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Jack’s Got Latshaw’s Back

By |  June 4, 2009

Jack Nicklaus praised superintendent Paul B. Latshaw during his press conference yesterday at Muirfield Village Golf Club. (Photo by Larry Aylward)

Yesterday morning, strolling the grounds of Muirfield Village Golf Club, I bumped into Paul B. Latshaw, the course’s director of grounds operations. Latshaw had an intense look in his eye as he slowly maneuvered his golf car through the crowds that had come to watch the PGA pros tune up during a practice round for today’s opening round of The Memorial Tournament.

After a short chat, the tanned Latshaw said matter of factly, “I’ve got to keep moving. I’ll see you later.” And he was on his way.

The intensity in Latshaw’s eyes was pure focus. It was obvious to me the certified superintendent was as dialed in to the tournament as much as Tiger Woods will be during the next four days in his effort to win it.

The Memorial Tournament, of course, is Jack Nicklaus’ baby. He founded the tournament and built the course it’s played on. So it goes Jack wants the course looking like a million bucks and playing like a million and a half. And that’s where Latshaw comes in.

Yesterday, during a press conference with Nicklaus, when most of the questions asked were about Tiger Woods, I asked Jack about his impressions of Latshaw. It seemed Nicklaus was anxious to talk about Latshaw, as he talked more about his superintendent than any other subject during the press conference. Nicklaus spoke about the “great job” Latshaw has done since he took the job almost six years ago. If Nicklaus’ answer was a performance review, Latshaw received the highest possible marks from his boss.

“He’s terrific. He has done just a wonderful job here,” Nicklaus said.

Nicklaus joked (but with the utmost respect) that Latshaw “has his Master’s or Ph.D. in grass.”

“I don’t know what he has, but he keeps going back to school to get more education and keeps expanding what his knowledge is,” Nicklaus said. “He’s a very, very intense young man who really likes what he does.”

Nicklaus hired Latshaw away from Oak Hill Country Club in 2003. Latshaw had just hosted the PGA Championship and had no plans to leave Oak Hill. But then Jack came calling.

Actually, Nicklaus first contacted Latshaw’s father, Paul R. Latshaw, regarded as one of the profession’s finest superintendents and mentors, to see if he could recommend anyone for the job. Funny thing, Nicklaus had offered the same job to the elder Latshaw about 15 years earlier, but he declined. Nicklaus told the elder Latshaw he was looking for a young superintendent to come to Muirfield. “I know you have a lot of young guys who have trained under you, and I’m trying to find one you think would be suitable for us to have,” Nicklaus told him.

The elder Latshaw first told Nicklaus, “I’ve kicked myself for 15 years for turning down the job.” And then he recommended his son for the gig.

Nicklaus interviewed Paul B. and hired him. It was clearly evident at the press conference that Nicklaus is more than impressed with the younger Latshaw’s agronomic abilities.

“He has taken this course to the next level,” Nicklaus said.

Nicklaus talked about how Latshaw has wowed him with what he has done on the course to correct drainage problems. Nicklaus admitted he wouldn’t have dreamed of doing some of the things Latshaw recommended to repair those problems. “That’s his background; that’s his education — to be able to do those kinds of things,” Nicklaus said.

Nicklaus said he’s more than willing to pay Latshaw more for what he brings to the table.

“He’s obviously pretty good, isn’t he?” Nicklaus said. “But don’t tell him that. It will cost me too much money.”

Something tells me Jack would be willing to up the ante.

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