TOUR Insider: Nicklaus' listening ability makes the Memorial great

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May 29, 2013

By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

Jack Nicklaus has so many positive attributes.

In his youth, he was able to overpower golf courses. In his maturity, he was able to think his way through a tournament. In business, he was able to understand what a client wanted and deliver.

Do you know why he was able to accomplish so much?

Jack Nicklaus always listened.

Of everything Nicklaus has done well during his career, he has always been a good listener.  He would listen to other players complain at a U.S. Open venue and realize their frustration would help him win.

He listened to his Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams and understood it was just as important to stay out of their way as it was to provide information.

He’s still listening.

When he has casual conversations with players or fans, you might think Nicklaus is just making small talk when he is actually gathering information.

Nicklaus greets all the players this week and asks them about their experiences at Muirfield Village and the tournament.

One year he asked PGA TOUR winner Dennis Paulson about the 18th hole. Paulson suggested bringing the creek more into play on the left side and adding some bunkers to the right. He told Nicklaus it was easy for him to carry the ball 290 and take the bunkers out of play.

When Paulson returned the next season, it looked like Nicklaus spent the winter on a backhoe digging out bunkers. There are now nine of them on the right side of the fairway on the final hole at Muirfield Village and it’s a 333-yard carry to clear the sand.

Nicklaus also asked Paulson what he would think of moving the 17th green closer to the water and making an amphitheater for the fans on the hill behind the green. Paulson agreed and the next year those changes were implemented.

Finally, Nicklaus asked Paulson about possible changes on the fifth hole. Paulson refused to answer, telling Nicklaus, “Every year I give you suggestions and every year I come back here and the course is harder. I’m not talking anymore.”

Be careful when you talk to Nicklaus.

Jack’s listening.

Observations

Rivalry: Everyone knows about the fierce rivalry between Ohio and Michigan. It now seems The Great Lakes State has sabotaged the Buckeye State with an infestation of the emerald ash borer. The insect has migrated from Michigan to Ohio and is causing problems at Muirfield Village. Some 500 trees were infected and removed. The deforestation has improved sight lines and airflow on the golf course, but some strategy has changed. Losing trees on the right side of the fifth hole was serious enough that rough was grown longer and some trees were replaced.

Final hole: Everyone concentrates on the drive at the 18th, but it’s the green that offers risk reward. It’s bunkered front and left. On Sunday the hole is usually cut back left. If you play to the center of the green, it’s an easy approach but a very difficult putt. If you go at the flagstick, the bunkers come into play and they make for a difficult par. You think of risk-reward holes as par 5s with water, but the 18th at Muirfield Village presents very difficult choices.

Home visit: Jack Nicklaus has his usual weekday press conference, but the really special audience takes place Sunday morning at his house. A few media will be invited to the Nicklaus compound and Jack will answer questions in his living room.  A couple years ago, Nicklaus proudly said, “Listen to this.” He got up and walked around the room saying, “Do you hear it?” There was a small clicking sound as Nicklaus walked and he proudly proclaimed, “That’s my new hip.” He recently had hip replacement surgery and was absolutely giddy about the clicking noise. His wife, Barbara, finally walked into the room, surveyed the situation and said, “That’s enough, Jack,” and he immediately stopped.

Winner, winner: It’s gotten to the point where I can’t just give you Tiger Woods every week. His game and this golf course are a perfect match. Of course Woods is the favorite. Make that prohibitive favorite. He’s probably going to be favored for the rest of the year. So let’s pretend Tiger isn’t in the field and consider other options. Rory McIlroy is having a frustrating year and it may have peaked last week in London. He played awful and that’s why I like him this week. Muirfield Village is perfect for him. He is so talented that the law of averages dictate he breaks through soon with a win. I think that win comes this week.

Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.

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