More Golf Talk

Superb article by John Feinstein today in the Washington Post (name bestbucsblog, password bestbucsblog) on Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Feinstein believes that in addition to being a great player, Nicklaus was a great man, a champion who showed grace under pressure. Tiger, on the other hand, is a great athlete but not yet a great champion.

Woods seems to think that Nicklaus's legacy is only about numbers, that winning golf tournaments is the only thing that measures a champion. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially in golf.

Woods already holds many records. One of them, which is unofficial, is that he has been fined for using profanity publicly more than any player in history. While using profanity in the crucible of competition is hardly a great crime, it is indicative of Woods's attitude that, rather than try to curb his use of language, he has complained that he is being treated unfairly since there are always microphones following him when he plays.

Last month, during the U.S. Open, Woods missed a putt and childishly dragged his putter across the green, damaging it as he did so. When he was asked about the incident later, he shrugged and said, "I was frustrated," (no apology) as if he was the only player among 156 dealing with frustration. In recent years he has allowed his caddie, Steve Williams, to frequently treat spectators and members of the media rudely, not only defending him but also appearing to sanction his misbehavior.

It's funny but I was actually going to write a very similar column about exactly the same subject. Everyone knows the Tiger from the Nike commercials, smiling and having a good time, but at the same time constantly working to get better.

Which is true, Tiger has worked to hard to become a better player, recently reworking his swing which is almost akin to rebuilding a franchise in the NFL. And now Tiger has won two majors and finished second in another in one year. Except for possibly Roger Federer, no other athlete is as dominant in their sport as Tiger is right now. But Tiger is no Jack Nicklaus.

When Jack lost the 1982 U.S. Open to Tom Watson on a chip in on the second-to-last-hole Nicklaus went over to Watson after the 18th and said, "You did it to me again you little SOB," before adding, "I'm proud of you."

Of course, Nicklaus did not have to face the same kind of media scrutiny that Tiger does now, with cameras and people following him everywhere he goes. Tiger got into trouble a couple of years ago for making an off-color joke about lesbians to a miked-up limo driver. Ever since then he has not shown the same kind of character and personality that could allow him to bridge the divide between great athlete and great man.

Tiger still has many years to go and he will undoubtedly mellow with age, after all he is only 29. But until he does the mantle of golf's greatest player will forever rest on Jack Nicklaus's weathered shoulders.

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