Jack Nicklaus Can Hold His Head a Little Higher These Days

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistJune 1, 2012

THE WOODLANDS, TX - MAY 5: Jack Nicklaus playsacknowledges the gallery at the eighteenth hole during an exhibition round at the the Insperity Championship at The Woodlands Country Club on May 5, 2012 in The Woodlands, Texas. (Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images)
Darren Carroll/Getty Images

For 13 years most golf observers believed that it was a forgone conclusion that Tiger Woods would shatter every record in the book.

Woods’ had dominated the game in a manner never before seen and up until his knee injury in 2008 had shown almost no signs of slowing down.

During that same period of time, many began to overlook the accomplishments of Jack Nicklaus who, prior to Woods, had been considered by most to be the greatest golfer of all-time.

Nicklaus simply wasn’t interesting anymore. Sure, he had won 18 majors, 73 PGA Tour events and 115 events around the world during the course of his illustrious career, but that was old news. In Woods, we were watching the greatest player to have ever picked up a club, and it was all happening in the present right before our eyes.

Nicklaus was reduced to nothing more than a sitting duck that Woods’ would eventually blow out of the water.

But that has all changed.

Whereas prior to 2010 most would have given Woods a 90% chance of breaking Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles, today most knowledgeable golf observers would put Woods’ chances at 50-50 at best.

The embarrassing sex scandal and subsequent divorce are partially to blame, but we also can’t completely overlook the fact that in the history of golf no other player has performed at a high level for as long as Nicklaus did.

The vast majority of great golfers who have come before Woods experienced almost all of their success within a 10-12 year span.

Nicklaus also experienced a majority of his success within a 12-year span from 1963 – 1975. But, the main difference with Nicklaus was that even as he began to slow down he still won majors up until 1986. He certainly didn’t win as often, but he managed to tack on another four majors after his true prime years had concluded.

As Woods continues to struggle, particularly at the majors, it has become clear to most that winning 18 majors is an incredibly difficult thing to accomplish in the game of golf.

A player not only needs to remain healthy in body and mind, he also needs to retain his desire and competitive edge for upwards of 20 years or more, while conquering several generations of the game including those that came before him and those that begin to come along during the later stages of his career.

Nicklaus is probably the only person who knows just how difficult winning 18 major titles is, which is why over the past decade when asked about Woods’ chances at breaking his records Nicklaus would constantly say that Woods was certainly on pace to break them, but that he still needed to do it.

Essentially with all of the hoopla surrounding Woods for the first 13 years of his career, Nicklaus, the only one who knew how truly difficult winning 18 majors was, was pretty much the only one who kept a completely level head about the matter.

Sure, Woods was one pace to break Nicklaus’ records, but as Nicklaus’ constantly proclaimed, being on pace and actually doing it are two completely different matters.

Being a dominant golfer for 10 or 12 years is much different than keeping your game, mind, desire and competitive edge for 20 years or more.

As Woods approaches 37 years old while having not won a major since 2008, he is faced with the same challenge. 18 majors is the goal, now it’s a matter of actually doing it.

The only difference is that between the state of his game, his off-the-course issues and a new group of hungry young 20-somethings ready to tear the old guard off of his pedestal, the chances of him actually doing it are not what they used to be.  

Winning 18 majors is tough, as we are now all bearing witness to.

As Woods continues to struggle Nicklaus can hold his head a little higher knowing that his records may be safe after all.  

And maybe, just maybe, some of the younger generations of fans and players might form a new appreciation for just how incredible Nicklaus’ career really was.

Nicklaus was considered by most to be the greatest golfer of all-time before Woods came along, and he might just continue to bear that title long after Woods has left the game.  

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