Jack: I Could Have Won 25

Paul Forsyth pulls all sorts of fun stuff out of Jack Nicklaus, who was in one of his chatty moods at the Open Championship. On his 18 majors:
“Once I got past that record, I didn’t have a big push to do much else,” he says. “I didn’t know I had Tiger Woods pushing me. I would have probably worked harder and maybe won more if I had. I can’t say I prepared for every major the way I should have. I can’t say that I didn’t give away opportunities. Records were never really that important to me until it was too late to go back and go for them.

“Never in my life did I add up how many I had won. Tiger has been adding from day one. He has grown up that way, and the more he does it, the more he is reminded of it. He doesn’t know anything else.”

Nicklaus is proud of his majors, but there are more important things. “To me, my record is 18 professional majors, five kids, 46 years of marriage, 19 grandkids and a successful business. I have other friends, I have enjoyed what I have done, and I have been able to smell the flowers along the way. Those are the things that are important to me, not the 18 majors. The 18 majors are not my life, they are part of it.

“If I had been really serious about building a record that nobody was going to touch, I wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of the other things I have enjoyed. I have had a very balanced life.

“I spend time with my kids, I have grown up knowing them, and if golf had been the only thing I did, that wouldn’t have happened. I could have won 20 or 25 majors, but I think I would have been a miserable person.”

The implication is that Woods, whose late father compared him to Gandhi, is not on this earth to have a good time. Should the world No 1 successfully defend his title at Royal Liverpool this afternoon, the biggest prize will not be the Claret Jug, which he has won twice already, but the fact that it will take him to within seven majors of the holy grail. From the moment he pinned the Nicklaus record on his bedroom wall, his only dream has been to achieve immortality.

“Tiger is a pretty well- balanced kid, who likes to do other things, like diving and fishing, but he is living in a fishbowl. He can’t go anywhere without people reminding him who he is and what he is here for. I never used to worry about anything like that. I could go to any restaurant and nobody bothered me. He’s like a rock star. They’re on top of him all the time. I wouldn’t trade my life for his, not for any money you want to name.”
And this is fun, considering he'll be President's Cup captain again in 2007:
“In this year’s US Open, six of the top 10 were foreign players, and so were 14 of the top 20. We have some very good players, but if you look past Tiger, Phil (Mickelson) and Jim Furyk, it’s pretty thin.”

Neither is he especially impressed with the Europeans, save for a select two or three. Nicklaus, who is captain of the US Presidents Cup team, says the world’s best players are from neither continent.

“There are more good world players than there are US and European players combined. Maybe, in the Ryder Cup, it should be the US and Europe versus the rest of the world.”