KAANAPALI, MAUI » Old guys rule and Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson rocked the Kaanapali Champions Skins Game once again yesterday.
Nicklaus, 71 and still golden, pulled his golf clubs out for their annual competitive test and teamed with Watson, 61, to school the young guys at the Royal Kaanapali Course.
For the second straight day, the legend hit the shot of the day. With wind blasting all around on the 17th tee, Nicklaus hit a 6-iron 137 yards, leaving Watson 12 feet from buried treasure – $250,000 in this case.
"I saw the guys trying to hit 7-irons and they’d hit the ball and it was spinning and going all over the place," Nicklaus said. "So I said I’m hitting the 6-iron, choking down a couple inches and try and pick it and make sure I didn’t put any spin on the ball."
Watson drained the five-skin birdie putt to clinch the 24th annual game. The team finished with $310,000 and seven skins.
"Today we were just hanging around, not really competing," said Nicklaus, who hadn’t won a skin since the second hole Saturday. "All of a sudden, 17, boom! That’s what the game is. I’m glad I picked the right hole to hit the right shot and Tom picked the right hole to hit the right putt."
Bernhard Langer and senior skins rookie Mark O’Meara two-putted for par on the second extra hole to collect the final $100,000 and finish second with $300,000 and seven skins.
Nicklaus and Watson became the first to defend a title since this changed to a team format in 2006. The World Golf Hall of Famers have now won this format three times. Nicklaus has won five senior skins games overall and Watson four.
They left the 50-somethings in awe – particularly Nicklaus, who allowed that, "If I play 10 rounds of golf between now and the time I get back here next year I’ll be amazed."
He called skins a game of patience and confirmed this is now his only competition away from the tennis courts. The self-described "grandpa sitting on the sidelines" is here each year, in large part, because caddie/son Steve likes to bring his family.
Nicklaus admitted to "actually practicing for the first time in five years" because his game was so bad last month. He was "on the verge of hitting the ball decently" when he came to Hawaii, then found a few keys here that made a huge impact.
"I’m not likening this to a Masters by any means," Nicklaus said, "but in the ’86 Masters I hadn’t played and won for a long time, but I remembered how to play. Now, I can maybe remember to play that odd shot at the right time. That’s really what skins is all about."
The kids – Fred Couples, 51, and Nick Price, 54 – found that out. They hit the ball better than anybody both days, but did not get on the board until they two-putted for birdie on the first hole yesterday (No. 10).
It was redemption for a three-putt par that cost them during Saturday’s first nine holes, but they wouldn’t make another meaningful putt and tied for third at $80,000 with Fuzzy Zoeller and Ben Crenshaw.
"The beauty and the tragedy of the skins game is what happened today," Watson said. "Freddy and Nick hit the ball close to the hole and got tied a couple times and had a couple opportunities they missed. We were just lurking on the sidelines until that one hole happened. That’s what we had to do."
Zoeller and Crenshaw had one of those days. It was so bad that Zoeller looked at Crenshaw before teeing off on the last hole and asked, "What part of the rough do you want to be in here?"
O’Meara and Langer went into the final nine holes with $120,000, four skins and a $40,000 lead. They padded that when Langer made a 7-foot birdie putt at No. 12 for $80,000.
Langer converted again, from 5 feet on the 15th, for birdie. It would have closed it out and made O’Meara the first rookie since Crenshaw in 2009 to win, but Couples covered the birdie to halve the hole.
By the 17th, a win by any of the teams would have finished it. Langer had a putt there to halve, but it lipped out. He had another long one to win the final hole of regulation. He thought it was going in as well, but it didn’t.
It was the old guys’ day, again.
"I’m not amazed at Jack," Watson said. "It may be surprising for some. It may be surprising to him. But it’s typical Jack and the way he looks at golf. He looks at it very pragmatically, as I do. That’s why we like each other."
» In the who would take this bet department, Nicklaus said yesterday that he was so tired of giving strokes to his friends and losing that he turned in scores so he could get a handicap again.
The scores were 78-78-78-76-72. "So I’m a 4- or 5-handicap now," Nicklaus said, grinning. "Now you know what I am. I don’t play scratch anymore.
"If I played a few rounds I’d be playing at a reasonable level, but I’m not a competitive golfer anymore. I wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t alternate shot. It’s fun. What do you think it is? It’s a chance for a man 71 years old to hit a few shots with guys 15-20 years younger than he is and compete at this level. It’s a blast, absolutely a blast."
» It was the first time since 2007 that all four teams cashed in, so all the charities involved made money. Ten percent of the players’ winnings, or $77,000 went to their charities of choice.
Ben Crenshaw split his between Wounded Warriors and Impact a Hero, the same groups former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon supported during Pro Bowl week in Honolulu. McMahon also came to Maui and hung out with some of the "Heroes."
Fuzzy Zoeller (Fuzzy’s Charities Inc. for Kids), Nick Price (The Nick Price Fund) and Jack Nicklaus (Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, Inc.) played for their own charities.
Tom Watson split his earnings between The First Tee of Greater Kansas City and the Bruce Edwards Foundation. Bernhard Langer played for 4 Kids of South Florida, Fred Couples for The Discover Land Company Foundation and Mark O’Meara for Boys Hope Girls Hope’s Cleveland Chapter.