The parallels in the careers of Woods and Nicklaus are striking. Both were stellar as young amateurs and then, upon turning pro, chewed up the competition. Both hit the ball farther than anyone else, changing the dimensions of the game. Nicklaus, like Woods, won the first major tournament he entered as a professional--the 1962 U.S. Open. Right about there the parallels stop. No one liked Nicklaus. Some people may dislike or resent Woods--racists, boneheads, certain fellow golfers--but he's clearly a cultural superstar, an idol. Nicklaus, unfortunately, was fat. He was called Fat Jack. He had a dorky blond crewcut. The greatest sin of all was that he beat Arnold Palmer. Arnie had just recently taken the game by storm. Suddenly this new kid--this putz--had started beating America's hero.
I asked Nicklaus in the media center how he felt about nasty comments made by fans in his early days.
"I didn't worry too much about it. When you're 22 years old, first of all, you don't hear it. Second, you don't listen to it. Years later, when Watson was trying to beat me, he was going through a similar thing."
So it didn't hurt his feelings?
"I never heard it," he said, more loudly.
I asked when things turned around for him, in terms of public support. He said the mid-to-late '60s. Which, the record shows, is after he'd won a stack of major championships--nine by 1967. He lost weight, grew his hair longer, looked better--and gradually, incrementally, Nicklaus earned a new nickname: the Golden Bear.