Jack Nicklaus remembers the exact moment he knew it was time to pass the baton (and it included Tiger Woods)

Jack Nicklaus remembers the exact moment he knew it was time to pass the baton (and it included Tiger Woods)

For Jack Nicklaus, the moment came in 2000 at Valhalla, the site of next week’s PGA Championship.

Nicklaus, then 60, was playing in what would be his final PGA Championship. He missed the cut at 4 over, not able to recover from an opening-round 77. And when he walked off the course it hit him.

“Man, you need to pass the baton,” Nicklaus said he was thinking. “You can’t compete in this anymore.”

And it was the man who he had just competed against who made Jack realize it was time to move on from competitive golf.

Nicklaus, who lives in North Palm Beach, played those two rounds with Tiger Woods, who now lives on Jupiter Island. Tiger opened with a 66-67 on the way to an 18-under 270 and his third consecutive major championship of the season.

Nicklaus, 84, spoke of that moment last week at the Legends Luncheon in Columbus, Ohio, hosted by the Memorial Tournament, which is scheduled for June 6-9 at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. Nicklaus is the founder and host of the Memorial.

“I knew that I was getting to where I couldn’t compete (and) it was brought to me very abruptly, in 2000 at Valhalla when I played with Tiger,” he said.

“I had realized that before, but that was … boom! Right in the face. Thirty-six holes of playing with him and seeing how well he played, how he just dominated what was going on, I did that earlier. But I don’t do it now.”

Jack knew who would be carrying that “baton,” as it turned out, for about the next quarter century, which is why that metaphorical handoff was to Tiger. That 2000 PGA Championship was Tiger’s fifth major. He would add 10 more, pulling him to within three of Nicklaus’ record.

And although Tiger, 48, isn’t through chasing majors – he will return to the site of that 2000 PGA Championship next week – it will be an international story even if he just contends in a major going forward.

Nicklaus never has denied Tiger’s extraordinary skill, several times saying his record of 18 majors would have fallen if injuries had not impacted Tiger’s career. He once again praised Tiger’s game, his swing and ability to hit shots that still very few human beings can replicate.

But it’s the physical toll of multiple injuries, surgeries, and the 2021 car crash outside of Los Angeles in which Tiger nearly lost his right leg that Jack cites as the reason it would be very difficult for Tiger now to compete consistently on the biggest stage.

Something Tiger has been saying for the last two years.

“Tiger has the ability to still play, but obviously doesn’t play as well as he did, and I think a lot of his is physical ailments,” Nicklaus said. “But I watched him hit balls, and he hits the ball pretty well. It’s just trying to keep his body together.

“I don’t know if he can walk 72 holes. He can be competitive for at least two rounds, because that’s what he did at Augusta. … If he can be competitive in the third, then certainly he can be competitive in the fourth.”

Masters 2024 microcosm of Tiger’s post-accident career

This year’s Masters was a microcosm of Tiger’s post-accident career. He set the tournament record with his 24th consecutive cut with a two-day score of 145, 1-over par. But by the weekend his body started breaking down. Woods posted his worst score ever at Augusta in the third round, 10-over 82.

In five majors since the accident, which resulted in his leg being held together by plates, rods and screws, Tiger has been forced to withdraw after the second or third round twice, and missed the cut once.

Tiger’s stunning victory in the 2019 Masters is his lone major championship in the last 16 years. During that span, he has missed 23 of 67 majors.

The 1986 Masters was the last of Jack’s 18 major championships. He was 46. He continued to compete in all four majors for the next 11 years, a sixth-place finish in the 1990 Masters the closest he’d come to winning.

The last time Nicklaus played a round of golf where he holed out every putt was the 2005 British Open at St. Andrews. That was the last of his record 164 majors. He rarely plays, but did reveal he got in three rounds at Augusta following this year’s tournament.

“Life passes on and you get old and can’t do the things you used to do,” Nicklaus said. “I just think golf is an amazing sport, and we have the ability to play and compete as long as we do. And find lightning in a bottle occasionally, like I did in ’86.”

Source: Golfweek

Share this article

Subscribe To Our Blog