BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – The hot scorers came to the media center Friday to discuss their rounds. Scott McCarron, Kevin Sutherland, Tim Petrovic -- part of a traffic jam for the holiday weekend at the top of the leader board in the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. And now in the interview room . . . Jack Nicklaus.
Relax. He didn’t show up with a thermos of water from the fountain of youth and shoot 67. Nicklaus designed this place, and happened to drop in with wife Barbara for an announcement of a scholarship in their honor.
Certainly, the famous 102-foot putt he rammed in here at Harbor Shore’s grand opening in 2010 came up. They even showed the replay. “What’s so hard about that?” he said. He was kidding. Right?
Another topic was his opinion of this course he created out of sand dunes, neglected wetlands and a toxic dump.
“People ask you, what’s my favorite course? And I say, do you have a favorite child?” he said. “Well, I’ve got over 300 children, and 300 courses, so I can’t have a favorite one. They’re all my favorites.”
Questions from the floor, please. You there, in the back.
“When you have a lead at a major or near the lead in a major, what did you like to eat on that Friday night?”
Wait a minute. Wasn’t that Scott McCarron, one of the guys leading the tournament?
Yep. McCarron had just shot a 68 to go with his first round 66, to stand at eight-under, a total Sutherland would later match. Clearly, his mind had turned to what he would be having for dinner.
Nicklaus advised him to keep it basic. He provided the warning parable of when he was captain of the Presidents Cup team in South Africa, and his players had a menu request. “They went out and had hamburgers on Friday night, and they played like hamburgers on Saturday.”
Later, McCarron was mentioning all the places he came across in the Benton Harbor area, including a killer burger place. “I guess I’m not going to the hamburger joint, after Jack said no hamburgers.”
How about late-finisher Sutherland, who didn’t roll in until after 7 o’clock? What were his menu thoughts? “Hopefully something to go.”
Yes, it was Nicklaus Day at Harbor Shores, so why not put the leader board – packed and varied as it is -- in Jack-ology?
In 1965, Nicklaus won his second Masters and fourth major . . . and three months later Scott McCarron was born in Sacramento.
He has been a handful on the PGA Tour Champions, with six victories, including one major. And he wants more, inspired by something he once heard -- from Nicklaus.
“He told me, `You know what, one of the things I really regret is I didn’t play more on Champions Tour. I loved the Champions Tour, I loved being out there with all my friends, I loved the competition.’
“I really took that to heart, meaning that I’m going to play as much as I can and I’m going to get ready to play and try and win as many majors as I can.
“It means a lot for our tour to have Jack around. He’s a guy that was my hero growing up. When I was a kid we would all play golf in Napa and everybody would choose a guy. So someone was Jack, someone was Gary (Player), someone got to be (Ben) Hogan. I always wanted to be Jack.”
McCarron is playing well despite am apparent curse on his clubs this season. He’s had to replace a cracked driver, a cracked 3-wood, wedges with the grooves gone. And his beloved putter was a victim of TSA security at the airport.
“I won so much money with that putter,” he said. “Snapped at the post. Done.”
In 1964, Nicklaus didn’t win a major but finished second in three of them . . . and Kevin Sutherland was born on the 4th of July. Guess where? Sacramento, same as McCarron. As one of the last players on the course Friday afternoon, he blew through his last nine holes with six birdies for a 66 to catch McCarron.
They’ll be paired together Saturday, two men who competed against each other as high schoolers back in northern California. “As far as we know,” Sutherland said, “it’s the same stuff as 30 years ago. More than that, actually, 35 years ago. Time flies.”
In 1966, Nicklaus won the British Open for the first time, at Muirfield . . . and 39 days later, Tim Petrovic came into the world in Northampton, Mass. He has gone 66-69 and is one of four men a shot back. His secret this week, he said, is Petro golf.
Petro golf? “Fairways and greens. My dad always tells me just get the ball on the green as fast as you can, you’re going to make your putts.”
He was planning to tell his father how well Petro golf was doing. One problem, though. “When you play good, your phone usually lights up with texts. I went back and turned my phone on (Thursday) and I didn’t have one text. I’m like, do they know there’s a tournament this week? Didn’t hear from my mom or my dad still.
“Maybe it’s like the pitcher with the no-hitter, and everybody sits on one end and him at the other.”
In 1964, Nicklaus tied for second at Augusta behind Arnold Palmer, the only Masters he didn’t win in a four year period from 1963-66 . . . five days earlier, Joe Durant was born in Florida. Golf would one day vex Durant so, he turned away from his career to get a license to sell insurance, and stack boxes at a golf equipment retail house.
His wife gave him a lecture, he returned to the game and won $14 million on the PGA Tour. Friday, he shot a 67 to be one back.
In 1966, Nicklaus repeated as Masters champion . . . and Jerry Kelly was born to be a hockey player in Madison, Wis.
He ended up at the University of Hartford on a hockey scholarship, but when the school nixed the sport, turned to golf. Spent two decades on the PGA Tour, where the issue was avoiding bogeys, not body checks. He’s one shot back, roaring up the leader board with a 65.
In 1959, Nicklaus played in his first Masters, missing the cut . . . and Chris Williams was born in England. He has never finished in the top 20 in six Senior PGA Championships, had broken 70 only three times in 22 rounds. But here he is, only one shot back after going 67-68.
And so this throng on the leader board – 14 golfers are within three shots of the top – now heads for the weekend, on a course that could suddenly turn mean.
Take first-round co-leader Stuart Smith, born in 1961, the year Nicklaus won both the NCAA championship and U.S. Amateur. The club pro’s Cinderella story took a dreadful wrong turn Friday, from Thursday’s 66 to an 83, missing the cut. "Everyone is going to say the leader choked and all that stuff. But I was fine," he said. "You put this one down to just plain old golf. It's a nasty game we play sometimes. Glad I have a day job."
Or Stephen Dodd. In 1977, Nicklaus won his 63rd PGA Tour event, to pass Ben Hogan . . . and 11-year-old Stephen was introduced to the game by searching for lost golf balls at a course in Wales. He torched the front side of Harbor Shores Friday for a 29 to take the lead for about 10 minutes. Then shot a 43 on the back. From the lead to seven shots behind.
So it wasn’t easy, and it won’t be Saturday.
“The greens have got a little bit of spice in them,” Nicklaus said.
McCarron begged to respectfully differ with his hero. “I think they have a lot of spice to them.”
Plus, the pressure will grow.
“Everybody’s going to get a little nervous out here coming down the stretch, and that’s normal,” Petrovic said. “We’re not 22 anymore, we know too much stuff now.”
Said Kelly, “If the weather stays like this, you just got to have the pedal on the gas.”
And no hamburgers for dinner. Just a suggestion from a man in the interview room.