PGA Tour Players Not To Blame For Slow Play, Says Jack Nicklaus

DUBLIN, OH - JUNE 02: Jack Nicklaus hits a shot during the Memorial Skins Game prior to the start of the 2010 Memorial Tournament at the Muirfield Village Golf Club on June 2, 2010 in Dublin, Ohio. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Jack Nicklaus knows a thing or two about slow play. Turns out the Golden Bear was the Kevin Na of his day.

Weighing in on the slow-play issue that is all the rage in golf circles these days, Jack Nicklaus said Wednesday that the primary culprits clogging the fairways were not the Kevin Nas of the world but, rather, those slowpokes in your Saturday morning foursome.

“I don’t think there’s really a huge problem on the tour,” Nicklaus told reporters on the eve of the Memorial Tournament that kicks off Thursday at his Muirfield Golf Course in Dublin, Ohio. “You have an individual once in a while [but] the guys have got to learn ... how to not be a slow player. It took me a few years but I learned as the other guys will, too.”

Na’s tortuous pre-shot routine at The Players Championship and Morgan Pressel’s recent penalty for slow play on the LPGA Tour brought the whole pace-of-play matter to the forefront of many conversations. But it’s hardly a new problem, given that Nicklaus cited a couple of times back in the day when he incurred two-shot penalties for impeding progress.

Indeed, the 73-time tour winner apparently earned the reputation as the 1960s’ version of Na, Ben Crane, and a handful of other golfers infamous for halting proceedings as they scrutinize each shot with the meticulousness of a brain surgeon. On one such occasion during the 1962 Portland Open, official Joe Black assessed Nicklaus two strokes in the second round after issuing a warning the day before and two on Friday. Nicklaus later claimed that he learned a critical lesson from the ruling.

“They wouldn’t give you a slow-play penalty if you weren’t slow,” he said a while after the event, according to James McAfee.

So Nicklaus obviously knew whereof he spoke when he echoed Tiger Woods and others who have recommended that officials reinstitute penalty strokes for the creepy crawlers on tour. In fact, the 18-time major champion, who hosts this week’s annual event, was under the misapprehension that the tour had already established on-course punishment for slow play.

“I think they [rules officials] are starting to do that now, aren’t they?” Nicklaus queried the scribblers. “Not yet? ... They say they’re going to do it but they haven’t done it?”

Either Nicklaus was out of the loop, as he claimed, or he scooped tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who last week blamed average golfers who emulate the pros’ approach but take a whole lot more than 65 shots per round. Despite believing penalizing plodding pros was a good idea, Nicklaus wholeheartedly agreed with Finchem about who was really responsible for the problem.

“As it relates to the everyday game ... they try to imitate what happens on the Tour,” Nicklaus said, “and the kids try to copy the players.”

Nicklaus, who’s working with the PGA to attract more players to the course, listed the major obstacles to growing the game as the time it takes to play a round, the cost, and the difficulty. One way to get weekend warriors to pick up the pace is to have them play shorter courses.

“I don't [design] a golf course for members longer than about 6,500 yards because I just don't think they can play it,” he said, noting that he can’t believe he used to play Augusta National from 100 yards farther back than he does now.

“The whole issue,” Nicklaus opined, “is to get people to swallow their ego a little bit to move forward ... and figure out how do we [make] the game ... faster, cheaper, and easier."

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