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Jack Nicklaus believes the older generation of golfers might be tougher because they had to work harder to make a living at golf. (Cannon/Getty Images)

Old faces atop leaderboard leave Nicklaus wondering

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With players like Greg Norman and Tom Watson playing well in the tough conditions at Birkdale, Jack Nicklaus questions whether today's golfers need to be tougher.

SOUTHPORT, England (AP) -- Jack Nicklaus noticed some old faces atop the leaderboard during a brief visit to Open Championship on Friday, making him wonder if younger players have too much money and not enough desire.

Nicklaus' private jet arrived as 53-year-old Greg Norman was on his way to another round of even-par 70 to take a one-shot lead at Royal Birkdale. Tom Watson, a 58-year-old with five claret jugs, opened with a 74 in the worst of the weather at Royal Birkdale, and 49-year-old Tom Lehman also had 74 in the first round.

As for the youth?

"If they don't win, they still walk home with a big check," Nicklaus said. "They don't have to do some of the things the Watsons had to do, the Normans, the Lehmans, and that's to gut it out. It doesn't mean the young guys will be out of it. It just makes it appear as though the guys who have had that experience are coming to the top."

Nicklaus was at the Open on behalf of the Royal Bank of Scotland, one of his endorsement deals. Those kinds of contracts weren't available to everyone when Nicklaus turned pro in 1962, and he said only a few of the top golfers could make money off the course.

"When we played golf, it wasn't to make a living," Nicklaus said. "It was to make a name for yourself so you could make a living."

The winner of the Open Championship will earn about $1.5 million, more than 25 percent of Nicklaus' career earnings on the PGA TOUR. And just about everyone in the field has endorsements on his cap, bag or clothing.

"When I started on TOUR, maybe one or two guys might have made enough money to make a living," Nicklaus said. "Then it got to five or 10. Now there's a couple of hundred guys who make a living playing golf. We had to really play well and scratch it out to be in a position to get endorsements. But we worked to try to build the TOUR so they didn't have to do that."

What worries him is whether easy money is making players work as hard as they should.

"Is that producing better golfers?" Nicklaus said, pausing and shrugging his shoulders. "I don't know. The question was asked because you see all the older guys, all guys who have had to gut it out in tough conditions. The kids today play perfect conditions every week. If they don't like what's going on, they're finishing 10th or 15th and still make a check.

"I don't think it makes them as tough."

Nicklaus said he didn't want to criticize any of the young players, and felt a good crop of them was on the verge of breaking through, especially with Tiger Woods on the sidelines with a rebuilt knee for the rest of the season.

He also conceded his intention was to make life easier for players who came after him.

"You try to create a system that allows a lot of people to be able to make a living doing something. And they're successful doing it," he said. "And then your system destroys the desire for guys to have to work."

Nicklaus mentioned Bill Rogers, the 1981 Open Championship champion who never was much of a factor after chasing appearance money through exhibitions around the world.

Asked when he felt financially secure, Nicklaus said he never worried about money and never played any golf tournament strictly for money except for the occasional Skins Game.

"I always took the attitude that the harder I worked at my golf game and the better I played, the money would take care of itself," he said. "If I had that trophy on the shelf, the money would come with it."

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