out of the way the week before [a tournament].”
On handling weather conditions: “I always enjoyed being able to beat extreme conditions. Watson was the best extreme condition player that I met. He always played very well. Arnold [Palmer] was very good at that. I wasn’t great on the rainy stuff, but I persevered and got through it. A lot of guys were a lot better at that than I was.”