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Nicklaus, 45, Says He’s Fit to Win Open No. 5

The way Jack Nicklaus looks at it, a man should still be in his prime when he’s in his 40s. The Golden Bear is 45, and this week he’ll be right where he has been at this time for the last 25 years, playing in the United States Open.

Even though Nicklaus hasn’t won the Open since 1980 and has won only one tournament in the last three years, his enthusiasm isn’t blunted as he prepares to challenge Thursday for a record fifth national championship. The Open will be played on the South course of the Oakland Hills Country Club in Birmingham, Mich.

“Maybe I’m pipe-dreaming, but I think if somebody in their 40s is willing to give up other things and interests, there is no reason he can’t physically perform at a championship level,” Nicklaus said, “Of course, it’s more difficult to give up other things when you get older, but this year I’ve done it. I’ve put in the time and effort needed to try and win the U.S. Open. I cut way back on my travel and my businesses to concentrate on golf.

“Hogan and Snead played their best golf in their 40s. I don’t see why I can’t, either. Maybe I don’t hit the ball as far as I did, but there is no comparison to how many things I can do now that I couldn’t do 15 years ago.”

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If conditioning will do the job, Nicklaus is ready. He went on the “Eat to Win” diet and slimmed down to 177 pounds, which is lighter than he has been since he was 14 and weighed 180. To strengthen his back--back problems forced him to withdraw from the 1983 Masters--he has exercised every day for the last year and a half.

Nicklaus still is irritated about his poor play in the four major tournaments last year, but has drawn encouragement from his showing in this year’s Masters.

“I didn’t play really well at Augusta,” he said. “In fact, the first three rounds were as poor a ball-striking Masters as I’ve ever played. But I still only finished four shots from the winner. In my own mind, I could very easily have won if I putted decently.”

Nicklaus shot a 69 in the final round and wound up four shots behind Bernhard Langer.

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“I haven’t played very well this year, but I don’t think it has a blasted thing to do with age,” he said.

Instead, it was a flaw in his swing, Nicklaus said, one that developed gradually over the last few years.

“I haven’t been in control of my backswing. I knew it, but I didn’t have any idea why. I went to Jack Grout (the only coach Nicklaus has ever had) after the Tournament of Champions and he had me move my elbow out where it should be. As soon as I started hitting balls with my elbow where it used to be, I began striking the ball much better. The first day I hit balls for six hours, over two hours with my driver. By the time I get to Oakland Hills, it should be second nature.”

Nicklaus also rejected the idea that his 45-year-old nerves might desert him at a critical moment on the course.

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“My nerves are fine,” he said. “I have no nerve problem at all. I have always thought, that if you know what you’re doing and what you’re supposed to do, that you don’t get nervous. If you don’t know what you’re doing, that’s when you are going to get nervous.”

Golf Notes Touring pro Tony Sills, between tournaments, was playing at El Caballero CC the other day with Sandy Lang, Marv Kaufman, Arnold Latkin and Pooch Bennish. On the 215-yard eighth hole, Sills hit a 2-iron shot that lipped out and stopped about half an inch from the hole. After some good-natured exchange about why it hadn’t gone in, Bennish said to Lang, who lives with Sills in Sherman Oaks, “OK, wise guy, let’s see you get inside of Tony.” Lang, also using a 2-iron, hit his shot into the cup for a hole in one. . . . Brad Gallagher, 19, of Saugus, shot a final-round 63 at Santa Barbara Municipal and won the Santa Barbara city championship by two shots over Brad Greer, SoCal amateur champion. Gallagher, who had eight birdies and a bogey in the final round, shot 72-67-63--202. . . . Laurette Maritz of U.S. International was selected as first team All-American by the Women’s Golf Coaches Assn. Kay Cockerill of UCLA and Kathleen McCarthy of Stanford made the second team, with Kristal Parker of UCLA getting an honorable mention. Cockerill and Kathy Kostas of Stanford were named to the all-academic team. UCLA’s Jackie Steinman was selected as Far West regional coach of the year.

A list of the 50 snobbiest clubs in America, selected by Golf Magazine, includes Los Angeles CC, Hillcrest CC, Cypress Point Club, San Francisco GC and Burlingame CC, Bing Crosby’s old club in Hillsborough. The inclusion of Hillcrest, which has always seemed to be one of the friendliest and most enjoyable clubs in Southern California, comes as a bit of a surprise. There are a number of clubs, particularly some of those in the desert hidden behind iron gates, that would seem better qualified. The list was headed by haughty Augusta National GC, home of the Masters. . . . Bermuda Dunes will showcase a new $4-million clubhouse at the 27th Bob Hope Classic next January. . . . Singing Hills CC in El Cajon will hold the National Golf Foundation’s summer seminars for golf coaches, June 23-28. . . . June 17 will be a busy Monday on the golf scene. Cal Poly Pomona’s sports fund raiser tournament at Via Verde CC in San Dimas, the Michelob Baseball Alumni tournament at Industry Hills and the U.S. Public Links qualifying round at Singing Hills CC are all that day. More public links qualifying is set for June 20 at Riverside GC. The national tournament will be played July 15-20 at Wailua GC in Hawaii.

The annual High School Benefit tournament to raise funds for Los Angeles high school teams will be played Monday at Calabasas Park CC. . . . Play will continue today and next weekend in the 68th L.A. City men’s tournament at the Rancho, Sepulveda and Griffith Park courses. . . . When Pearl Sinn of Bellflower won the L.A. City women’s championship, she became the third golfer to win both the L.A. women’s and junior titles the same year. Sinn, 17, joined Amy Alcott, who did it in 1973, and Carolyn Hill, who duplicated the feat a year later. . . . Ken Cherry, former pro at Rio Hondo, Indian Hills, Los Coyotes and Tamarisk, is now head professional at Porter Valley CC. . . . Clint Airey, who has been golf director at Westlake GC and North Ranch CC since 1967, is leaving to become golf consultant for the Prudential Insurance Co. properties in the Western U.S.

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Sophomore Pat Burke and senior Mack Smith of Cal State Dominguez Hills were named to the second and third units, respectively, on the NCAA Division II All-American team. . . . A record 1,029 players have entered the U.S. Senior Open June 27-30 at Edgewood Tahoe GC. The regional qualifying round is scheduled June 17 at Old Ranch CC where 56 amateurs and 61 professionals will compete for 10 spots in the championship competition. Fifty-two, among them Jerry Barber, Arnold Palmer, Gene Littler, Billy Casper, Charlie Sifford and amateur Alton Duhon, are exempt. . . . The 19th annual Marge Ferrie Invitational will be held June 18 at Virginia CC in Long Beach. Millie Stanley of Wilshire is the defending champion. Also in the field of 120 will be former winners Virginia Martin, Marie Gray, Candy Meyers and Ronna Sterling.


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