Ryder Cup: ‘Watson won’t need tips’, says designer Nicklaus

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JACK Nicklaus may have designed the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles but he is not expecting a call from Tom Watson asking how it should be played by his American team in next year’s Ryder Cup.

According to Nicklaus, his long-time friend and rival probably knows even more about the course than him, even though the 18-time major winner was 
re-assigned by bosses at the Perthshire course in the last couple of years to make specific changes for the biennial bout.

“Tom won’t need to ask me anything because he will know more about it in five minutes than I’ll ever know about it,” joked Nicklaus as he looked forward to the Perthshire course staging Scotland’s first Ryder Cup match since the 1973 contest at Muirfield. Nicklaus, who played in the winning American team on that occasion, is pleased to see Watson heading to Glen-eagles as the US captain, even though his appointment at 63 has raised the odd eyebrow.

“I guess they wanted to get a little tougher because Tom is going to be a little tougher than normal,” he added. “But Tom will lead the Americans well.”

Chief among the course changes carried out by Nicklaus and his design team has been the flattening of the 18th fairway and creation of a new green, which sits in a natural amphitheatre. The par-5 ninth has also been altered to bring water into play on the right side of the fairway for the second shot and that, as well as all the other tweaks, were tested for the first time in last year’s Johnnie Walker Championship.

“The golf course is really going to be good and I think everybody will enjoy it – it will be a great Ryder Cup,” predicted Nicklaus.

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the first of six Masters victories recorded by Nicklaus and, in his eyes, Augusta is the only course in the world with the money to combat golf technology. “With what happened to the golf ball, this is the only golf course that’s kept up with it,” he said.

“I don’t think another course in the world has kept up with this golf course. I don’t think another course in the world had enough money to do it.”

In 2002, Augusta officials lengthened nine holes to increase the overall distance from 6,985 yards to 7,270 yards. Four years later, more tees were extended to bring it up to 7,435 yards. Whether there is further scope to keep adding length remains to be seen but Nicklaus acknowledged that this event is in a unique position compared to the other three majors, which all move round various venues.

“If you have an Open someplace, they add another tee or they add something here,” he said of a situation that has, in fact, happened at Muirfield for that event in July. “They really are not overhauling the situation the way they have here.”