INCHEON, South Korea — Jack Nicklaus said Tiger Woods can still beat his record of 18 major championships — provided he can stay in control of his mental game.
Nicklaus said Woods can achieve the feat “if he gets the five inches between his ears squared out.”
“I mean Tiger has a great work ethic, he’s a great competitor, the most talented kid on the planet right now,” Nicklaus told The Associated Press in an interview Friday. “He’s not going to go away.”
The 35-year-old Woods has 14 major titles, but has not won any tournament since revelations of infidelities in 2009 led to the collapse of his marriage and a break from the sport. This season has been partly derailed by injuries, but Nicklaus also praised the decision by U.S. captain Fred Couples to include Woods in the 12-member Presidents Cup team that will take on non-European player s in Australia in November.
“How could you not pick him,” Nicklaus said. “I mean he’s Tiger Woods, he’s the best player in the game. He may not be playing his best today, but he’s still Tiger Woods.”
Nicklaus made the comments while in South Korea to attend a Champions Tour event played on a course he designed.
He also said it is crucial for golf to stage a successful tournament at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro to help the game grow internationally.
“Golf is now an Olympic sport,” Nicklaus said. “And we’ve got to keep it in the Olympics. We’ve got one shot in 2016.”
However, Nicklaus expressed concern about the slow progress in constructing the facilities for the event, but remained hopeful that he will be awarded the task of designing the course with former women’s great Annika Sorenstam.
Golf is returning to the Olympics as a sport for the first time since 1904, with the tournament held in the seaside region of Barra.
A course needs to be built by 2015 for test events.
“I’ve led my game and (Sorenstam) has led the women’s game, and I think we both have the ability more so than anybody else to put something together that would fit what they need,” he said.
Others who have expressed interest in designing the course include Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Nick Faldo and Greg Norman, who would team up with Lorena Ochoa.
Nicklaus stressed that the Olympics will be the biggest golf event organized in Brazil, and officials must realize they’re facing a tight deadline.
“You’ve got to get ready for it, prepare for it. And to get people to understand the sense of urgency is very difficult,” he said. “And the sense of urgency needs to be there, otherwise the success of an event is in jeopardy.”
Regarding the state of the game in the United States, Nicklaus said the economic slump has taken a harsh toll.
“It’s absolutely just murdered the game in the United States,” he said. “Clubs are all having trouble, people don’t have spendable income, too many people are out of work, we have all of the problems you have with a bad economy.”
Nicklaus said much needs to be done to help grow the sport in the U.S. That includes making it more attractive to youngsters, who in the age of video games tend to have shorter attention spans.
“The game of golf takes a long time and that’s part of the problem,” he said, referring to the four or five hours needed to play.
Nicklaus advocates making the game easier for young people at an early stage. Other sports allow children to play with modified equipment and rules, such as smaller balls and lower baskets.
“Kids have gotta have some success, they have success early in these other sports, but they don’t get this success early in golf,” he said.
Nicklaus’ many course designs around the world are part of the legacy he’s leaving to the sport. He added he’s working on developing equipment to help make it easier for young people to play in public parks.