GOLF: But you also went out and won a few.
NICKLAUS: Yes, but in general, I did the winning in the early part of the round. I shoot a few birdies, make 32 or 31 on the front nine, and then the others would get scared or impatient. They'd fail to make a move on me, and I'd walk through the back nine. The only big exceptions were Augusta in '86 and Baltusrol [the U.S. Open] in '67. [Each time, Nicklaus shot 30 on his final nine.]
GOLF: Do you still prepare as thoroughly for the majors as you used to?
NICKLAUS: Yes and no. A week or two before those tournaments I still practice full bore and try to hone my game into shape. The difference is that now I don't play in more than one or two events prior to Augusta or prior to a U.S. Open or PGA or British. That tends to leave me a little flat, a little short on competitive experience.
GOLF: You've said you'll play a bit on the Senior PGA Tour. Any goals there? Did you know, for instance, that if you win the U.S. Senior Open you'll join Palmer as the only player to win the Amateur, the Open, and the Senior Open.
NICKLAUS: No, I haven't given it a thought. I have absolutely no goals on the Senior Tour. The Senior Tour is a good concept although frankly I'm not astounded at its continued success. It gives a lot of guys an opportunity to extend their careers. But personally, on the few occasions I will play the Senior Tour, I'll be a ceremonial golfer, much as I am today. I have no goals as Trevino does to break a bunch of records.
GOLF: Does that mean you'll grind less, take the competition less seriously, maybe loosen up and work the crowds as much as the course?
NICKLAUS: I doubt it. I'm deadly serious even when I play tennis against my kids. I want to beat their brains out. Whether it's pool or Ping Pong, I can't stand to have my kids beat me. Especially Ping Pong! And when they beat me, they just needle the devil out of me. That's fine. I'd rather have that than let them win a shallow victory. As long as I give it my best effort, I have no problem being beaten, whether by my kids at Ping Pong or Watson at Turnberry. When I play the Senior Tour, I'll play to win.
GOLF: One thing that aggravates most senior players is a loss of putting nerves. At age 46, have you ever yipped a putt?
NICKLAUS: That depends on what you mean by 'yipped.' I've missed putts where the putter seemed to go off in my hands, but I don't think those were the results of nerves. For the most part, my nerves have lasted pretty well. When I miss a short one, it's usually with a calm, smooth, crummy stroke!
GOLF: You'll meet up again with some old friends — old rivals — on the Senior Tour, probably some you've always enjoyed playing with. Who would make up your ideal foursome? But let's not confine it to the Seniors. Which three players in the history of the game would make up your dream foursome?
NICKLAUS: I'm going to pick two guys because I've never played with them. Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. Then I'd add Ben Hogan because I'd want him as my partner.
GOLF: Did you get to play much golf with Hogan?
NICKLAUS: The first time I played with him was at Cherry Hills, in 1960, where we went 36 holes together in the last two rounds of the U.S. Open. Thereafter, at every Masters or Open Ben played, he sought me out for a game. I always thought that was a nice compliment.
GOLF: Do you still think he's the finest, most consistent ball striker, you've ever seen?
NICKLAUS: Yes, although I'd rank Trevino next to him. And the best single ball-striking exhibition I've ever seen was by Byron Nelson. He gave me a clinic at the 1954 U.S. Junior Championship in Los Angeles. There was a new irrigation system on the fairway where he was hitting, and I'll never forget sitting with the other kids and watching shot after shot of his come down smack on the pipeline. It was incredible.
GOLF: You once said you agree with Jones, who said that he never became a truly complete player until he understood his golf swing inside-out. Do you still feel that way?
NICKLAUS: Absolutely, it's the one enormous key, the edge.
GOLF: How many guys on the current PGA Tour do you think know their swings in that way?
NICKLAUS: Very few
GOLF: A handful?
NICKLAUS: If that.
GOLF: Who are they? Is Mac O'Grady one?
NICKLAUS: No. If Mac understood his swing that well, he'd win everything. Part of it is knowing when you play, how to correct the mistakes you're making and not let the round get away from you. A big part of managing a golf course is managing your swing on the course. A lot of guys can go out and hit a golf ball, but they have no idea how to manage what they do with the ball. I've won as many golf tournaments hitting the ball badly as I have hitting the ball well. And in a way I'm more proud of the good rounds I've played while hitting the ball badly than of the great rounds while hitting the ball well. I understand my swing well enough to get myself through a tournament and win it. I've made it work.
GOLF: So which of today's guys know their swings?
NICKLAUS: Well, I think Raymond Floyd understands his swing very well. I think Trevino knows his swing. Tom Kit and Norman understand their swings pretty well.
GOLF: What about Watson?
NICKLAUS: No, I think Tom is still learning. Tom can be better than he is, and I don't think he is remotely through playing the game of golf. Watson has never been a ball-striker like a Trevino or a Hogan. His success was built on determination, a great short game and striking the ball well when he needed to down the stretch.
GOLF: Why do so few players have your swing knowledge? Are you that much smarter? Or harder working? Luckier?
NICKLAUS: It's a bit of luck, I guess. In Jack Grout, I had a great teacher from the beginning, and he taught me how to understand the swing. Beyond that, reaching an understanding of the golf swing seems to be something that takes time. I was fortunate to get a solid head start.
GOLF: Over 30 years, along with your victories on the course, you won an intangible victory: You won over the galleries and fans. In a way, that came less easily than did the trophies.