FILE – In this file from April 11, 2019, Jack Nicklaus meets a ceremonial Tee off on the first hole during the first round of the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia, as Nicklaus turns 80 on Tuesday, January 21, 2020. (AP Photo / Charlie Riedel, File)
SAN DIEGO – Jack Nicklaus turns 80 on Tuesday and is about to retire when he is at the height of his golf career.
No matter that he rarely participates in competitions and if he does play golf occasionally, he doesn't always finish the hole. His shoulder hurts, but that's more of tennis.
He spends most of his time supporting his wife Barbara, who runs the Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation. He still has his hands in about 10 golf courses that his company designs.
The real measure for a golf professional who has been on the market for 80 years is the conversations he has.
Everyone wants a play from Nicklaus, and he's just too happy to commit. Nicklaus is more an old bear than a golden bear, but he is still as current as when he won his record with 18 majors.
"I would like to stay with it … keep in front of the public, keep me up to date, so when I am 80 you still want to ask me a question," said Nicklaus in a conference call last week his 80th birthday.
"There is no reason to curl up in a corner somewhere."
The only time he thought about a form of retirement was a long time ago.
Nicklaus told the story that he always wanted to ski, but not while he was still competing. That seemed wise long before Phil Mickelson broke his leg and missed the 1994 Masters, or David Duval injured his shoulder while snowboarding.
Nicklaus thought he would wait until he was 35.
"I thought I wouldn't start skiing until I finished playing golf," said Nicklaus. “We started skiing at the age of 35. While we were out there, I talked about not playing a lot of golf next year. The kids all said, "Dad! What you are doing? You can still hit everyone out there. You have to keep playing. You love it. "I said," I do, but I want to be part of your life. "They persuaded me to go out and continue playing.
Nicklaus won the Masters in 1975 (an epic battle against Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf) and the PGA Championship in Firestone in 1975. So he continued to play and added another red wine jug in St. Andrews in 1978, another major double season in 1980 and his famous Masters in 1986 when he was 46 years old.
Imagine that he stopped playing. Nicklaus would have been at 14 majors and Tiger Woods would have overtaken him with this memorable Masters win last April. Now Woods has three majors to catch Nicklaus.
This also keeps Nicklaus up to date without having played a major in 15 years.
There was a time when it looked like Woods was running out of time to catch him, especially with recurrent leg injuries and back problems that resulted in four surgeries. Now that Woods ended 11 years without a major with his Masters win for Major No. 15, the race is on.
The story is not on Woods' side. He turned 44 three weeks ago. When he comes to the Masters, only six players older than Woods have won majors, no more than one.
Nevertheless, the Nicklaus name is under discussion again. He will watch. He will answer questions about whether Woods can catch him, as Nicklaus has done for almost two decades. Nicklaus always said that he thought Woods could do it. For a year at a charity dinner for his memorial, Nicklaus got the same question, gave the same answer, and then asked what headlines it would make if he gave a different answer.
What makes him seem more relevant are the questions he poses from younger players.
Charl Schwartzel came to him in 2011 to talk to him about the Masters, just before the South African screwed his last four holes to get the green jacket. Patrick Cantlay met with him last year before winning the memorial, and Cantlay was back with him on a Saturday last fall to watch football and chat with majors. Nicklaus told him that he never wanted to feel that his game was in perfect shape on a major's Thursday, but that he wanted to make his way to the best golf throughout the week.
Justin Thomas. Jordan Spieth. Dustin Johnson. Rickie Fowler.
It is a long list. Most of them live in South Florida and are members of the Bear Club.
"I don't go out and look for it, but I'm available," said Nicklaus. “I could have some knowledge – you could call it wisdom – something that could be imparted to the children that could help them. It is very flattering for me as an 80 year old. You never listened to your father, why to your grandfather? But it is very beautiful and I enjoy it. We have 30 professionals who are members of the Bear Club. I see them all the time. I'm always available. You still want to talk to me. "
Nicklaus still gives advice on the majors, especially the Masters, which he won six times. But the only tip he likes to share is what he learned a long time ago from his role model Bobby Jones, who told him to be responsible for his own game.
"I'm a little sad for today's boys, not that everyone does it," he said. “We have trainers, sports psychologists. I always thought it was fun to learn it myself. When a tournament comes to an end, you have to end. The responsibility is yours without asking, "Can I do what this guy taught me?" That I have learned. "
Nicklaus spoke on the phone to a small group of reporters for 45 minutes, along with some who had come to his home. His last words said something.
"Thank you for wanting to be here and making me relevant."
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