Golf’s greatest-ever major champion Jack Nicklaus has found himself bizarrely drawn into the Naomi Osaka tennis controversy. Nicklaus, now aged 81, is again playing host to this week’s Memorial tournament at Muirfield Village outside of Dublin, Ohio.
However, after going into a 2,240-word description of all the changes made to the host course, the 18-time major winner, affectionately known as ‘The Golden Bear’, found himself dealing with a less than cuddly question as to whether he has been following the events involving the World No. 2 ranked Osaka, who has now shocked the tennis world in citing mental health issues and withdrawing from the French Open in Paris.
“I honestly don’t know. But my outlook, my view towards the press has always been ‘you guys have got a job to do’,” said Nicklaus when asked about his relationship with the media.
“And I tried to be honest with you, straightforward with you, I tried to answer your questions to the best of my ability. If I thought there was something that I probably shouldn’t answer, I probably answered it anyway, you know that. But I probably should have kept my mouth shut.
“So, I have always dealt with you guys that I treated you fairly, you treated me fairly. And I don’t understand some of the young people today and think they’re not going to get treated fairly. I mean, you always get treated fairly if you treat somebody else fairly. That’s always been our way.
“Maybe there’s always some, there’s always a snake in the crowd somewhere who decides they want to do something, but you can’t blame everybody for one bad apple.
“And I don’t know what she felt, went into, I have not read anything about it, I just heard she withdrew because she didn’t want to go to a press conference and that she felt like she had some issue that –“.
The journalist asking the question, hinted: ‘Anxiety?’
Nicklaus responded: “Anxiety? Well, if she has that and that’s, and that bothers her, I mean, then you guys should be able to, you know, accommodate her and allow her to do what she needs to do without running her through the ringer.
“I mean, if she has a problem, if she really has one, you don’t know that, I don’t know that, only she knows that and her doctor probably knows it. So, I can’t fault her, so I don’t really — one of the times I probably should keep my mouth shut a little bit because I just don’t know. I mean, open mouth, insert foot? I mean, is that a fair answer to you?
“I feel badly for her and I hope that she, I hope that she, whatever she needs or if she needs help or whatever she needs, I hope she gets it. But it’s a, you know, I just don’t know enough about it to really comment honestly on it.”
It prompted Nicklaus, who won a total of 126 pro career titles around the globe, to be asked his own thoughts on dealing with the then media back in his heyday of competition.
“I think people are people. You have a few people in the media today who are trying to make a name and they want to get sensational.” said Nicklaus. “We have had that for 20 years or so. Didn’t have it much right when I was growing up. But for the — you pretty well identify those people pretty quickly.
“And then you’re just careful with what you do. But I’m still, but still you got a job to do. And I think that — I mean our guys have been pretty good with the press, I don’t think you have anybody that’s bad with the press, are you?”
The PGA Tour’s media officer, Doug Milne interrupted saying: “None at all” (Laughing.)
Nicklaus responded also smiling: “Surprise answer. (Laughing.) But I don’t think you — I don’t think that’s a big issue with golf. I feel badly for her and I hope that whatever she needs or if she needs help or whatever she needs, I hope she gets it. But it’s a, you know, I just don’t know enough about it to really comment honestly on it.”