By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
DUBLIN, Ohio -- Just when you think you know everything about Jack Nicklaus, you learn something else.
He's a competitor. That's a given. He's the ultimate family man. Absolutely. He has designed some of the best golf courses in the world. Just look at the rankings. And his charitable efforts are second to none.
But did you know Jack Nicklaus can dunk?
The Golden Bear revealed the little-known fact to a handful of reporters in an impromptu interview session prior to the start of the final round of the Memorial Tournament.
One of the similarly high-challenged reporters had the moxie to ask Nicklaus how high the basket was. Nicklaus indicated it was regulation, but added with a smile that "I'm better with a volleyball."
Nicklaus actually played basketball in a recreation league in Florida for about two decades. His teammates were guys he worked with, as well as his secretary's husband who was 6-foot-8 -- "so he was a staple," Nicklaus said.
"It was really kind of funny," he said. "The guys (on my team) would say, 'You take him out and you've got us to deal with.'"
Even those who had written about Nicklaus for a long time were surprised to know that he had played in the league until he was 40. Nicklaus, for his part, was surprised it was such a topic of conversation.
"I always played basketball," he said with a shrug. "I wouldn't call it a real serious situation. I just played. I'd go to the gym on Sunday nights and played, too."
"But it's a big deal to us," one of the reporters said.
"That a little shrimp played basketball?" Nicklaus asked with surprise.
Nicklaus said he played all sports when he was growing up, as well as intramural volleyball, basketball and football while a student at Ohio State. His sport of choice these days is tennis.
"It's just like anybody else," Nicklaus said. "People like to go to the gym and be a gym rat. I'm a sport rat. I like to go and do all the sports and do all kinds of things."
Nicklaus also coached his four sons in Little League, often throwing batting practice. And what was his go-to pitch? "My best pitch was getting it to the catcher," he said.
Nicklaus thinks young kids should play lots of different sports as they are growing up. Some of his 21 grandchildren play lacrosse eight or nine months each year, and he's always encouraging them to branch out.
"When you're 9, 10, 11 years old go play other sports," Nicklaus said. "Round your body out. That's why I played. I thought it was good for your body; round out your body, use different muscles and so forth.
"I've always felt that. I felt specializing is not a thing you should do at a young age."
These days the 71-year-old Nicklaus likes to spend his free time in a boat fishing. " I've always said the fish don't know how old I am," he said with a smile.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
DUBLIN, Ohio -- Although much of central Ohio was under a severe thunderstorm warning until 2 a.m. Sunday morning, Murifield Village was basically spared.
Only three-tenths of an inch of rain fell overnight, so expect Jack Nicklaus' signature creation to still be firm and fast for the final round of the Memorial Tournament.
Granted, there are some low scores in the early going. Vijay Singh shot 7 under – the low round of the tournament -- and first-round co-leader Chris Riley has rebounded nicely from Saturday's 77 by playing his first 17 holes in 5 under.
But come on. This is Sunday at the Memorial Tournament and features one of the best fields of the year. Don't expect it to be easy as the pressure mounts this afternoon.
"They will have their hands full with today's pin placements," Nicklaus said Sunday morning.
The three finishing holes should be particularly challenging. The re-designed 16th -- which is a part of PGATOUR.COM's LIVE@ broadcast today -- has ranked as the toughest through the first two rounds. The 17th is second and the 18th is fourth.
Nicklaus is pleased with the redesign of the par 3 16th, where a pond was added down the left side of the hole. The change was made, in part, to add to the drama when the 2013 Presidents Cup is played at Muirfield Village.
"I think it's an exciting hole," Nicklaus said.
Sunday's pin at No. 16 is in the back left, which allows a player to feed the ball down to the hole. But it's playing to a formidable 200 yards -- which is about 12 and 5 yards longer than in the second and third rounds, respectively, but 6 shorter than in the first.
"They came back to me today and said we might want to go forward today and I said, 'Guys, I'd prefer you didn't,'" Nicklaus said. "You had the opportunity in the second and third rounds and that's where you should have. ... And now the last day when you want to have the golf course play its best and you want to go forward -- that doesn't make any sense."
Obviously, Nicklaus’ opinion was weighed carefully in the decision.
Nicklaus was on hand, as always, to present the Jack Nicklaus Award to the players selected by the Golf Coach Association of America.
UCLA freshman Patrick Cantlay won the Division I award while Abilene Christian Alex Carpenter was honored in Division II, Centre's Chris Morris for Division III, Oklahoma Christian's Oscar Stark for NAIA and Meridian Community College's Brandt Garon for the NJCAA.
Twelve of the previous 20 Division I recipients competed this week at Muirfield Village.
DUBLIN, Ohio – Scott Stallings has bounced back well on Saturday.
