Nicklaus laments how easy it is for players to withdraw USA Today via AP
We played through it. We had a ton of injuries and I played through it. But that’s sort of the norm today. And the guys … I made my own decisions. I didn’t have an entourage. I didn’t have a fitness trainer. I didn’t have a nutritionist, whatever you all have, somebody to cut my toenails in the morning. I didn’t have any of that. I did that myself.
Mr. Nicklaus was reacting to several of golf’s stars withdrawing from this week’s Memorial Tournament. Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, and Paul Casey all have announced they will not play this week due to injury. The issue for Mr. Nicklaus stems not so much from the injuries as not keeping their previous commitment to appear at the event.
“Never entered if I wasn’t going to play,” Nicklaus said.
That’s some harsh criticism. It’s a very different world than the one Mr. Nicklaus played in during his prime. The top players have more pressure than ever to perform at their peak, every week. Just look at the media pressure put on Jordan Spieth over the last few months as he struggles with consistency. If one of the top players is not able to perform at their best, they, their entourage, and their sponsors are often better served by a week off than a gutsy effort leading to a missed cut. Playing through injury can shorten very lucrative careers.
But if it’s a premier tour event or major they will more often take the risk to play if possible. There’s the real point of friction and perceived disrespect.
Mr. Nicklaus doesn’t like that his tournament is one that players won’t sacrifice to play. He’s worked for decades to make The Memorial a special event on the golf calendar. His original vision was to style The Memorial after The Masters. He works hard every year to make sure his event isn’t just another tour stop in between majors. He’s close but The Memorial isn’t there yet. To have any of the top players in the world not at the event is a blow to that effort.
If Mr. Nicklaus believes these players are committing to his tournament and then using a minor injury to bail on that commitment, then I think I can side with him more easily. Mr. Nicklaus knows how it works these days. Some players have chosen to withdraw from The Memorial get some rest and recovery in before the U.S. Open. It’s hard not to read between the lines and see that this is exactly what he’s accusing these players of doing. The Memorial can be sacrificed and Mr. Nicklaus doesn’t like it.