DUBLIN, Ohio (Reuters) - When Jack Nicklaus talks, anyone with an interest in golf is well advised to listen and the 18-times major winner delivered in spades as he weighed in on several topics ahead of this week’s Memorial Tournament.
Tournament host of the PGA Tour event staged at Muirfield Village Golf Club, Nicklaus gave reporters his opinions on the recent spat between Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, the venue for next month’s U.S. Open and the state of the game in general.
Nicklaus also explained the rationale behind the impressive reconstruction of the massive clubhouse at Muirfield Village, which now forms a horseshoe behind the 18th green as it links up with the media pavilion and the hospitality suites.
“The Sergio-Tiger thing, it’s stupid,” Nicklaus said in the media interview room on Wednesday, referring to the racist “fried chicken” jibe made by Garcia last week at the expense of the world number one Woods.
“I mean, do guys have an issue one with another? They usually resolve it themselves. You guys want to resolve it in the newspapers today. Nobody needs that. And I think they both finally said it’s enough. Forget it, guys. Let’s move on.”
Spaniard Garcia apologized profusely for his “stupid and out of place” comment during the European Tour’s Player of the Year awards in England last week and said he regretted it the moment he made it.
Fourteen-times major winner Woods, whose relationship with Garcia is frosty at best, was initially in an unforgiving mood over the racial stereotyping but on Wednesday he said he had moved on.
“That’s already done with,” Woods told reporters at Muirfield Village ahead of Thursday’s opening round.
According to Nicklaus, players in the modern game have to operate inside a media “fishbowl” where nothing is sacred, something he never had to contend with when in his own prime.
“In our days I suppose there were times when you had an issue with somebody and it came about, you never read about it,” said the 73-year-old, long been known as the ‘Golden Bear.’ “There weren’t 20 people sitting around for one guy to write it.
“For the most part, today you’re in a fish bowl. You guys write about something, news services are sent all over the place and there’s a lot of mountains made out of mole hills.
“It’s a different day. Everybody is there and everything is public. So I don’t blame the guys sometimes for being a little quiet.”
Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania will stage its first major in 32 years when the U.S. Open is played there from June 13-16.
Long regarded as too short to host a major championship given the power hitting so prevalent in the modern game, the classic, 6,846-yard layout will rise to the challenge in the opinion of Nicklaus.
“Merion will do very well for the U.S. Open,” he said. “It’s going to have some holes that they (the players) are going to abuse the golf course with, but they’re also going to have some holes on the golf course that are going to abuse them.
“It’s not one of the golf courses that are in the middle road. It’s either tough or they’ll birdie the hole. Merion is a great golf course. I’d love to still have the golf game to go play it.”
Confident though Nicklaus was about Merion’s major credentials, he was less optimistic about the global state of the game as 2013 nears its midway point and appealed for rounds of golf to take no more than three hours for the average player.
“The (PGA) Tour is very healthy,” he said. “But the game of golf in itself has lost a lot of players - some five million or so regular golfers have left the game.
“We’ve lost 27 percent of women, and 36 percent of the kids in the last five years. Part of it is economy, part of it is the expense of the game, part of it is life has changed. People don’t want to spend five hours doing something anymore.
“Nothing lasts longer than golf, unless you’re playing a five-set tennis match, more than three hours or less. So you really need to play the game in three hours or less, that’s what we need be to, and we’re not there.”
However, Nicklaus’ eyes lit up when he explained how he gave the green light for reconstruction of the entire clubhouse at Muirfield Village after a good friend, Jack Lucks, had told him it was “1970s California ranch” in style and would never fit in.
“And I said, ‘Well, I know that, Jack, but it’s like you have what you have and that’s what we did back in the ‘70s when we did this clubhouse.’ I sort of liked California ranch, but I don’t know if that fits too much in Ohio,” Nicklaus grinned.
“I kept looking at it and it didn’t really. What we tried to do was do something that would make it a little more timeless ... we tried to bring the clubhouse up to today’s standards. I think it’s terrific.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue