Nicklaus holds court prior to Presidents Cup
DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Even though he doesn’t have an official title at the Presidents Cup, Jack Nicklaus remains a presence.
Fred Couples, captain of the U.S. side, put it all into perspective.
“We know who’s in charge,” he said. “Jack Nicklaus.”
The winner of a record 18 major championships is an unofficial host for this week’s biennial match-play competition between the U.S. and an International side.
On Tuesday he discussed his pride over the course he designed, Muirfield Village, becoming the first to host a Ryder Cup (1987), a Solheim Cup (1998) and a Presidents Cup (in addition to the annual Memorial Tournament).
“Obviously, that’s pretty special,” said the 73-year-old Columbus native. “We are the only ones who can say that.”
Nicklaus was a four-time captain of the Presidents Cup, which has been dominated by the Americans. A similar thing was happening in the older Ryder Cup until the Europeans upset the U.S. side at ... Muirfield Village.
Nicklaus, as a veteran of elite match play competitions and as an ambassador of the game, addressed the course, the art of pairing players in matches, pressure on the International team to be competitive and, of all things, attending a hockey game.
— Nicklaus said he knew he had to lengthen the 18th hole at Muirfield Village when one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, Robert Garrigus, approached him at the 2012 Memorial.
“Garrigus came in here last year and he says, ‘Jack, remember I drove it up to 76 yards from the hole last year?’” Nicklaus said. “I said I remembered. He says, ‘I drove it to 64 yards today.’ I wanted to wring his neck.”
Now the par-4 hole stretches another 45 yards to almost 500 yards. Long hitters can no longer just drive over the nine bunkers along the right side of the fairway. Instead, they’ll have to deal with a black walnut tree 305 yards off the tee then hit a long, uphill approach to a hard, fast, tilted green.
“You have to play a very significant shot in,” he said.
— Asked how he decided pairings when he was a captain in both the Ryder and Presidents Cups, Nicklaus said he left it up to the team.
“I’d ask all the guys at the beginning of the week, ‘Who would you like to play with?’ Or, ‘Who wouldn’t you like to play with?’” he said. Then he would try to pair players with friends and not with enemies, if at all possible.
At the same time, if a player wanted to play against someone, he would try to accommodate them.
“Couples asked me to give him Vijay (Singh) one match. I remember I had (Phil) Mickelson) ask for (Angel) Cabrera,” Nicklaus said.
At Royal Melbourne in 1998, Tiger Woods requested playing Greg Norman in singles.
“So my goal was to get Norman for him,” Nicklaus said.
He traded picks with International captain Peter Thomson until he was able to secure Woods vs. Norman.
“I walked out and got the pairings and Norman said, ‘Why did you do that to me?’ And I said, ‘Hey, you’re not on my team!’” Nicklaus said. “We all got a big laugh out of that.”
Woods had the last laugh with a 1-up victory on Sunday.
— The U.S. is 7-1-1 in the Presidents Cup and has won the last four matches easily.
The Internationals could turn the tide at Muirfield Village, much like the Europeans did there in the Ryder Cup.
The U.S. team includes Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley — all major-championship winners.
Woods, who has won the Memorial five times, would like nothing better than to win the Presidents Cup, which gets under way on Thursday, on Nicklaus’ course.
“It would be fun,” he said. “It would be fun to win it in front of the home fans.”
Captain Nick Price’s International side has Angel Cabrera, Ernie Els, Adam Scott, Charl Schwarzel, Louis Ooosthuizen — and several relatively obscure players yet to make their mark on the world stage.
“The teams this year are probably skewed a little stronger toward the American side,” Nicklaus said. “We hear about the American players because they are here every week. They have stepped up and done a good job.
“But I think that goes in cycles. You know, four years from now, the Americans might be begging for mercy.”
— Nicklaus has been chosen to drop the ceremonial first puck for the NHL opener of the Columbus Blue Jackets when they play the Calgary Flames on Friday night.
“First of all, I’ve never seen a puck dropped. I’ve never heard the phrase until about two weeks ago,” he said, laughing. “I don’t know how far you drop it from. I don’t know what you’re supposed to hit and who you’re not supposed to hurt with it. So I’ll find out on Friday night.
“I need to learn something; I need to broaden my horizons.”
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