By Steve Elling
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- It started off as a spontaneous treatise to a question indirectly relating to the putting issues of Tiger Woods, but the response took an interesting detour into an area that had not much been explored.
Eighteen-time major champion Jack Nicklaus never experienced debilitating putting slumps over his legendary career, and he's developed an interesting theory as to why it afflicted plenty of other legends, from Ben Hogan to Sam Snead to Arnold Palmer, but never seemed to bother him.
Yet the perceived root cause is, shall we say, a sensitive area.
Couching his words carefully, Nicklaus said Tuesday at the Honda Classic that he believes his putting stroke has remained steady over the years because he didn’t drink during tournament weeks, while other players from the old-guard era used to repeatedly hoist a cold one after rounds.
Or based on the stories circulating from back in that era, more than one, in some instances.
"I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, please, because I am not condemning what happened, but in those days, most of those guys were club pros in the old days, the Hogans and Sneads and so forth," Nicklaus said. "Their life was playing golf maybe 20 weeks a year and the usual thing was to come in after a round, sit down, have a drink and socialize.
"I have always felt that drinking does not do well with nerves. The guys today don’t do that. I don’t think you see that and I never did that. Did I have a drink, sure, I had a drink here and there. But never while I was playing in tournaments. I always felt it was terrible for your nerves and terrible for your touch.
"I don’t think the guys did it because they were nervous, it was just their way of life, a social way of life. Golf was a social sport. Guys today take the game more as athletes, in a different way. I took it pretty much that way.
"I never lost [my stroke], never. Even today, I am just as quiet over a putt as I was when I was playing. I am not saying these guys were [heavy] drinkers. I am just saying it was part of their life, part of their culture. It's not part of the culture now.
"You don’t really hear about the yips anymore, do you? The only guy I remember who had the yips, who I know was not a drinker, was Langer. And he has overcome them."
Interesting theory, and one never before espoused, as far as we know. Nicklaus seemed to sense that some would take it the wrong way.
"Probably a theory I probably shouldn't have said here," he said.
And clearly, none of it applicable to the recent putting plight of Woods, who isn't much of a drinker, socially or otherwise.