Despite phenomenal record, Nicklaus says he ‘underachieved’

DUBLIN, Ohio – When Jack Nicklaus speaks, the golf industry listens.

On Wednesday, the Memorial Tournament host talked about his career and how he basically “underachieved” in a career during which he won 18 major championships among 73 career Tour titles.

Shocking? Not the way the Golden Bear sees it.

“I think I underachieved all my life,” Nicklaus said in his annual news conference at Muirfield Village Golf Club, site of this week’s Memorial. “I think that’s why I got better. And I think that if you feel you’re overachieving or getting more out of what you should get, then you stop working.”

Tour players Rickie Fowler, Ian Poulter and Bubba Watson were among the most “overrated” in an infamous poll of anonymous respondents on the PGA Tour. The week after the results were released, Fowler won the Players Championship and acknowledged that the survey had provided motivation.

Nicklaus, for his part, said he likely would not have read any published reports or polls when he played, and he wouldn’t have needed the results for motivation. Instead Nicklaus talked about his desire to figuratively climb the next mountain and that he always strived to improve.

“I just said I’ve got to get better,” Nicklaus said. “And I just kept trying to do that. And I always felt like I never really achieved what I should have achieved. I still don’t think I achieved what I could have achieved in my career.”

Watson seemed to agree with Nicklaus when questioned about his “overrated” status during last month’s Players Championship.

With two green jackets in the closet and playing some of his best golf of his career, Watson has his own goal of winning 10 times on the PGA Tour. Now that Watson, 36, has compiled seven career victories, he would seem to be well on his way.

“I’m very comfortable in my own skin, if that’s the best way to answer it,” said Watson, dismissing his anonymous peers’ labeling. “Because it’s sad that our sport and other sports as well become TMZ(ish), which I like TMZ, but I mean, we’re always trying to create negative images, negative thoughts.”

There’s no generational divide between Nicklaus and Watson on that point.

Consider that Nicklaus finished runner-up 58 times and added 34 third-place finishes in his PGA Tour career. With so many top finishes that came just short of victories, the self-inflicted “underachiever” label doesn’t seem so outlandish, even if it would be applied to arguably the greatest golfer ever.

“I always felt like I never really achieved what I should have achieved,” Nicklaus said. “I still don’t think I achieved what I could have achieved in my career.”

One thing is clear: just about any other golfer would be thrilled to be labeled an “underachiever” while accomplishing a tenth of the success that Nicklaus realized in his career.

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