The PGA TOUR rookie followed his opening 68 with a 76 but he’s back on track in the third round. He’s 2 under through 12 holes after five birdies, a bogey and a double bogey.
Regardless of what happens this weekend, though, Stallings’ Memorial debut has been a memorable one. That’s because he got to have lunch with the tournament host, Jack Nicklaus, on Monday.
Stallings had nearly finished eating with his friend Kenny Perry when Nicklaus asked if he could join them. When the Golden Bear discovered Stallings had never played at Muirfield Villagel, he was only too happy to impart some knowledge – not unlike Nicklaus did when he took Charl Schwartzel through his thought process at Augusta National.
Stallings has already written about the encounter in his blog. Here’s an excerpt: “He then proceeded to tell me about all the ins and the outs of the course — he was the one who designed it. He told me where he likes to hit and the spots I should try to stay away from. I literally hung on every word.”
Schwartzel, you will remember, went on to win the Masters. Stallings is currently seven strokes off the pace with the leaders still awaiting their third round tee times.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
DUBLIN, Ohio -- Tiger Woods wanted to play in the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance this week. He really did.
After all, Woods is a four-time champion of the event hosted by the man whose records he so doggedly has pursued. Finally, though, Woods knew he had to make the call -- literally as well as figuratively.
The damage to his left knee and Achilles tendon -- which caused Woods to withdraw after nine holes of THE PLAYERS Championship -- still wasn't healed. So Woods picked up the phone on Friday and called Jack Nicklaus.
"He said, 'I tried up until today to see if I'm going to be able to come and play, but I can't,'" Nicklaus recalled. "He said, I'm still hobbling, and he said, I don't know whether I'm going to make the U.S. Open or not."
Nicklaus said he doesn't know the extent of Woods' injuries. But his gut tells him that Woods will play in the U.S. Open at Congressional in two weeks as he tries to get within three of Nicklaus’ record of 18 professional majors.
"I told Tiger when I was on the phone with him, which is the same thing I've said to him a thousand times, Tiger, nobody ever wants records to be broken," Nicklaus said. "That's obvious. I mean, I don't care who it is.
"But I certainly don't want you not to be healthy and not have the opportunity to play to break records. I want you to get yourself healthy, do what you have to do to go play, get your golf game back in shape, and I wish you well, wish you good luck, which I would say that to any athlete and anybody, because I think that's the way it should be."
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
DUBLIN, Ohio -- Jack Nicklaus had thought about it for five years. And with the Presidents Cup slated for his beloved Muirfield Village in 2013, he finally decided to go ahead and act.
The 16th hole, what was once an innocuous par 3, has now been made more dramatic with the addition of a pond to guard the re-positioned green to the left. Nicklaus made the change to strengthen the hole, which now plays about 14 yards shorter at 200, with the biennial matches in mind.
"I think that one of the things that really sort of pushed 16 was probably The Presidents Cup to some degree," Nicklaus said. "The reason for that is that when you go to match play, many matches finish around the 16th, 17th hole, and that area right there is obviously where things come together, and I didn't like to see those matches finish on a weakish hole."
Nicklaus thinks the new 16th -- which will be featured, along with the par-5 11th on PGATOUR.COM's LIVE@ the Memorial coverage this week -- could produce a lot more birdies, as well as a few double bogeys. In short, "there's going to be a lot more excitement," he said with a sense of satisfaction.
"It's a kind of hole that I think will probably play easier with a good shot under the prevailing wind," Nicklaus explained. "The prevailing wind is a westerly wind, southwesterly wind, that usually when we hit the ball before the green was sitting sort of this way, and I think a lot of shots hit in there went through the green very easily or into the back bunker, and I never really cared for the way the ball went into that green.
"So what I did is I took the green and put it more this way, which sort of lines up with the prevailing wind. And with the prevailing wind you have the ability to feed the ball back into the green so you don't have to worry about having to stop the ball as easily if you play a smart shot.
"And if the wind turns the other way, if there's no wind, then stopping the ball on the green is not an issue."
Justin Rose, who closed with a 66 to make up a four-stroke deficit, made the final birdie in his victory march last year at the 16th hole. He remembers hearing cheers for someone in the last group -- Rickie Fowler and Ricky Barnes -- and knew he needed to make something happen.
"When I made my birdie I figured I was maybe one ahead, so 16 was a pivotal hole for me and it could be even more so this year," Rose said. "It could be for other reasons. I think 5 is more of an option now than it ever has been in the past with that hole.
"It's going to be tricky. That's the one green being new, it's a little firmer than the rest, despite the rain, and there's going to be a little bit to think about on that tee, for sure."
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
DUBLIN, Ohio -- You needed a boat, not a golf cart, to play Muirfield Village Golf Club last Thursday after nearly an inch of rain pummeled the prized property.
