The Nicklaus Factor
Who's Best at Bear Tracks?
What type of golfer has the best shot at winning next week's Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club, outside Toronto? The kind who hits the ball high and works it from left to right. That's because Glen Abbey is one of eight Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses that have hosted Tour events in the last decade, and history shows that players who can hit a high cut—Nicklaus's preferred shot—have the best records on his layouts.
Among those who have played at least 15 tournaments on Nicklaus tracks—in addition to Glen Abbey, the Tour sites are Annandale (Southern Farm Bureau), Castle Pines (International), English Turn ( New Orleans), Montreux ( Reno), Muirfield Village (Memorial), Shoal Creek ( PGA) and Valhalla ( PGA)—Greg Norman has the best record, with four victories and 12 other top 10 finishes. Next best is Fred Couples with one win and eight other top 10s. Tied for third with eight top 10s are David Duval (seven of his were seconds or thirds) and Vijay Singh (two wins). Davis Love III and Phil Mickelson have been less consistent but they have two victories each. All are long drivers. Among those who have played fewer than 15 tournaments on courses that Jack built, two long hitters have had great success. Tiger Woods has three victories, including two at Muirfield Village and one at Valhalla, and Carlos Franco has two wins and a third.
Shorter hitters and those who have trouble moving the ball left to right usually struggle on Nicklaus courses. Mark O'Meara, a shorter hitter who normally moves the ball right to left, won the '95 Canadian Open at Glen Abbey but otherwise has only one top 10 in 29 starts.
Some short hitters simply pass up tournaments at Bear lairs. Loren Roberts, who has never ranked higher than 150th on the Tour in driving distance in the last decade, has played 17 Nicklaus courses during that time (with one top 10) but with diminishing frequency. In the last four years he has skipped all the Nicklaus sites except the '99 Canadian Open and this year's PGA.