January 21, 2010 / 5:05 AM / 9 years ago

Golf-'Golden Bear' Nicklaus still on course after reaching 70

MIAMI, Jan 2X (Reuters) - Jack Nicklaus will celebrate his 70th birthday this week fishing on Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean, but the man regarded by many as golf’s greatest player will not have his feet up for too long.

Despite his age, the 18 times majors champion remains actively involved in golf course design and will be straight back to work immediately after his three-day fishing trip.

The business is how Nicklaus, who won six U.S Masters titles, four U.S. Opens, three British Opens and five PGA Championships, has kept his competitive juices flowing in the years since he began to fade from the top level of the game in the mid-eighties.

“When you lose (your) ability to play the game, you lose your vehicle to compete. Competition is my big deal. Competition is what I love,” he said in a teleconference ahead of his birthday on Thursday.

“My expectations of my game were very high most of my life. And as my club head speed went down, as my ball-striking ability went down, as my ability to dominate a golf course went down, that vehicle left me. So I had to find other vehicles.

“I’m a very fortunate guy in that golf course design is something that kept me in the game of golf. I had my competition with a piece of land and the ground I was working with.”

Many in the game would have preferred Nicklaus, who recorded 73 wins on the PGA Tour, to have competed more regularly on the over-50 Champions Tour and in other big events.

But it was hard for the ‘Golden Bear’ to play at a lower level than in his prime and Nicklaus Designs, the company he runs with his four sons and his son-in-law, filled the gap.

“In golf, my expectations were major championships,” he added.

“In golf course design, my expectation is to be able to produce the best golf course that can go on that piece of ground which competes against the best players in the world, and I guess competes against other designers.

“It’s a lasting thing that will remain long after my golf game and lifetime,” he said.

NEW OPPORTUNITIES

His design company has created 341 courses in 34 countries and 39 states in the U.S and is focusing heavily on new opportunities in China, India and Russia.

“I get really excited when I make a trip to China, to Russia. I get excited about making the trip because of the fun of it, the excitement of working with the land and the people,” he said.

Nicklaus hopes that golf’s arrival as an Olympic sport in 2016 will give a further boost to the globalisation of the game and he would like to see it spread to wider sections of society in the new markets.

“The beauty of the Olympic movement is that with government funding you are going to bring in people from all walks of life,” he added.

“The game of golf won’t just be an elite game, I look forward to the growth of the game in China, for instance, and participating and helping in that.”

However, the sight of Nicklaus on a course with a club in his hand is a rare one these days.

“I’m not much of a golfer anymore,” he said.

Although he and Tom Watson recently won the Champions Skins Game, Nicklaus said that would be his only competition this year, although age was not a factor.

“How old do I feel?” he added. A lot of people tell me I am one of the youngest 70-year-olds they have ever seen. I play golf when I want to.

“I do whatever I want to do. I go skiing when I want to. Outside of my arthritis, which is substantial in some places on my body, I feel great. I feel young.” (Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by John O’Brien; To comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

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