If you receive an e-mail invitation from the USGA to attend one of its Member Education programs, do not hesitate; respond immediately, as attendance is limited. You will be in for a memorable golf experience.
I spent a few days last week at the fourth such event, held at PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. In between golf – and there was a lot of golf played – there were several fascinating sessions that took place.
The highlight of the event was an appearance on Monday night by Palm Beach resident Jack Nicklaus. The Golden Bear was, as he always is these days, witty, nostalgic, provocative, insightful and dogmatic … all in an hour and a half, thirty minutes more than planned. How wonderful in life to have reached a point where you can throw political correctness aside.
As it was the week after Tiger Woods took another step forward in his rebirth, Nicklaus was asked to comment. He stated firmly that Tiger “will win a lot more. He’s too good not to.” But he questioned Tiger’s swing change process. “Why would a guy try to change his swing under the guidance of someone who can’t break 85? He should be his own teacher.”
In light of the looming rules changes on January 1, 2012, Nicklaus was asked which rule he would change. He surprised everyone with his observation that the out of bounds penalty was too harsh. He called a whiff “the worst shot in golf, and that is a one-shot setback, so why should out of bounds be stroke and distance, which is effectively a two-shot penalty? Why does out of bounds have more severe consequences than a water hazard?”
Nicklaus also commented on the selection of Merion to host the 2013 U.S. Open. It was at Merion where he waged his 1971 duel with Lee Trevino, with the Merry Mex prevailing in an 18-hole playoff which began with Trevino tossing a three-foot long toy snake to Jack. Nicklaus called Merion “a terrific course, but not a hard course. Unless the USGA tricks it up, the pros will eat it alive. But so what?” He went on to say that golf worries too much about protecting par. “Augusta National has spent a fortune trying to protect par. Why?”
When asked by moderator Rich Lerner which shot he wanted back at a U.S. Open, Nicklaus also pointed to Merion in 1971. Actually, there were two shots. He left sand wedges in greenside bunkers on the second and third holes and went bogey, double-bogey, losing by that three-shot margin. His best U.S. Open shot? The famed 1-iron on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach, the year after he came up short at Merion. All these years later, he knew the precise distance and conditions: “219 yards, into the wind.”
The program began Sunday night with a presentation from USGA vice-president Tom O’Toole. He endeavored to show the gathering, about 120 members strong, what goes on behind the curtain at the U.S. Open, which O’Toole called “the biggest production in global golf.” Showing back-of-the-house shots from various recent Opens, O’Toole shared these little known facts that speak to the enormity of it all:
• The Open typically includes 300,000 square feet of tenting, carpeting and air conditioning space.
• The Open will produce sales of 100,000 hats and visors.
• The Open will peak, attendance wise, at 55,000-65,000 patrons on the course, always on Saturday.
• The Open’s vendors, et al will go through 245,000 pounds of ice. (That’s more than 100 tons).
On a more serious note, O’Toole reiterated that there will be no U.S. Open course announcement this year; that the USGA is going to pause before making any further selections. The U.S. Open is currently awarded through 2019. Economic uncertainty is one of the key reasons behind this decision.
O’Toole also spoke to the putter-anchoring situation that seems to be a discussion point these days whenever golfers gather. “We are looking at this issue, and we have been looking at it. We will continue to gather data to inform our thinking.”
His remarks didn’t seem to suggest any rules changes are imminent, but comments made last week by USGA head honcho Mike Davis from Australia suggest that there is at least some concern. Davis said his eyebrows have been raised by usage among elite juniors, among others.
All present at PGA National enjoyed themselves, but perhaps none more so that Dr. Anthony Regent, who traveled from St. Louis to participate. Regent, who grew up in Toledo, played with another kid from Ohio in the state junior championship in the very early 1950s, a kid named Nicklaus. Both were entered in the 15-and-younger flight; Regent finished second to Nicklaus, but Jack won the whole thing, beating kids several years his senior. Dr. Regent brought with him an old press clipping from the event, which Nicklaus gladly, and warmly, signed.
As he has so many times before, the Golden Bear brought a smile to the face of an admiring golf fan.