DUBLIN, Ohio — Is there a Big Three in golf these days?
Jack Nicklaus isn’t sold.
Not just yet, anyway.
The Golden Bear, ahead of Thursday’s start of The Memorial, the tournament he founded that is played on a course he built, made his annual appearance before the media Tuesday and touched on a variety of topics. Naturally, as a former member of the Big Three along with Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, Nicklaus was asked about what some have coined as today’s Big Three of Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, the Nos. 1-3 in the world.
And talk of the current moniker has ramped up seeing as all three have won in their last start – Day in The Players Championship, Spieth in the Dean & DeLuca Invitational at Colonial, and McIlroy in the Irish Open.
The wise statesman, however, said such talk is a tad premature.
While praising Day, Spieth and McIlroy, Nicklaus’ take was why the rush?
When Nicklaus, Palmer and Player were named the Big Three in the mid-60s, Nicklaus had won four majors by then, Palmer had won all seven of his majors and Player had four.
By contrast, McIlroy has four major titles, Spieth two and Day one.
“But we were probably the three better players,” Nicklaus said. “But right behind us, there was (Billy) Casper, and there was (Lee) Trevino, and (Tom) Watson came along. So it was maybe in some ways a little unfair to the others because we got more publicity than they did.
“And it certainly looks a little bit that way here today even though those three are exceptionally good. You've got Rickie Fowler right there. Bubba (Watson) is there. You've got (Hideki) Matsuyama, and you've got just a host of good young players who really would not take much to jump right into that same consideration.”
Nicklaus doesn’t mind the talk of today’s Big Three because of the 19th-hole noise it creates. It sells papers, if you will, and an interesting narrative.
“But don't be too surprised if somebody else doesn't jump in there, too,” Nicklaus said. “That's my point. I think we have more good players today than we've ever had in the game of golf. And I think that's saying a lot because we had a lot of good players when I played. I think you had a bit of a lag in there for a while, that Tiger was just so much better than everybody else.
“ … Now you've got a lot of guys that are really all pretty good and all sit in the same pack.”
Nicklaus said he thinks Woods will get back into that pack. Woods, who has five Memorial titles among 79 Tour wins, won’t be playing here for the second time in three years (he missed in 2014) as he recovers from back surgeries. Woods hasn’t played since August 2015 when he tied for 10th in the Wyndham Championship.
“I think Tiger will be back. I think Tiger would have liked to have played this week. He's just not ready,” Nicklaus said. “But you still got Phil (Mickelson) and guys like that who I don't think are by any means done with their golf game. … I think these three have the potential to be a Big Three but we’ll see.”
Among other golden nuggets from the Golden Bear:
Was Woody Hayes the first golf blogger? The iconic former Ohio State head football coach was at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver for the 1960 U.S. Open when he found out that the Columbus Dispatch did not send a reporter to cover Nicklaus, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion.
“Woody was a little outspoken, as you might know,” Nicklaus said. “He came to Cherry Hills in 1960 because (Kaye Kessler) and Paul Hornung were not sent out by your newspaper. So he said, what do you mean, they're back in Columbus, they've got the U.S. Amateur champion playing in the National, and they don't send out a newspaper guy to cover, what's going on out here? So he stayed and sent back a story every day, right?"
Yes, he did, Kessler answered in Tuesday’s press conference.
“He was a big fan. And I want to tell you one thing, if Woody liked you and supported you, you'd better not be saying something against who he's supporting,” Nicklaus said. “That was Woody. He was something else.”
The Note: After Jordan Spieth surrendered a 5-shot lead with nine to play in the Masters, the key moment being at the 12th where he dumped two balls into Rae’s Creek, Nicklaus sent a compassionate note to Spieth through Twitter.
The words came from his heart.
“Well, you always learn from those experiences. I think we all do. I didn't have one that was quite as bad as what he had, but I go back and look at sort of parallel in my life a little bit back there.”
Then Nicklaus took the listeners back to the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, where as the reigning U.S. Amateur champion he was leading the tournament. And he was 20.
“Now, I wasn't leading by several strokes, but I was leading the U.S. Open and playing with Ben Hogan, had a very good chance to win, nine holes to go, I was leading. I was still leading with six holes to play. I looked at a leaderboard, which had Hogan, Palmer, (Mike) Souchak, (Ted) Kroll, and (Jack) Fleck one shot behind me. And I proceeded to fall apart like a $3 suitcase,” Nicklaus said. “Three-putted 13, three-putted 14, missed a couple of short birdie putts and bogeyed the last hole to lose by two shots.”
Nicklaus said he would have loved to have won the tournament but looking back, it may have been the best thing to happen to him.
“Did it destroy my life? No. I learned from it. I put what I learned there to use,” Nicklaus said. “Did I do it again? Sure. But did I do it to the same degree? No. I came back and in '63, I was at the British Open, trying to win my first British Open. And I had what I thought was a two-shot lead with two holes to play at Lytham.
"I remember it like it was yesterday. I had a shot off the tee in perfect position. I had 212 yards to the hole. Pin was at the back of the green. And my caddy said to me, Jimmy Dickinson, he says, 3-iron is plenty. I said, no, I can't get 3-iron back here, Jimmy. And he said, you don't need to. I wasn't smart, I was too young still to figure it out. So I hit 2-iron, hit it through the green. Didn't get up and down, made bogey, and then bogeyed the last hole. Lost the tournament by a shot. But I learned from that. Anybody with a proper brain would have played the ball short of the hole. I didn't have a proper brain at the time. But you have to make that mistake to learn it."
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