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Bear wonders if golfers have softened

SOUTHPORT, England -- Jack Nicklaus noticed some old faces
atop the leaderboard during a brief visit to the British Open on
Friday, making him wonder if younger players have too much money
and not enough desire.

Nicklaus' private jet arrived as 53-year-old Greg Norman was on
his way to another round of even-par 70 to take a one-shot lead.
Tom Watson, a 58-year-old with five claret jugs, opened with a 74
in the worst of the weather at Royal Birkdale, and 49-year-old Tom
Lehman also had 74 in the first round.

As for the youth?

"If they don't win, they still walk home with a big check,"
Nicklaus said. "They don't have to do some of the things the
Watsons had to do, the Normans, the Lehmans, and that's to gut it
out. It doesn't mean the young guys will be out of it. It just
makes it appear as though the guys who have had that experience are
coming to the top."

Nicklaus was at the Open on behalf of the Royal Bank of
Scotland, one of his endorsement deals. Those kinds of contracts
weren't available to everyone when Nicklaus turned pro in 1962, and
he said only a few of the top golfers could make money off the
course.

"When we played golf, it wasn't to make a living," Nicklaus
said. "It was to make a name for yourself so you could make a
living."

The winner of the British Open will earn about $1.5 million,
more than 25 percent of Nicklaus' career earnings on the PGA Tour.
And just about everyone in the field has endorsements on his cap,
bag or clothing.

"When I started on tour, maybe one or two guys might have made
enough money to make a living," Nicklaus said. "Then it got to
five or 10. Now there's a couple of hundred guys who make a living
playing golf. We had to really play well and scratch it out to be
in a position to get endorsements. But we worked to try to build
the tour so they didn't have to do that."

What worries him is whether easy money is making players work as
hard as they should.

"Is that producing better golfers?" Nicklaus said, pausing and
shrugging his shoulders. "I don't know. The question was asked
because you see all the older guys, all guys who have had to gut it
out in tough conditions. The kids today play perfect conditions
every week. If they don't like what's going on, they're finishing
10th or 15th and still make a check.

"I don't think it makes them as tough."

Nicklaus said he didn't want to criticize any of the young
players, and felt a good crop of them was on the verge of breaking
through, especially with Tiger Woods on the sidelines with a
rebuilt knee for the rest of the season.

He also conceded his intention was to make life easier for
players who came after him.

"You try to create a system that allows a lot of people to be
able to make a living doing something. And they're successful doing
it," he said. "And then your system destroys the desire for guys
to have to work."

Nicklaus mentioned Bill Rogers, the 1981 British Open champion
who never was much of a factor after chasing appearance money
through exhibitions around the world.

Asked when he felt financially secure, Nicklaus said he never
worried about money and never played any golf tournament strictly
for money except for the occasional Skins Game.

"I always took the attitude that the harder I worked at my golf
game and the better I played, the money would take care of
itself," he said. "If I had that trophy on the shelf, the money
would come with it."