Jack Nicklaus: USGA has gotten away from its identity by taking U.S. Open to new venues
It’s sounding more and more like the PGA Championship is moving to May and the Players to March, with the possibility of the Memorial Tournament getting a slot as a major championship during an Olympic year. Jack Nicklaus made the point to PGA CEO Pete Bevacqua when they met earlier this year in Florida that, “if we can be any help to you, we’d certainly consider doing it.” Last Tuesday, Nicklaus met with new PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who was at Muirfield Village along with Bevacqua as members of the tournament’s Captains Club. That afternoon in his State of the Golden Bear news conference, Nicklaus intimated that while a schedule change could cause problems, it could also alleviate some, too. “They [the PGA Tour] have a couple tournaments in there that [are] probably pretty weak … that might be asked to be relieved of the burden they have of being played in the middle of the season from a purse standpoint, so they could move into the fall.” Post Masters, events such as the RBC Heritage, the Valero Texas Open, the Dean & DeLuca Invitational, the FedEx St. Jude Classic and the Travelers Championship all have purses of less than $7 million. Nicklaus alluded that rewriting the schedule so the FedEx Cup playoffs end on Labor Day weekend will be a solution “that nobody’s going to agree with. But after you have it for a couple of years you’re going to see the reason why they’re doing what they’re trying to do and what they’re trying to accomplish.”
Jack Nicklaus never mentioned USGA executive director Mike Davis by name, but the four-time U.S. Open champion did send an old-school message to him and the government body about going to non-traditional Open venues such as Chambers Bay and Erin Hills. Although Royal Portrush has been awarded the Open Championship in 2019, he used the R&A template of sticking with the same rota of traditional courses as a better system. “I think that the USGA has gotten away from their identity with what they’re doing. I do,” Nicklaus said to reporters after his news conference at Muirfield Village last Tuesday. “I happened to like the U.S. Open the way it was.” Admitting he was old-fashioned, the 77-year-old Nicklaus also preferred the National Open being more of an “ultimate test” when Joe Dey and P.J. Boatwright were in charge of courses going back to Nicklaus’ first Open 60 years ago in 1957. It should be pointed out, the list of recent Open champions does include Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy. Additionally, the venues for future Opens have a very traditional feel—Shinnecock Hills in 2018, Pebble Beach in 2019, Winged Foot in 2020—with only Los Angeles Country Club (2023) being a first-time host between now and 2026. “I just happen to love what I grew up on and I thought that the era that I played in, I thought that the golf courses were fantastic,” Nicklaus said. “They’re getting away from that. And I don’t know whether that’s good or bad, it’s just different.”
Bernhard Langer said he was “honored to be mentioned in the same breath as Jack Nicklaus” before he broke Nicklaus’ record of eight senior majors at the KitchenAid Senior PGA. Totally in jest, Nicklaus said if he knew Langer was going to break his record, he would have played more. He wouldn’t have, of course. When Jack turned 50 in 1990, he prioritized his competitive golf on the majors and the senior majors. “I wasn’t super serious about it, but I enjoyed playing it and when I got done, I got done and I realized I had won more [majors] than anybody else had won, that was a nice finish of it,” Nicklaus said. “Now somebody’s beaten that record but that’s all right. That’s good.” Nicklaus described the two-time Masters champion as a “late-bloomer” and pointed out that Langer won his ninth senior major at 59, while his last major came at the 1996 Tradition at age 56. Another comparison of their priorities: Langer now has 32 career senior victories in 196 starts, while Nicklaus had 10 in 84 starts. The message here? To Langer, senior golf is part of his legacy. For Nicklaus, it is but a footnote.