Martin Dempster: Jack Nicklaus out of touch with Ryder Cup

Just as it proved with Tom Watson at Gleneagles two years ago, so it seems that another golfing legend, Jack Nicklaus, is out of touch when it comes to the modern-day Ryder Cup. '¨It pains me to argue with the game's greatest player, but his comments last week about the biennial event bore no relation to what either '¨Davis Love III or Darren Clarke will be telling their team members heading into next week's match at Hazeltine.

Jack Nicklaus' sentiments over the Ryder Cup are misplaced.Picture: Getty
Jack Nicklaus' sentiments over the Ryder Cup are misplaced.Picture: Getty

“To me the competition is incidental,” said Nicklaus, speaking at a charity event in Virginia. “Who wins bragging rights — and I know everyone wants to win — but that’s not the important thing. The important thing is the game of golf and people having good relations and goodwill. The Ryder Cup to me — we make a little bigger deal out of it than I think should be. It’s a great event to have bragging rights for Europe or bragging rights for America. It’s a great format; it’s a great competition. There’s a lot of nice things about it, but I wish we wouldn’t make such a war out of it.”

He’s right, of course, that it shouldn’t be a war and, apart from Kiawah Island in 1991, when Corey Pavin caused outrage by wearing a camouflage cap, it’s not become that, though, at the same time, there’s no doubt the contest has hotted up considerably from the days when Nicklaus was a member of an American team that enjoyed a dominant run in the 1970s over a then Great Britain & Ireland side.

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Nicklaus surely saw himself that a change for the better was in the offing during his two stints as US captain after the net was widened on this side of the Atlantic to include Europe, winning by one point at PGA National in Florida in 1983 before the visitors triumphed for the first time on American soil at Muirfield Village in Columbus, Ohio, four years later.

Yes, it is still important that the good relations and goodwill that Nicklaus refers to remain, but more so surely is that it is now a proper contest, though the pendulum has swung Europe’s way, of course, with the Americans setting up a “task force” for the 41st Ryder Cup after eight defeats in the last ten matches.

“That’s part of the things that I think is a little overkill,” added Nicklaus, continuing his rant, of a process in which two past captains, Raymond Floyd and Tom Lehman, current incumbent Love, as well as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Steve Sricker and Rickie Fowler, have all tossed ideas into the melting pot in a bid to come up with a much-needed winning formula for the home team in Minnesota.

“They liked it; that’s what they wanted. I certainly didn’t have my nose in the middle of it so I sort of stayed out of it. But they felt it [the task force] was going to get them a little more together and more unified as a team and so forth.

“That’s OK. I’m 40 years removed from that team as far as a player, maybe my old-folks’ ideas aren’t necessarily the right ones. Maybe theirs are the right ones. I don’t know. I just never thought you made that big a deal out of it.” Only time will tell about the task force, but, yes, I think you are right Jack about old ideas no longer being the right ones for the Ryder Cup.

“And here’s why. Instead of being the masterstroke most of us had hailed it as, Watson’s return as captain for the match in Perthshire two years ago was a mistake, partly due to neither him nor his vice-captains knowing their players as well as the European captain, Paul McGinley, and his right-hand men did for that match.

No longer can the Americans start turning their attention to the Ryder Cup a week or two before it comes around and expect to come out on top. Which is why the likes of 
Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, all of whom have had next week circled in red since the start of the season, will have paid little heed to Nicklaus saying he felt there is “unecessary pressure” on them heading into next week.

“They’ve got enough pressure on them week after week,” continued the 18-time major winner. “When I was playing we had four major championships. Now we have four major championships, four world championships, the Players Championship, we’ve got the Olympics. We’ve got other significant events, they play all around the world. I enjoyed playing the Ryder Cup, but I couldn’t tell you who I played or who I lost to, what my record was or anything else, I have no clue.”

Needless to say, it wasn’t shabby, but, sorry Jack, there’s no way the competition in the Ryder Cup can be incidental because that’s what has made it such a huge event in the sporting calendar.