"It's true!" he insisted. "See, I don't make a lot of putts. I just don't miss a lot."
He went on to explain that he's not the kind of player who makes a ton of gaggers when he gets hot, as Mickelson does. It's just that he doesn't miss a lot of three-and four-footers when he gets cold, as Mickelson does. "That's just how I was taught," he said. "If you just concentrate on trying to get it up there close for your two-putt, you'll be money ahead."
I asked him if he'd ever had the yips. "Never," he said, "and I think if you look at the guys who got the yips and you look at some of their nighttime habits [read: drinking], you'll notice a correlation." That's cold and probably accurate. Tom Watson knew his way around a wine list and got a terrible case of the yips. Lloyd Mangrum was an aficionado of the grape and got them. A contemporary of Nicklaus's, Larry Mowry, once told me, "You don't know how hard it is to make putts when your hands are shaking from the night before."
Nicklaus also said that his putting these days isn't nearly as good as it used to be. "I don't have the nerve anymore to challenge the hole. I'm not that bold."
Still, he turned the Summit's front nine in 33, although Tofferi was giving him anything shorter than Shaq's arm. For some reason they held a press conference between 9 and 10, and somebody asked Nicklaus how his caddie was doing. "Not bad," he said. "He's only cost me two shots so far."
All the legends in the world, and I have to get a comic. The truth was, it's not easy playing with somebody grilling you between shots. "Nah," Nicklaus said. "Remember, I played with Trevino. In fact, one time we met on the 1st tee and I said, 'Lee, I don't want to talk today.' And Lee said, 'You don't have to talk, Jack. You only have to listen.' "
I've always been amazed by Nicklaus's memory for stories and golf shots. I told Tofferi, "This man can remember every shot he's hit in competition. He can tell you what club he hit into the 13th hole in the third round at the Pensacola Open in 1962."
"That's a lie," Nicklaus said. "I didn't play Pensacola in '62.1 played it for the first time in 1965. And in the third round I hit seven-iron into the 13th hole. I shot 67.1 finished second." I checked. He's right. Show-off.
The crowd was loving all of this. It's hard to overestimate what Jack Nicklaus means to Americans. If you have ever struck a golf ball and you happen to be between 25 and 95 years old, Nicklaus is a little part of your life, a little joy you had all those years. The name Jack Nicklaus meant golf. For a time he was one of the three most famous people in the world. Jack Nicholson once told me, "Do you know how sick I am of little old ladies asking me how to hit a three-iron?" So all those people think that because Nicklaus was part of their lives, they simply must have been part of his. They come up to him wide-eyed and say something like, "Jack, I don't know if you remember me, but you signed my visor after the Cincinnati pro-am in 1962."