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Why Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods literally see things differently

April 16, 2020

Ed. note: Well, Big Jack still has the record on a solo basis! Tiger Woods will have to wait until November to try to match Nicklaus’s six Masters titles. This week, Bamberger Briefly comprises a series of five short pieces in which the 18-time major champion opines on this and that. Monday: Golf with Peyton Manning. Tuesday: Life with Barbara. Wednesday: Augusta in November. Today: Colorblind golf.

The interlocking grip is weirdly unpopular, when you consider that Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, arguably the two greatest golfers of all-time, both use it. But a casual look at PGA Tour pros suggests about 90 percent of them use the Vardon grip, also known as the overlapping grip. But not Jack, and not Tiger.

But wait — there’s more! Not only do Jack and Tiger share a grip, they’re also both colorblind! How strange is that?

Students of the life and times of Jack W. Nicklaus are aware that he’s colorblind. But who knew that Tiger was colorblind until the other day? Not this reporter.

It came up in a recent interview Woods did with Henni Zuel of GOLFTV. The 2019 Masters champion was talking about life under quarantine at home with his daughter (Sam), girlfriend (Erica Herman) and son (Charlie). Woods said, “I’ve been trying to help Sam and Erica with this ungodly puzzle that they have. They have just finished a 2,000-piece puzzle. And now there’s a 3,000-piece puzzle. I struggled, as I’m partially colorblind. I don’t know certain colors. So I find myself asking, ‘Is this right? Is that right?’ They get sick and tired of me asking. They end up shooing me away from the puzzle. Once the borders are done, I’m useless.”

When I told Nicklaus that Woods was partially colorblind, he responded with genuine surprise and said, “I didn’t know that.”

Nicklaus then described his own issues. He said, “I didn’t know I was colorblind until I was 29 years old. I went through flight safety school to get a pilot’s license. Did the simulator, passed everything. The only thing I had to finish up to get my pilot’s license was a physical. And in the physical, they had a book for colorblindness. And I saw nothing. I mean, absolutely nothing. The guy looked at me and he says, ‘Jack, you are the most colorblind person I’ve ever tested.’ I had to try to see the difference between a white light and a green light at night. I couldn’t.”

The issue has impacted Nicklaus on the course, to a point: “If there’s a lateral water hazard and there’s a red line on the green grass, I’ve got no chance of seeing it.

But only to a point: “I don’t think I’ve ever worn the wrong colors on the golf course. I dress myself. I’ve learned what is right and what is wrong. I’ve got on I guess a coral or pink shirt right now. But what I see is different from what you see.”

I could see the shirt. We were on FaceTime. It was coral or pink. But what about a white ball on green grass. How about a white ball on green grass, does that present any issues for him? “No,” Nicklaus said. “I don’t think so.” His record suggests the same.

If all goes well, Nicklaus and Woods will be together at the Champions Dinner on Tuesday, Nov. 10, in the Augusta National clubhouse. Their custom is to sit next to one another. Maybe they’ll compare notes on how they grip a golf club, and how they see the world.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments or suggestions at Michael_Bamberger@GOLF.com

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