Jack Nicklaus - Know Your Capabilities

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Published 18/11/2013 07:22:00
 

(Jack Nicklaus, named Golfer of the Century by Golf World and the Male Golf Athlete of the Century by the Associated Press, led the PGA Tour in earnings eight times. He owns a record 18 major championships - six Masters, five PGA titles, four U.S. Opens and three British Opens.)

Into the Rough: What adjustments have you made in your game as the result of getting older?

Jack Nicklaus: The biggest thing that's happened to me, and which happens to everybody, is you begin to lose power. As you lose power and strength, you must learn to play within your own abilities. Whatever your abilities are as you get older, you must accept the changes and try to play golf within those. I used to overpower a golf course. I drove the ball far enough that I could reach the par-5s in two. I putted well enough that I really didn't have to chip it that close because I made most of my putts inside 10 feet. So, the short game wasn't that imperative. But today, I can't do that. I had to develop a short game, which I really didn't even bother with when I was a kid because I didn't have to. It was out of necessity. You go through those stages with age and must learn to understand and accept what your present day abilities are and then try to play within those abilities.

ITR:Regarding distance, does that mean going up a club?

JN: Yes, that's only natural. But you also must understand you are not going to carry the ball 260 yards over water anymore into that green and back it up with a 4-iron. It's not going to do that anymore.

ITR:You spoke of developing a short game. How did you go about doing that?

JN: I persuaded Phil Rodgers, an old friend of mine, to teach me more about pitching and bunker techniques as well as putting. One of the things he did was help me get back to my '60s style of putting where I have my head well behind the ball at address. That enables me to see the line better and have the feeling of giving the ball a distinct push with my right hand while keeping the left hand firm.

ITR:Have you made any changes in equipment to compensate for age?

JN: I've played the same exact specs that I played when I was 11 years old. The only thing I changed is I went to graphite in the woods and obviously metal heads. But my irons are exactly the same, the same length and same loft as when I grew up as a kid.

ITR:Does a lighter shaft help in terms of clubhead speed?

JN: Some, but I don't like the lighter shafts simply because you have a tendency to overpower them with the drivers. In the fairway woods, I can have enough weight on the end of the club, but I still must swing it. I think that's the whole key. If you're too strong, a light shafted club becomes a fly swatter. I want the shaft heavy enough that it forces me to swing the clubhead. If I can swing the clubhead, then I can develop rhythm in my golf swing and I think that's very important.

ITR:Have you changed your swing over the years?

JN: Yes, in 1980. In my teens and twenties, I had an upright swing that also was exceptionally steep. My shoulders turned or rotated or coiled very fully. Also, my hands and arms finished well to the inside or around behind my body as I reached for the top. If you are steep in your swing, it causes you to hit the ball at an oblique angle, which forces the ball to go another direction from where you are hitting it. You can't transfer 100 percent of your power to the ball. What I did was make two setup changes and one backswing adjustment that in combination deepened my swing arc. I bring the club back at a lower angle, which allows the transfer of power for more distance.

ITR:You were noted as a great iron player. Do you favor steel shafts in irons?

JN: Yes, because I've played with them all my life and you get better feel in them. You want power with your woods, but irons are for control of distance and accuracy. I hit my irons the same distance today that I did when I was a kid except for my 2 and 1-iron and they're just a little shorter.

ITR:Can seniors be helped by the new technology in equipment?

JN: Yes, golf equipment today has made the game easier and more pleasurable for a lot more people. I think that's great. However, I don't think it's been great for tournament golf because it's harder to separate the players. The technological advances occuring in the game have made it a more fun game for people in general.

ITR:Should people look at going to a different compression ball as they lose strength?

JN: No. When I was growing up, everybody played a Galata golf ball. Today, you can't hardly find a Galata. I've always played 100 compression balls and still do. Compression doesn't make a lot of difference.

ITR:Does the mentality of a golfer change once they reach 50?

JN: I don't think so as long as you can physically exercise and keep yourself in shape. When I turned 50, I really didn't find much difference in my game than when I was in my 40s until my hip started bothering me and I couldn't keep myself in shape. As my hip deteriorated, my physical condition deteriorated as did my golf game, and it's very difficult to get it back. I've always exercised, but I'm on a pretty strenuous program now. I've put four inches on my chest and taken an inch and a half off the waist. You should see my sports coats on me. They're a riot. They don't come all the way around and the sleeves are pulled up almost to my elbow. I haven't been in this physical condition since I was a kid, but I've worked out pretty hard. My legs are back to looking like legs again.

ITR:What does your exercise regiment consists of?

JN: I work out at the gym doing all the leg weights and upper body weights. When I started doing leg extensions, I could do only eight or 10 reps and just 70-80 pounds. Now I'm doing up to 300 pounds. I recently did a set of 20 at 180 pounds and followed it right up with a set of 10 at 300 pounds. That's a lot of weight. I also do a lot of cardio, balance work and medicine ball work. Exercise is important, especially as you get older. When I'm home, I exercise seven days a week. When I'm on the road, I miss a day here or there, but not much. I usually work out 1 1/2 hours.

ITR:Do you help Gary with his game?

JN: Rick Smith works with him the most, but I do help him quite a bit although he plays totally differently than I do. His swing plane is a lot better than mine. It's flatter, so he plays more around the ball than I do. I play more under the ball. He plays more of a draw whereas I play a fade. But I don't try to change Gary to my game. I know what his game is and I try to work with what he has just like someone else would work with what I have. That's the way instruction should be.

ITR:Is there a certain age for children to start playing golf?

JN: My goal with my children was to get them to like the game of golf and play it if they wanted to. My feeling is a kid is ready if he's old enough to play three holes without chasing a frog. What I mean by that is playing three holes takes about 45 minutes to an hour and they need to be able to keep that long of an attention span. Some kids can do that at age four or five. Others may be 15. You're wasting your time and effort if a kid wants to be a kid and not do anything else. That's fine. Let them be a kid.

ITR:As a designer, what do you look for in a course project?

JN: I look to see what I have to work with, obviously. People enjoy a playable and pretty golf course. I shape some of my designs as the result of a story I relate that describes what the average golfer and a pro look for in a golf course. It happened when I was doing a clinic at a golf course with magnificent facilities. Every average golfer there said it was the best they had ever seen. Every pro there said it was the worst golf course they had ever played.

What that meant to me was that the average person looks at a golf course and really likes beauty, aesthetics, and how they are treated. It's an experience. It doesn't make that much difference to them how the holes are laid out. Now the pro doesn't really look that much at the beauty of the course. He looks at it from a golfing standpoint - how the course plays, whether there are awkward shots or greens that are too severe. So, they didn't like the golf course. I said okay, how can I combine that and make a golf course that everybody can like, pros and amateurs. So, if you design a course that's beautiful, aesthetically pleasing, has nice surroundings, and you get it in good condition and put good golf shots in it, then you satisfy everybody. That's how I try to approach it and do my designs.




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