I happen to think Nicklaus is wrong. Sure, Mickelson's, Montgomerie's and Duval's numbers don't equal Palmer's, Player's and Trevino's, but then again, maybe it's Woods who's keeping them from becoming Palmer, Player and Trevino. If they hadn't had the bad luck to play in the era of Tiger, might they have three or four each? It drives the current Tour players bonkers when Nicklaus gets on this rant. "If Nicklaus had to play against Tiger," Brad Faxon has said, "he wouldn't have any 18 majors."
And, as long as Nicklaus was ranting, he took on the ball Tiger plays. "Do you realize that Tiger never hit it in a bunker at St. Andrews [in winning the 2000 British Open]? If that doesn't tell you everything you need to know about the equipment today! The bunkers weren't in play for him! He drove over all of them!"
It bugs Nicklaus that he's considered a short hitter compared with Tiger. "I played a ball that wasn't anything remotely like the ones they're playing now," he said. Nicklaus played the MacGregor, known far and wide as one of the worst pieces of crap in history. "I remember once, a USGA guy had one in his hand and said to me, 'How you ever won a golf tournament with that thing, I'll never know' " (MacGregor is out of the ball business now.)
Earlier that day Nicklaus's p.r. guy, Scott Tolley, had handed him a press release from the Masters announcing the increase in length of many of Augusta National's holes. Some were increased by 60 yards. Nicklaus kept shaking his head as he read the release. " Augusta stood the test of time for 60 years, right? Now they're having to tear it up because of the ball. I mean, you look out there, there're no par-5s for these guys anymore. Anywhere. It's not the same game. It's ridiculous. I mean, this course here [in Vail], it's 7,530 yards. This course will be obsolete when they bring out the next ball, whatever it is. Wouldn't it be simpler and cheaper to change the ball rather than all these great courses?"
I asked him to rate the Summit. "This course is probably O.K., because of the nature of the land and the expense to move the dirt," he said. "I just felt like it wasn't worth the costs, so we didn't do a lot."
Wow, that's some endorsement. Can't you see them printing that on the score-card?
The Summit Course: "It's probably O.K!"—Jack Nicklaus.
You feel stupid caddying for Jack Nicklaus, really. What's the point of standing on a tee box and telling him, "O.K., this is a little 389-yard dogleg with a pond guarding the green left," when he designed and built the freaking thing?
"Jack will want exact yardages," his man had warned me a week before, "but he hates to be clubbed. So don't say, 'It's about a seven-iron.' He just wants the yardage to the front, yardage from the front to the pin, and sometimes yardage from the pin to the back. He'll pick the club."
Really? History's winningest player doesn't want me to tell him what club to hit? Hard to believe. They handed me a pair of white overalls and a hat. I asked them where the NICKLAUS patch was for the back of the overalls and the green number 1. They just stared at me. I said that was the famous caddie bib that Nicklaus's Masters caddie got to wear each year that Nicklaus was defending one of his titles. The caddie of the defending champion always gets number 1.