COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jack Nicklaus thinks Tiger Woods got the proper ruling at the Masters.
However, he’s not so sure he agrees with the slow-play penalty given to 14-year-old Chinese phenom Guan Tianlang.
Woods’ third shot on the par-5 15th in the second round hit the flagstick and ricocheted back into the water. He took his drop from 2 yards farther back — contrary to the rules — from the spot where he hit originally, and ended up making a 6. Tournament officials later said he deserved a two-stroke penalty for the violation, but not disqualification.
"Could they have disqualified him? Probably," Nicklaus said Wednesday at a luncheon celebrating his support and that of his Memorial Tournament for Nationwide Children’s Hospital. "But you’ve got all the best rules heads together and they said that they thought there was no intent to do anything (improper) and that two strokes was a strong enough penalty. And you move on."
Nicklaus, a winner of 18 major professional championships to Woods’ 14, spoke on a variety of golf-related topics from anchored putters to renovations at Muirfield Village, which hosts his Memorial Tournament next month and also the Presidents Cup in October.
Nicklaus said he didn’t blame Woods for not disqualifying himself.
"People say, ‘Should Tiger have withdrawn himself?’ I don’t think so at all," Nicklaus said. "If Tiger did that, he’d be putting himself in a position of saying, ‘I’m above the rules.’ You accept the ruling whether it’s good or bad for you."
The 73-year-old Nicklaus wasn’t so certain about the one-stroke penalty given to Guan for slow play during the second round at Augusta National.
"He’s in the eighth grade! The eighth grade and he’s playing in the Masters!" Nicklaus said, smiling. "And he gets a penalty? Can you imagine giving a 14-year-old kid a penalty for slow play?"
He added, "There’s hundreds of guys who are much slower probably than (he was) and they figure out a way to get away with it."
Nicklaus said he undoubtedly spent too much time over many, many putts over the years.
Guan accepted the penalty without complaint.
Jim Furyk, winner of the U.S. Open in 2003, also chatted on the dais with Nicklaus before a large crowd at Ohio State’s student union.
Of Guan, Furyk said, "He handled it better than most of us would."
On Wednesday during pro-am day at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans — where Guan will be playing again this weekend — 2012 Masters champ Bubba Watson said perhaps more penalties need to be handed out for slow play on tour.
"I think that — not just the Masters — I think there’s times on the PGA Tour where it should have happened before. I think we should always give strokes (for slow play)," he said. "It’s an unfortunate situation because of who (Guan) it was. But again, he’s not a pro yet, but later in life, if he becomes a pro, he’s going to know the consequences. So he’s going to do better, and maybe some other juniors across the world figure that out, that we need to speed this up."
During the Masters, Guan and his parents met with Nicklaus to discuss the player’s future. Nicklaus had high praise for the family. Nicklaus said he advised them to put his schooling first and to allow the youngster to be a party to decisions.
Nicklaus said when he was 14 he was more concerned about where he might take his girlfriend on a date, whether he could get out of history class or would be able to miss basketball practice. He said he welcomed the opportunity to meet with the family because it keeps him in touch with younger players and allows him to pass on the wisdom he had received when he was a budding star.
"(Bobby) Jones asked me to come down to his cabin every year and I absolutely took him up on his invitation," he said. "(Ben) Hogan asked me to play practice rounds with him and I took him up on that. Even Arnold (Palmer), who is only 10 years older than I am, did a lot with me; I learned a lot from him. It’s all part of that fraternity."
Nicklaus spoke just a block from where his father’s drugstore used to sit on High Street. When he was a kid, the Nicklauses lived briefly directly across the street from the old Ohio Union, which was torn down and replaced by the current one.
On the subject of long putters, he said he was OK with them as long as all of the ruling bodies of golf were united either for or against them. He does not want to see players permitted to use a long putter at one event such as the Memorial but not at the U.S. Open a few weeks later.
He does not believe that a player gains a huge advantage with a long putter, although he has his doubts about anchored putters which might help a player stabilize the club more.
"Guys, these guys are so good, they can play with a broomstick," he said. "They could learn to play with anything."
Nicklaus said he played earlier in the week with Lee Trevino. He said he hasn’t changed.
"No. Constant conversation," he said with a laugh. "We had a great time. I love Lee. He’s a wonderful guy."
Muirfield Village in suburban Dublin is undergoing an expensive rebuild of its clubhouse before the Memorial Tournament, set for May 30-June 2. Nicklaus, famous for constantly tinkering with the holes at the course, said he hadn’t made any changes at all this year.
"I couldn’t afford it," he joked.