Relaxed Nicklaus in no hurry at the Memorial
DUBLIN, Ohio -- Jack Nicklaus leisurely arrived at Muirfield Village Golf Club on Tuesday morning.
With no practice rounds to play and no tournament for which to groom his game, there was no need to rush. The Memorial Tournament gets started Thursday, for the first time without the man who created it in the field.
"Have you seen me play lately?" Nicklaus cracked when he was asked whether it would be odd not tee it up. "I won't feel weird at all. It will be a pleasure not to play."
Nicklaus was the only person to have played in each of the 30 previous Memorial Tournaments. He walked away from tournament golf a year ago after the British Open at St. Andrews. The reasons were numerous.
First, he was no longer competitive in PGA Tour events -- particularly at the Memorial. He missed the cut at the Memorial more times in the last five years (three) than he did the first 19 times he played in it.
"If I came back, I'd want to enjoy it and not come out here and shoot a pair of 85s," he said. "I'd like to play decent and make the cut, or I'm not going to do that. I'm not just going to go out and clutter up the field."
Second, at age 66 and with substantial hip and back problems over the past few years, climbing the hills and hollows of Muirfield Village is harder and harder for him.
"I'm not sure I could walk 18 holes every day," Nicklaus said. "I played three times a week ago, which was my seventh, eighth and ninth times since the British Open -- and it darned near killed me."
He described wearing a pair of well-worn, broken-in golf shoes, but having to put Band-Aids on every toe after walking a round.
"Once you feel like physically you can't do it, and then all of a sudden you play a little bit, you say, 'Wow. This is an ordeal,' " he said.
Third, he continues to have a full life off the golf course.
"I'm absolutely loving what I'm doing," he said. "I'm traveling twice as much as I ever traveled, going to places I never would have gone before and doing things that don't require me to make sure I watch what I do here or there because I've got a tournament coming up."
Even though he's not playing this week (other than in the pro-am), Nicklaus will still be hovering over his tournament like a doting parent.
Jim Furyk, who won the Memorial in 2002, said he and other players accept that Nicklaus' role has changed.
"I received the trophy from Jack Nicklaus," said Furyk, who met his wife, a native of the area, during the tournament one year. "Having him present, having this be his tournament with his name on it, it's a wonderful feeling. I'll always remember that and whether he tees it up in the golf tournament or not, the fact that he's here and he takes pride in this place is plenty."
Nicklaus reserves the right to someday play in the Memorial again. He even initiated changes in the tournament's contract so that if he decided to play he wouldn't be bumping a younger player out.
That's in the future, however. Perhaps, that day will never arrive.
In the meantime, it's enough that Nicklaus isn't longing to live up to his legacy -- or his own expectations.
Describing his most recent round of golf at Muirfield Village, he said, "I played the back tees on Saturday and I cruised around with a 77, just easy as can be."
Then he laughed at himself, long and hard.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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