3 courses that absolutely owned Jack Nicklaus, according to Jack Nicklaus

jack nicklaus

Yes, even Jack Nicklaus struggled with certain courses.

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The wild and windy Ocean Course at Kiawah Island isn’t for everyone. Ask Xander Schauffele.

“I had somewhat of a bad attitude about the golf course,” Schauffele said Tuesday at the Memorial, recounting his disappointing week at the PGA Championship, where he shot 73-77 to miss the cut by one. “I just didn’t really like it.”

And his game suffered because of it.

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“I’m not saying I had enough game to win that week, but I definitely had enough game to compete, and for me to miss the cut was a bit reckless and kind of stupid,” he said. “Moving forward, even if I don’t like a course, I got to wash that out of my mind and move along.”

On Tuesday at the Memorial, tournament host Jack Nicklaus was asked if had ever experienced what befell Schauffele: Had a course ever been so deep in his head that it rendered him more or less powerless?  

“Oh, are you kidding? Sure. Absolutely,” Nicklaus said.

First up: Pecan Valley, in San Antonio, site of the 1968 PGA Championship — that was the week Julius Boros, at 48, became the then-oldest-ever major winner, a record Phil Mickelson broke at Kiawah. In five of Nicklaus’s previous six PGA Championship starts, he had finished in the top 3. That week, at Pecan Valley, he missed the cut.

Jack Nicklaus at the Memorial this week.

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“I never got interested,” Nicklaus said Tuesday. “It was ridiculous. You only got four majors a year. What in the world are you doing? I mean, that’s stupid. … You’re not supposed to fit the golf course to your eye, you’re supposed to fit your eye to the golf course. In other words, you’re supposed to fit your game to the course.”

Among the other designs at which Nicklaus was never comfortable was Oak Tree National (nee Golf Club), in Edmund, Okla., which played host to the 1988 PGA Championship. Oak Tree is a hilly, windy brute where uneven lies are common. Its designer? Yep, Pete Dye!

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“I didn’t prepare properly for Oak Tree and then I had to stay over, after I missed the cut I had to stay over to do television?” Nicklaus said. “There’s nothing worse than staying over the weekend and talking about somebody else playing golf after you missed the cut. I promise you that. It’s not a lot of fun.”

Neither is getting an earful from your better half, in this case, Barbara Nicklaus.

“There is no excuse for not being properly prepared,” Barbara told her husband that week. To which Jack says, “She’s absolutely dead right.”

Jack said weeks when he was either unprepared or unmotivated or mentally dominated by a course were infrequent, but they did happen, on both sides of the pond. Among the courses on the British Open rota, Nicklaus said this year’s venue, Royal St. George’s, was “the one that I could never get to fit my eye.”

Royal St. George’s was not kind to Jack.

His results showed it. In three Open starts at Sandwich, Nicklaus twice missed the cut (in 1985 and ’93) and tied for 23rd (1981).

“If you got [a course] that doesn’t fit you, you got to work a little extra hard to make it fit it,” he said. “That’s basically all it is. You don’t arrive on Monday and expect it to get there. If you don’t like what you’re doing, go in the Monday before and play some practice rounds and you need to get it there if you want to win.”

Call it a lesson both Jack and Xander learned the hard way.

Alan Bastable

Golf.com Editor

As GOLF.com’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at GOLF.com, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.