Jack wants change: "Game is 80 Power and 20 Percent Shotmaking"

Though he never seems to be out of the limelight for long, Golf Digest is still heralding [photopress:photo_jack_nicklaus_1.jpg,full,alignright]their new interview with Jack Nicklaus as some sort of exclusive. And this interview does seem to be a little different as Jack is even more outspoken than normal and seems, well, damned cranky.

But his motivations are clear: Jack wants to do what he feels is in the best interests of the game of golf.

Im more interested in the game of golf than in my records. I did what I could do in my time, and it was the best I could do. Now I just want whats best for the game.

He spends the first part of the interview ranting over the fact the USGA and the R&A have allowed the golf ball issue to get away from them. He argues it has fundamentally altered the game:

The pro game used to be 80 percent shotmaking and about 20 percent power. There were certain courses where power was a bigger factor, when the rough was down or the fairways were wide, and I absolutely tried to take advantage of it, because I had that element. I remember one round in New Orleans I drove the ball on the green of three par 4s. I used power when it was prudent, and I could switch gears in the middle of a round.

But from what I see, the pro game has switched to where its about 80 percent power and 20 percent shotmaking. Today, a Gary Player, a Ben Hogan, as talented as they were but with smaller statures, would have much less of a chance of being the best in the world.

In fact, Nicklaus thinks the “bomb and gouge” strategy employed by a lot of young American players is the reason for the country’s failure at the Ryder Cup:

By the way, I believe modern equipment has a role in why America seems to lose so often in international team play. In the past our players could rely on superior technique that came from growing up in the country with the best teachers and learning facilities, but todays equipment has neutralized that advantage. With todays balls and clubs making it easier to play power golf, its more important to be a good athlete and have a lot of spirit and guts. Worldwide, the athletc talent pool is very deep, and players who come from smaller countries or countries where golf is just starting to grow tend to be very hungry. I think thats been a big part of the story in recent Ryder Cups.

Even his thoughts on design seem to be changing as Jack gets older. Once he favored long muscular courses that were created to match his eye and shot selection, he now says he prefers that most members at the courses he builds play from about 6,500 yards. That’s about the right distance. But chasing distances for pro tournaments held once a year is a shell game, he adds.

We have about 16,000 courses in the United States. Almost all of them are obsolete for tournament play. For them to become relevant, we need to roll back the ball about 40 yards. That or rebuild all the fairway bunkers at 300 yards. Which is what were doing, and it costs a fortune. Instead of changing equipment, were changing golf courses. Its great for my business. Im making a living redoing my old courses. But the game should be able to go back to the classic courses just as they are. Why should we be changing all those golf courses? Its ridiculous.

He is also pretty damning when it comes to the subject of the changes at Augusta. Jack can’t figure out why former champions were not consulted about the alterations undertaken by Tom Fazio:

I was disappointed that in doing the redesign, Augusta didnt consult the five oldest multiple Masters champions who also are course designers [Palmer, Player, Nicklaus, Watson, Crenshaw]. We would have had a lot of good ideas, and we wouldnt have clashed. We would have come to an agreement because we all have so much respect for whats there.

And finally Nicklaus proclaims his respect for Tiger, saying that the way Woods hits the ball and his upbringing by Earl makes him more akin to players from earlier eras:

But Tigers emphasis has always been on learning, and knowing how to hit quality golf shots. Because he was taught by his dad to play the old game, he plays the new game better than everybody else. He made himself complete, and that makes a difference, especially in majors. It was never clearer than the way he played while winning the British Open last summer. He beat the best players in the world by essentially hitting irons off the tee.

The entire interview can be found here.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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