When Jack Nicklaus speaks, the golfing world sits up straight and pays attention. In fact, it turns out Rory McIlroy took in every word of advice he was given by the Golden Bear when they sat down for lunch not far from here 12 months ago.
If you are wondering why McIlroy raised a few eyebrows last week when he insisted that the short game is less important that the long game, you can blame Nicklaus.
“I agree with Rory. In fact, it was me who told him so in the first place, when we had lunch last year,” Nicklaus said after a news conference that was dominated by talk of the forthcoming 25th anniversary of his iconic 1986 Masters win at the age of 46.
“I always thought the long game was more important. I’ve always felt that way. I never worried much about my short game and I didn’t practice it.”
McIlroy is sensitive about his short game and putting, which appears decidedly ordinary in comparison with his stellar long game.
“I don’t care what anyone says about the short game being the most important. It’s not,” McIlroy said in Tucson last week. “The long game puts you in position to have putts to win tournaments. Guys say you have to have short game to win tournaments and it is not the case. Not at all.”
Nicklaus recalled his own chipping troubles yesterday as he took a stroll down memory lane and explained how he re-built his game from scratch early in 1980 following the first winless season of his career.
But his views on the short game haven’t changed and he agrees with McIlroy that it’s consistency from tee to green that defines champions.
Nicklaus said: “I told Rory that I never practiced my short game because I felt like if I can hit 15 greens a round and hit a couple of par fives in two and if I can make all my putts inside 10 feet, who cares where I chip it.
“And I didn’t enjoy practicing that part of the game, I enjoyed the other part. But that was just me.”
McIlroy is excellent outside 20 feet and inside six feet but knows that he needs to hole more 10-15 footers if he is to become a prolific winner.
Nicklaus added: “Rory’s a pretty good putter, it’s just that sometimes it doesn’t exactly go right where he wants it to. But that happens to us all.”
World No 4 Graeme McDowell is one of the favourites to lift the title as he heads out with former Honda Classic winner Vijay Singh (48) and young gun Rickie Fowler (22).
But when asked about the importance of the long game over the short game, he had no doubts.
McDowell said: “I think I would rather have the short game because I feel like a talent like Seve around the greens or what Luke has, you can always frame a long game in around that.
“Look at Pádraig Harrington when he turned pro, allegedly he didn’t have much of a long game but an incredible short game, and you can piece a long game around a short game. It’s pretty tough to pick up the short game as you go along.”
Nicklaus said last year that Tiger Woods’ quest to beat his record of 18 major victories would be defined by majors at some of his favourite venues - Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St Andrews.
But while the great man confessed that he was surprised that Woods has yet to turn his game around, he still expects him to reach the milestone of 19 major wins.
“I’m surprised that he has not bounced back by now,” Nicklaus said before participating in the Honda Classic pro-am. “He’s got such a great work ethic. He’s so determined to what he wants to do. I’m very surprised that he has not popped back. I still think he’ll break my record.
“But obviously we have not played any majors yet this year. We’ll see. You probably can ask me that same question at the end of this year and we’ll see what the answer is, and it might - it will probably define a lot of what will be the answer.”