"We were actually saying it was Lake Muirfield," said Jack Nicklaus, the famed founder and architect of this signature layout.
Thursday's deluge was on top of the more than 12 inches that had fallen in the greater Columbus area since the beginning of April. In comparison, that's twice the total for the same two months last year.
With sunshine and 90-degree temperatures in the five days since the latest onslaught, though, Muirfield Village has recovered well. And the weather forecast appears to be cooperating for this week's Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance.
"I went back out on Friday, and I was amazed," Nicklaus said. "I played the golf course, I thought the golf course was really pretty good Friday, then it just started getting better each week or each day. The golf course is terrific."
Defending champion Justin Rose played nine holes on Tuesday, then headed into the air-conditioning for his pre-tournament interview session. He agreed with Nicklaus' assessment.
"(I) heard how much rain they've had, and no doubt the rough in some areas is a little squidgy, but the golf course is every bit as you expect it to be this time of year," Rose said. "Greens are looking fantastic, fairways are relatively firm considering it's rained something like 28 out of 31 days or something crazy.
"Course is in perfect shape."
Here is the live interview schedule for players speaking in the media center this week, which will be streamed live on PGATOUR.COM:
Tuesday, May 31
11 a.m. – Jack Nicklaus
2 p.m. – Justin Rose
3 p.m. -- Jose Maria Olazabal
4 p.m. -- Ben Curtis
Wednesday, June 1
10 a.m. -- Luke Donald
11:45 a.m. – Keegan Bradley
Noon -- Charl Schwartzel
3:30 p.m. -- Fred Couples
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Jack Nicklaus and Charl Schwartzel started by talking about hunting.
Soon, though, that casual conversation over lunch at Ernie Els's pro-am last year took an abrupt turn. And the next thing Schwartzel knew, Nicklaus was taking him through Augusta National -- hole by hole by hole.
To get advice from the six-time Masters champion, well, that was priceless. And a bit intimidating at the same time.
"I tried to (take notes)," Schwartzel said. "I was in such awe. Luckily Mr. Johan Rupert (a South African business tycoon) was sitting there and he also remembered what he was saying.
"You can't get better advice than that."
Schwartzel appears to have taken Nicklaus' words to heart, too. The young South African went on to tie for 30th in his Masters debut last year and Friday he found himself on the leaderboard at 4 under after polishing off a second-round 71.
Schwartzel teed off in the first group of the day with Charley Hoffman and Stuart Appleby. The dew was still on the fairways and he said the course played fairly long, as a result.
"This morning was pretty tough I thought," Schwartzel said. "I didn't particularly hit the ball as good as I did yesterday but I thought I putted a little bit better. All in all, I would take 71 and run."
Schwartzel bogeyed the fourth hole, which he thought was the easiest of the par 3s on Friday, when he short-sided himself in the bunker on the right. He got the stroke back at the par-5 eighth, though, when he hit 5-wood to the front edge of the green and chipped to a foot.
Another birdie followed at the 10th hole where a 4-iron produced a 10-foot putt. But Schwartzel bogeyed No. 12 when his tee shot landed in the back bunker and he had to play out to the left side of the green and take his medicine at the par 3.
But as difficult as the 12th can play, No. 13 offers opportunity. Schwartzel hit a 3-wood around the corner on the par 5 and a 4-iron to 20 feet for the two-putt birdie that capped his scoring for the day.
"A couple loose tee shots, but it was that sort of round where I could have shot 74 today, but pulled a 71 out of it," Schwartzel said. "Those ones almost sometimes feel better. Kept myself in it."
Ironically, one of the things that stood out from his conversation with Nicklaus was how he plays the 12th hole. The World Golf Hall of Famer told Schwartzel he never went outside the bunkers -- of course, he didn't want to go in them.
"Always aim it at the bunkers and if it's long, you're never going into the bush so, that was his line," Schwartzel recalled. "That was a particular hole that always sticks with me that that is always my line."
In addition to Nicklaus' advice, Schwartzel has also had the counsel of his countryman Ernie Els. They played Augusta National together several times before the Masters, and the two shared a practice round earlier this week.
Schwartzel learned something in that practice round that helped him finish with a par at the 18th on Friday, too.
"He chipped from the left side of the green, which looked to be a very good little chip, a chip and run," said Schwartzel, who was facing a putt from a similar position with about 10 feet of break. "And he went at the hole, and it went down and it actually went off the green.
"I think if I don't play with him, I probably would have putted it at the hole and tried to let it just trickle down. I just decided that the risk is too high, after witnessing what Ernie did in the practice round, I just went to the left and figured the longest I'm going to have is six feet if I hit a decent putt up there.
"Wasn't particularly wanting to finish with another three putt like I did yesterday. Happy with that two putt."