Of peach cobbler, Nicklaus and moral lectures
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Every visitor to Augusta National finds his or her own favourite spot, whether it’s on the patio, sampling the peach cobbler, or at the putting green, or the gift shop, or the grandstand at the 16th, watching the pros skip balls off the water in practice.
My own particular favourite tends to be the tiny press stand beside the 12th tee, all the way down there at Amen Corner, where it’s always nice to sit with pal Arturo Fuente and contemplate life as it goes past, slowly and, apparently, without a care in the world.
That 12th hole is the diabolical little par-three when the Masters toona-mint often turns on its head. It’s the same hole where my friend Chris Smith from Carnoustie once hit his 8-iron to six feet and holed the putt, although he never, ever mentions that sort of thing to a guy who made 5 and 6 the two times he played there, once after skulling a sand shot back into Rae’s Creek (the horror, the horror).
This day, it was the place to sit and contemplate the wit and wisdom of Jack Nicklaus, who had come into the press room Tuesday evening for his annual palaver with the writers. Now, most athletes would rather jab hot needles into their eyes than open up with scribblers. We are a necessary evil for them and sometimes we’re not even necessary. Fine.
Nicklaus, though, likes to sit around and shoot the breeze. He's amiable, has a good sense of humour and always has some valuable insights gained from his decades of experience. For instance, here is his advice for Masters rookies.
“Watch, observe. I go back to my first Masters. I played pretty well from tee to green. I hit 31 of 36 greens (in regulation). That obviously means I didn’t play 72,’’ he said. “I shot (150) and had eight three-putt greens in 36 holes. Arnold (Palmer) was leading the tournament at 141 and he’d hit 19 greens in regulation. I said, ‘You’d better learn how to chip and putt and understand what happens on this golf course’,’’ he said. “That’s what I learned, by watching and seeing what people did.’’
He relayed a conversation he had with Tom Watson a half hour after Watson’s final-hole bogey cost him a miracle victory at age 59 in the British Open.
“He said he felt bad and I said, ‘Tom, how many 59-year-olds have shot 65 in the first round of the British Open?’
“I can’t think of any.’’
“How many have led after two rounds? After three rounds? After four roounds? I can’t think of any.’’
“But I didn’t finish.’’
“I said, ‘Tom, you played a great tee shot on 18 and you played what appeared to be a great second shot. Just happened to be that much too long.’ I said, ‘Tom, you picked the right club for your third shot’.’’
“He said, ‘I’m glad to hear you say that. I’m getting a lot of flak on that. But I goosed it.’
“I said, ‘So what? You had to get the ball on the green’. Then I said, ‘But then you hit the putt like the rest of us.’’
That got laughs. He almost always does. Pound for pound, Jack Nicklaus remains the best press-room visitor in sports, at least in this opinion.
Speaking of the press room, by now everybody knows that Billy Payne went off on Tiger Woods Wednesday morning, speaking of his “egregious behaviour’’ and laying into him pretty good for being a lousy role model for kids and so on.
That’s totally fine and Payne is entitled to his opinion, the same as everybody else. And you can see he is trying to show the club doesn't condone Woods's actions, nor is it complicit in helping him find a soft landing. But here’s someone who is slightly squeamish when it comes to hearing any high sheriff from Augusta National lay a morals lecture on anyone else. Given this club’s history and some of its woeful practices – such as barring blacks until three decades ago and still barring women as members today – it’s somewhat surprising (at least here) that the chairman didn’t adopt the same glass-house policy that most of Woods’s fellow pros did.