A Tiger by the tail


By Del Duduit - PDT Sports Columnist



DUBLIN — Do you realize how great of a golfer Jack Nicklaus was?

Over the past couple of decades, most of the coverage (good and bad) has been about the dominance of Tiger Woods.

He’s obviously earned it.

Since he turned professional in 1996, he took the golfing world by storm and has won 110 tournaments and 15 majors.

He was named PGA Player of the Year 11 times and ranked No. 1 in the world 683 weeks.

Amazing.

Woods also captured The Memorial Tournament in Dublin five times.

But the host of last week’s Memorial championship – Jack Nicklaus — is still the greatest player of all time.

And he will always hold that honor.

After the Ohio State University product turned pro in 1961, he claimed 117 total wins and was POTY five times.

He has won the most major tournaments with 18, which will never be topped.

His record stands up there with Cy Young’s 749 complete games pitched in the MLB, along with the 4,256 career hits from Pete Rose, Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,632 consecutive baseball games played, and of course, Byron Nelson’s 11 PGA tour wins in a row, to name a few.

Those accomplishments will stand forever in the books.

BUT – the second most impressive statistic is how many times Jack finished in second place in a major tournament, which includes The Masters, The U.S. Open, The PGA Championship and The Open Championship (formally known as The British Open.)

Now, I’ve been told over the years that second place is “like kissing your sister” or the “second place is still for losers.”

Let this number sink in.

We all know about Jack’s 18 wins in Major Tournaments.

But he also finished in second place in 19 other majors. Nineteen!

That means he was in position and could have won 27 majors.

That’s hard to comprehend.

That’s how dominant he was in golf.

He was THAT good.

“I don’t have a problem with those 19 second-place finishes,” Jack said in the media center on the grounds of The Memorial Tournament. “I know I gave a couple of them away – especially the ’63 British Open. But that’s the game. I looked at those seconds as learning experiences and ways to get better the next time. That’s important. I don’t like to lose or come in second place – nobody does. Anyone who knows me knows that I love to win. But that just doesn’t happen in this game, and you have to get better.”

His attitude about placing second is what fueled his success over the years.

“I knew that as long as I properly prepared to do the best and played the best I could, and someone beat me, then well done on their part,” he added. “I never really reflect back on ‘what could have been.’ I know I played the game at a high level and played it well BECAUSE I prepared well and played the right way.”

The Golden Bear took the second-place finishes as opportunities to improve.

And yet he kept his wins in perspective.

“I’m sitting here talking to you because I was fortunate enough to make a few four-foot putts over the years,” Jack said. “And maybe a couple of 20-footers too. But I was blessed to have a partner in Barbara – still do – and we have five kids, 22 grandkids and three great-grandchildren. That is the most important thing to me in my life. But none of this success on the tour or this tournament would have happened if I hadn’t made those putts.”

The biggest reason why no golfer will break Jack’s mark is because of the abundance of talent on today’s PGA Tour.

When he was at his best, there were about 20 players who could win a tournament, Jack said.

“We had our core group of players who typically won on tour,” he said. “There was (Tom) Watson, Arnold (Palmer), (Gary) Player, (Lee) Trevino, (Johnny) Miller, and others. Now, today, it’s a world tour, and the best players on the planet play each other every week. And they are really good.”

Tiger had a legitimate shot at the record, until he unraveled in 2009.

Personal problems kept him off the course for several months, and then physical issues took a toll on him as well.

In November 2011, he dropped to No. 58 on tour.

But in 2013, he regained the top spot.

But back surgeries over the next four years dropped him off the radar so far that he did not appear on the list of the world’s top 1,000 golfers.

He did make another comeback and won The Masters in 2019, his first major in 11 years.

But since then, he has struggled with knee issues and making cuts.

“Players got used to winning after Tiger disappeared for a bit,” Jack said. “Before, most guys had the mindset to try to finish second behind Tiger because Tiger was going to win. That’s just how it was and how much he dominated. But since then, players know they can win now and are getting used to it even if Tiger is in the field.”

I don’t see any golfer ever breaking the 18 major wins, although Jack said he will never count Tiger out of that possibility.

I think he’s just being courteous.

But I just don’t see it happening anymore.

Tiger will have to win three more to tie and four to surpass the milestone.

Tiger is 46 years old, and Jack won The Masters at the same age in 1986.

I know Jack does not do this, but speculation is what sportswriters do best.

How good was Jack?

He’s the GOAT.

Eighteen major wins – and 19 second-place finishes.

Wow!

Now that’s grabbing a tiger by the tail.

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By Del Duduit

PDT Sports Columnist