Golden Bear looking for skins
A competitive round of golf in Hawaii with old friends still gets Jack Nicklaus to come out from behind a desk. These days, it's the only thing.
After more rounds of golf than even Bill Gates can count, Nicklaus doesn't view the game the same as Dana Quigley. When you're the best that's ever been, 18 holes of kicking it around on a Saturday afternoon has the same appeal of working on your day off.
Nicklaus lives more in the real world now than he ever did when he knocked it in for a living. It's an irony not lost on the man whose Golden Bear years don't have much hibernation time and even less golf.
"I spend most of my time working," Nicklaus said as he prepared for tomorrow's 2006 Wendy's Champions Skins game in a new format of four two-man teams.
Joining Nicklaus at the Wailea Resort on Maui are playing partner Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer and Peter Jacobsen, Gary Player and Hale Irwin, and Quigley and Raymond Floyd. They are playing for $770,000 in the 18-skin format that will be shown on ESPN, beginning at 1:30 p.m. Hawaii time. The golfers will play alternate shots, with one driving on all the odd holes and his playing partner on all the even holes.
For Nicklaus, this is a rare treat. This is the only event on his schedule, although he has been asked to play in the Canadian Skins game and the father-son tournament at the end of the year. But for Nicklaus, most of his Benjamins flow his way in opening new golf courses he designed, rather than just playing them.
"Maybe I might have an outing or two that I play, but very little golf really," Nicklaus said. "I told my wife the other day, I said, 'I'm doing this totally backwards, Barbara.' Most people work all their life to be able to retire to play golf. And I'm doing it backwards.
"I've played golf all my life to retire to go work. And I kind of enjoy my work. I love going around and I love doing my golf courses and I love being involved in projects and things. I know I can't play golf like I used to play. So I don't fight it too much. I shoot my 75 and move on."
Nicklaus likes the idea of having a golf course he designed from the dirt up live beyond all his memories of a game he helped shape. Palmer is the king, but Nicklaus was a prince of a fellow who took over Palmer's throne in the most respectful of ways. Watson was forced to challenge Nicklaus' place in history, and by doing that, made some pretty good memories of his own.
The fact Watson and Nicklaus are playing partners should be a real treat for fans fortunate to be here on Super Bowl Sunday. A pro-am was scheduled for 8 a.m. today, making sure everyone was off the course in time to see the kickoff between Pittsburgh and Seattle. Nicklaus said he was pleased to be paired with Watson.
"I'm glad I have somebody who can carry me," Nicklaus said, then laughed.
"Tom is playing pretty well. I think that Arnold, Gary and I have somebody to carry us. I think it will be fun and I think it will be great having Tom as my partner. Tom and I have had a great relationship through the years."
Nicklaus has known Watson since he first played a round of golf with him when Watson was 15 years old. From their meeting in Topeka, Kan., through last summer's final round of competitive golf for Nicklaus at the British Open, Watson has been there.
"We had a great couple of days at the British Open last year," Nicklaus said. "I was delighted to have Tom sharing my retirement moment with me. To have him as a playing partner in the Skins Game, we're going to have a heck of a lot of fun."
Watson is coming off two solid performances at the MasterCard Championship at Hualalai and the Turtle Bay Championship. He opened with a 63 at Hualalai and was in a tie for first with eventual winner Loren Roberts after the opening 18 holes. He finished in a tie for fifth. A week later, Watson finished in a tie for fourth at Turtle Bay, but is 0-for-30 in PGA and Champions tour events held in Hawaii.
Two years ago, Watson won the Senior Skins event by besting Palmer in a playoff. Last year, Nicklaus finished first with $340,000 in skins and has pocketed $2 million in this event alone. He holds all kinds of records here and would like nothing better than to share the wealth with Watson in this new format.
"They were trying to put some spice in it and I suggested the alternate-shot for them to consider," Nicklaus said. "I don't know whether I had any influence on the format change, but that's what they ended up with. It allows somebody like myself to have some fun, play with some of my old friends and have a little competition, which I always yearn for, and a pretty darn nice place to do it at."