Decades later, Nicklaus said nearly the same thing about another prodigy named Tiger Woods.
Woods probably won't say it -- at least not yet -- but he could say of Rory McIlroy, "He plays a game with which I was once familiar."
McIlroy showed again Sunday in the final round of the PGA Championship on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C., what all the excitement was about when he burst on the scene a few years ago as a curly-haired teenager from Northern Ireland.
In winning his second major championship in 14 months -- an 8-shot romp that broke Nicklaus' tournament record and followed his own 8-shot runaway last summer at Congressional in theU.S. Open-- the 23-year-old McIlroy gave golf something it didn't appear to ever have.
A true successor to Woods.
It's too bad that Woods, who did make a comeback of sorts this year with three PGA Tour victories, isn't a little closer in age to McIlroy.
But Palmer was nearly done winning majors by the time Nicklaus started winning them, and I think the same is true now about the 35-year-old Woods. There is a chance for Woods to add to his total of 14 major championships, but it seems doubtful that he will ever realistically challenge Nicklaus' record of 18.
In watching Woods play the past three majors of the 2012 season, you saw only glimpses of the glory days in the first couple of rounds, followed by the sad, harsh reality that he will never be close to the dominant player he used to be.
Woods was in the hunt halfway through the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club and through 54 holes of the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, but couldn't finish the way he started.
At Kiawah, he seemed to lose his feel of the greens late in Friday's round, and never got it back. In the weekend round of the past three majors, Woods never shot a round in the 60s.
McIlroy kept making birdies and pars, and en route to a closing 6-under par 66, looked much like Woods did in following up a historic 12-shot win in the 1997 Masters with, after a major swing change, his second major at the 1999 PGA Championship.
It was the '99 PGA Championship, at Medinah, where a rivalry seemed in the making when Woods held off a then 19-year old sensation named Sergio Garcia to revive his now legendary career. That rivalry never happened.
Now there will be talk of a Woods-McIlroy generational battle, starting with their possible showdown at this year's Ryder Cup at Medinah. But the Ryder Cup, for all its pressure and patriotism, is a team event regardless of what happens in the singles matches on Sunday.
McIlroy's wardrobe choice for the final round of the PGA Championship was also interesting to note. He wore the same color shirt -- blood red -- that has long been Woods' trademark. Maybe it's time for Woods to change shirts like he has swing planes and coaches.
It would only be fitting.
After all, McIlroy plays a game with which Woods was once quite familiar.