Jack Nicklaus on Tiger Woods, U.S. Open and raising money for children’s health care

More than three decades have passed since Jack Nicklaus won his last major championship, and it has been 10 years since Tiger Woods won his most recent. And yet, Nicklaus still gets asked questions about Woods “about every time I sit down,” he joked Monday at the Creighton Farms Invitational in Aldie, Va., where he was asked a few more about the 14-time major winner.

Nicklaus, who tops the all-time list with 18 major victories, said Woods has been swinging better in recent tournaments. He’s optimistic about Woods’s future in the sport, despite his up-and-down performances since returning last year. As for Woods’s PGA Tour title drought?

“I’m very surprised that he hasn’t won yet,” Nicklaus said. “I think part of the problem is he hadn’t played for a while, and it’s not how good his golf game is. It’s how it is between his ears. … He can play golf, but he’s got to remember how to win, how to take it and finish it. I think he will.”

Woods, who last won a Tour event in 2013, will play this weekend at the Quicken Loans National, a tournament that benefits his foundation, at Avenel Farm.

Nicklaus also talked Monday about the recent U.S. Open, which drew criticism from players and observers for the USGA’s mismanagement of the course.

Nicklaus was a four-time U.S. Open winner, and he said the tournament “should be the sternest examination of the golfer that we have.”

“I think the USGA thought they did the right thing, and if they had the right weather, they probably would have,” Nicklaus said of the events at Shinnecock Hills this month. “But it turned out … [there was] a lot of wind, and those greens just got away from them a little bit.”

As for his own golf game, Nicklaus, 78, still enjoys being on the course, especially when it’s an environment such as that at Creighton Farms. Nicklaus hosted the three-day charity event in Virginia that ended with an 18-hole tournament Monday. This year, the event raised $1.5 million for the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation and the National PKU Alliance.

Nicklaus has been hosting charity events to benefit children’s health care for decades. His passion for helping sick kids developed after his then-11-month-old daughter, Nan, swallowed a crayon that dropped into her lungs and landed her in the intensive care unit.

More recently, Nicklaus was introduced to Jerry and Jill Elkins, who are members at Creighton Farms and have a son who suffers from phenylketonuria (PKU), an inherited metabolic disorder. Last year, the tournament partnered with the PKU Alliance to raise money for research of the disease.

“[The money raised at this event will] be good for that research,” Nicklaus said Monday. “There are a lot of diseases that aren’t very common, don’t really get a lot of attention as far as research. You really have to almost privately do that.”

Nicklaus has a promotional house at Creighton Farms, but he doesn’t spend much time there. He designed the golf course and said its difficulty level is “middle-of-the-road.” Its purpose, he said, is for people to enjoy their time on the course. And Monday, it fulfilled that role while also raising money for causes important to Nicklaus.

“This was not about professional golf today,” Nicklaus said. “This was about the kids.”

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