AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jack Nicklaus has shared his secrets and strategy about Augusta National with anyone who wanted to learn from a six-time Masters champion, a list that includes Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Nicolas Colsaerts. But not Tiger Woods.
Nicklaus said he’s never had a sit-down with the man who is trying to break his records.
In fact, he said they hardly talk at all.
“I never really had a conversation with Tiger that lasted more than a minute or two — ever,” Nicklaus said Thursday morning after hitting the ceremonial tee shot. “He stayed away from me from a conversation standpoint. Never had a conversation on the Masters in general. I’ve said, ‘Hello, how are you doing? Nice playing this year. You’ve played very well.’ End of conversation. People ask me, ‘Has Tiger ever talk to you about his record?’ Never one word.”
Nicklaus said he was surprised Woods hasn’t talked to him about the Masters, though he’s not the least bit offended. Woods, after all, figured out the course quickly. He won the Masters three times in his first six years as a pro.
“He’s got his own focus and what he does, and I respect that,” Nicklaus said. “I respect when somebody is involved in their deal. They concentrate on what they do and not what you did. That’s OK. It’s not my position to go talk to him about it. I respect that. I wouldn’t intrude on that.”
Even so, it offered some rare insight into the relationship between Woods and Nicklaus, with whom he has been linked ever since Woods was a youngster and kept a timeline of the milestones Nicklaus achieved in his career.
They spent time together at the Presidents Cup during the four times Nicklaus was captain, and Nicklaus has sat at his side during the champion’s interview the five times that Woods won the Memorial. Nicklaus even shared one story from the Presidents Cup when he noticed Woods and Phil Mickelson spending time together. Nicklaus had ready plenty of stories about the tension between them.
“I said, ‘You guys seem to get along.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, we get along fine.’ I said, ‘What all this about that other stuff?’ He says, ‘I don’t know. Just press stuff.’ So I said, ‘You guys want to play together?’ And he said, ‘I’d rather not.’
“The point being, he’s got a little bit of his number,” Nicklaus said. “And he doesn’t want anyone to get really close to him because he feels like he’s got a little dominance over them. I understand that. You’ve got to respect that.”
Nicklaus and Woods played together only once in the majors, the opening two rounds of the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla. They also were teammates in the old “Battle at Bighorn.” Woods once told a story of asking Nicklaus about all the rivalries he faced during three decades, and how Nicklaus told him, “Just make sure you’re always part of the conversation.” Nicklaus said even that chat in South Africa didn’t last very long.
“I get along fine with Tiger. I like Tiger. I don’t have an issue with Tiger. There’s always pleasantries and so forth,” he said.
Woods moved from Orlando, Fla., to the West Palm Beach area last year after building a home along the ocean with his own miniature range. The speculation was which golf club Woods might join, and he settled on The Medalist. Several other pros are members at The Bear’s Club, which Nicklaus built as his home course in Florida.
“I asked him when he came to Florida if we wanted to come to The Bear’s Club,” Nicklaus said. “He stayed away from it. He didn’t want to intrude where I was. He never told me why, but other people told me, ‘He says he didn’t feel comfortable being there where I was because that was a record he was trying to break.’ I said, ‘I don’t care about that. We’d like to have if you want to play and be part of it.’ He comes out and plays quite often. I’d include him in everything
“But everybody has their own personality. That’s not a fault. It’s not a criticism. It just is what it is.”
So what kind of golf talk is Woods missing out on?
Nicklaus spoke mainly about taking risks only when the percentages and the situation called for it, and realize that a shot into the middle of just about any green at Augusta National will leave a reasonable chance at birdie.
He still thinks about the 3-wood he hit into the water on the 15th hole that cost him in the final round of the 1971 Masters.
“One shot shouldn’t be a shot that puts you out of the tournament,” Nicklaus said. “I needed to make 4. I didn’t need to make 3. I should have laid the ball up. Why put yourself out of the tournament on one shot? That’s the thing I stress.
“I wouldn’t take risks unless it was necessary to take risks,” he said. “These guys that come to me and ask me about the tournament, basically what I tell them is there’s a half-dozen shots on this golf course [where] you can put yourself out of the tournament.”
He mentioned the tee shot on the par-5 second hole; the second shot into No. 11; the tee shot on the par-3 12th. The tee shot and the second shot on the par-3 13th; and the second shot on the par-5 15th.
“Think about what you’re doing on them,” Nicklaus said. “If you’ve got a 50-50 chance of doing it, certainly I wouldn’t be doing it. If you’ve got a 90-10 chance, think real hard about it, and try to make sure you eliminate the 10. It’s a golf course that when you make a mistake, it’s really difficult to make up for it.”