The next time Jack Nicklaus makes one of his revered runs at Augusta National, he'll be doing it on a ceramic left hip.
Nicklaus, 59, had hip replacement surgery Wednesday in Boston and will be on crutches for the next six weeks. He will miss the Masters for the first time in 40 years and possibly the U.S. Open in June, but the doctor who operated on him said there was no reason to believe Nicklaus would not be competitive again.
"Everything went well," Benjamin E. Bierbaum, head of orthopedic surgery at New England Baptist Hospital, said after the 1-hour, 45-minute operation. "No complaints. No surprises. I was pleased with how everything came along."
Nicklaus, winner of a record 18 professional majors, had a degenerative left hip that had troubled him for years. He tried to avoid hip replacement surgery with a rigorous exercise routine, but finally yielded when the hip began to affect his quality of life as well as his game.
Nicklaus was resting Wednesday afternoon and unavailable to comment.
But Bierbaum said he was in good spirits after the surgery and before. Nicklaus told the doctor as the procedure was getting started, "I would rather be one down walking up the 18th fairway in Augusta than be here."
The surgery will give him that chance.
"I'm very much looking forward to what it can do for me down the road," Nicklaus told Golf.com last week. "For the last three to four months ... I haven't been able to do much of anything. I'm not used to that. That's not the way I've lived my life."
"I've been playing on one leg, essentially, for several years."
Nicklaus agreed to use a ceramic replacement as part of a study directed by Bierbaum and involving 10 hospitals. Ceramic is smoother than materials typically used in hip implants and is believed to last longer.
Nicklaus will remain in the hospital for six days before returning home to Florida. Bierbaum said Nicklaus would be on crutches for six weeks so the bone and soft tissue could heal. After that, he would go through a strengthening, flexibility and agility program that could take at least six more weeks.
"We're talking around three months until he is able to hit some golf balls," Bierbaum said.
One reason Nicklaus opted for hip surgery now was to make sure he could play in 2000, when the majors are played on courses that Nicklaus helped make famous Pebble Beach, where he won the U.S. Open in 1972; St. Andrews, where he won two of his three British Opens; and Valhalla outside Louisville, designed by Nicklaus and later bought by the PGA of America.
Still, Nicklaus is not ruling out the rest of 1999. Bierbaum estimated the recovery would take at least six months, but Nicklaus has said he would like to be ready for his own tournament the first week in June.
"My goal is to try to get back before the Memorial Tournament and try to play thre," Nicklaus said last week in Monterrey, Calif., where he is designing a new course. "If not, maybe the Open right after that."
Despite the hip problems, Nicklaus became the oldest player to finish in the top 10 in the Masters last April when he thrilled the Augusta gallery yet again with a final-round 68 to tie for sixth. But he was hobbling so badly in the summer that he pulled out of the British Open, ending his streak of 146 consecutive majors.
This will be the first time Nicklaus has missed the Masters since 1958, four years before he turned pro and began one of the greatest careers in golf.
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