Jack Nicklaus has never played Bethpage Black, and none of his 18 majors came on Long Island, but on Wednesday the Golden Bear stamped his approval on the local golf scene, endorsing the PGA Championship’s schedule move, and offering Sebonack Golf Club as a potential landing spot for the U.S. Open.
Though he’s unfamiliar with the course, Nicklaus said the PGA of America’s decision to hold this year’s tournament at Bethpage Black in May — rather than in August, when it was previously held — will add an extra element to the event.
Unlike the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open, he said, “the PGA, we never had a weather issue.”
“Now you’re going to have May and I think that’s good because now the PGA will have a weather issue, which I think is part of the game of golf,” he said. “Some guys can play when the weather is bad, some guys can play only when the weather’s good, some guys only like the combination. I think it’s going to be a better test. I don’t know anything about Bethpage Black but everybody says it’s a strong golf course ... [and] I like weather as part of a golf tournament. We’re an outdoor sport.”
Nicklaus spoke Wednesday as part of a long-ranging discussion — held alongside former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera — during the Long Island Association’s annual spring luncheon at Crest Hollow Country Club. Rivera, the first player to receive a unanimous vote into the Baseball Hall of Fame, touched on his childhood in Panama, life with the Core Four, and revisited the time he accidentally discovered his cutter while tossing to Ramiro Mendoza — a pitch that defined his career.
Nicklaus, meanwhile, shared fond memories of Arnold Palmer, offered his hopes for Tiger Woods, and spoke of the career he’s found in retirement: designing golf courses, like Sebonack on the Peconic Bay in Southampton.
The course, which he designed with Tom Doak, was home to the U.S. Women’s Open in 2013, but Nicklaus has his eye on the men’s game now.
“I think we’re going to get the U.S. Open out there,” he said. “I think we’ll get it and it won’t be long.”
It will, however, be at least 10 years, since future sites up to 2028 have been announced. There’s another challenge as well, since Shinnecock Hills has already been selected for the 2027 U.S. Open, and that course is also in Southampton. Nicklaus’ assertions, though, don’t come without precedent: In 2014, Sebonack owner Michael Pascucci made the U.S. Open a clear target, then telling Newsday, “we like June events.”
Nicklaus now has his eye on the Masters, and his friend, Tiger Woods. He played with Woods in February, alongside President Donald Trump, and said that Woods “is swinging better than he’s ever swung.”
And though Woods missed the Arnold Palmer Invitational earlier this month due to a neck injury, Nicklaus still thinks he could be one to beat.
“He’s swinging great,” Nicklaus said. “He’s going to be a force in Augusta next week. I don’t think there’s any question about it.”
“He’s Tiger Woods. He may be hurting, he may have had operations, he may have had a fusion, but…it doesn’t make any difference. (Tiger) will figure out a way to score.”