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Jack Nicklaus on Tiger Woods: 'I don't 'understand what he is struggling with'

By
Alex Butler

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., July 27 (UPI) -- His blonde locks and burly physique earned him the nickname "The Golden Bear."

So it's no surprise that Jack Nicklaus' next big post-golf venture nests in the food industry. Nicklaus isn't pestering the tents of sleeping campers, but appeasing appetites of hungry airplane passengers.

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The Golden Bear Grill opened Wednesday at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The restaurant's menu features many of the items Nicklaus enjoyed from the kitchen of his wife, Barbara, during a golf career spanning more than 40 years. When Nicklaus, 76, wasn't talking about graham-cracker-crusted Key lime pie, he spoke about generational rival Tiger Woods and the multitude of golfers snubbing the Rio Olympics.

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Rio reversal

Golf was not part of the Olympics during Nicklaus' run at a record 18 professional major titles. That could have been what led him to think that players such as the World's No. 1 golfer Jason Day, No. 2 Dustin Johnson, No. 3 Jordan Spieth, No. 4 Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Graeme McDowell, and others were "selfish" for not accepting the honor to represent their countries.

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Now, like he did so well during his revered career, Nicklaus is making an adjustment to his analysis.

"I felt bad for the game of golf when guys first started [dropping out]," Nicklaus said. "I thought maybe it was a little selfish on their part to not grow the game of golf.

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"Then I started thinking more about it and thought maybe I shouldn't have said that because it's not about that. They aren't about growing golf right now. They are into playing golf. I'm into growing golf because I'm past my time. I look to the future of what happens to it. These guys are thinking 'how do I make a living, how do I perform?' If they get sick, and then all of the sudden they have a family that gets sick, then they've got another issue other than what they are trying to do...making a living in golf and to be able to perform at their best and highest level.

"I've taken the opposite side of my own opinion."

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Nicklaus pointed at golf's outdoor nature when speculating about why the sport's top athletes fear for their health amid Zika virus concerns.

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"I don't know whether golf will stay in the Olympics, because of what is going on right now, because they are voting on it next year," Nicklaus said. "They are going to be in the 2020 [Olympics]. The thing is for most sports, the Olympics are the pinnacle of that sport. Tennis and golf, the Olympics aren't the pinnacle of those sports ... Wimbledon, U.S. Open, the Masters, British Open, are the pinnacle of our sports. It has done ok with tennis, which has survived through the Olympics and went very well. I think golf has to get started and understand. I think that this year the guys had a horrible time trying to figure out their schedules. They were trying to figure out how they are going to play the British Open, then jam in the PGA before the Olympics, which is what they are doing this week. So they've had other issues.

"The Zika has been a large part of it. A lot of them are young guys. In most sports that are played they play in a stadium or indoors in an auditorium or something like that. They are out on a facility down next to a marsh area. There are going to be mosquitoes there and that's probably going to be an issue for them."

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Tiger tracker

Nicklaus said he has exchanged several text messages with Tiger Woods, but he hasn't "talked" to him since the Masters. Woods trails Nicklaus with 14 major titles, for most all-time. But the days are adding up since Woods won his last. He last hoisted a major trophy at the 2008 U.S. Open.

His health concerns are something Nicklaus is unfamiliar with, as he admitted he didn't "understand" what Woods is going through.

"I've kept up with it and I've had a couple texts back and forth, but we haven't really talked," Nicklaus said. "He's struggling. I don't understand what he is struggling with, but I know he is struggling and he would be playing if he could play."

While he wants to stay at the top of the golf world, Nicklaus would welcome Woods' resurgence.

"Nobody wants their records to be broken, but I don't have a problem if he does," Nicklaus said. "I've always felt that way. Records are made to be broken. You've done the best that you could do. If somebody does better than that, well done. Give him a handshake, smile, and say good luck. I don't have a problem with that.

"I think he's so talented and still relatively young in relation to the game of golf, that I still think he's got a very good shot at doing it. I've never had a situation like that. I obviously don't understand it because I haven't been in the middle of it. You don't know what's going through somebody's head when they've been injured as long as he's been injured."

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Nicklaus never spent four years between major titles between 1963 and 1980. Woods never spent four years between major titles between 1997 and 2008.

Bear branding

You can sink into plush golden armchairs and get the feel of being in a posh clubhouse now in Terminal 3, concourse E. It's all part of Nicklaus' post-game play: his brand.

Look to Barbara Nicklaus as the one who kept his engine running all of these years with her delicious dishes.

"It's attributed to the longevity of my stomach right now," Nicklaus joked. "Most of the food I've eaten most of my life has obviously come from Barbara and she's learned how to cook...we had four boys and all five of our kids went to college on Division 1 scholarships, so they are all athletes. She has always cooked for somebody playing sports all of their life and so her whole thing has been a healthy diet and solid diet and one that people could perform on."

It's no secret for what Barbara and Jack have always been, and will always be: a team. They worked together, with their daughter Nan O'Leary, and family recipes to create an extensive menu with a home-cooked feel. One of the menu items is meatloaf, handed down in a recipe from Nicklaus' mother. Barbara released the cookbook Well Done! in January.

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"We were both 20 when we got married and we kind of feel like we've grown up together," Barbara said. "...Kind of in a team. Whatever he does is fine and I've enjoyed being the wind beneath his wings. He's always made me a part of whatever he has been doing. So he's always made me feel special. It has been a nice ride."

The Nicklauses teamed up with the Buffalo-based concessionaire Delaware North on the venture. Nicklaus said they plan to open another location next month in South Carolina. He attributed the reason for his late start into branding to the nature of the game.

"When I played golf, we played golf to win and build a name so you could go make a living," Nicklaus said. "Because you couldn't make a living on a golf course. The guys today can make a living on a golf course. Which is totally different from when we played. Now they also have seen what has happened with brands.

"I wish I would have started 20 years earlier, but I was too busy working. I had to either rely on golf and design golf courses or build a brand. I chose what I enjoyed, which was playing golf and building the golf courses. All of a sudden as I got a little older, I started to realize when the golf course business went south, when the economy went south about 10 years ago, we had to figure out what we wanted to do. Well my legacy is going to be in my brand. How stupid was I for all those years not to realize that? Now we work heavily on the brand. It's my legacy with my family and my partners in business and that's what we are trying to do."

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