Originally Posted by chasm
I agree with all this. But it is also fair to say that Nicklaus's record is all the more impressive when one considers his lack of single-mindedness. Over a 25 year period he placed in the top 3 in almost half the majors that were played. That is pretty extraordinary.
Comparing different generations is fraught with problems, even in sports that have more objectively measurable standards than golf. There's no argument that Usain Bolt is much faster than was Jesse Owens. But Owens was similarly superior to his contemporaries, and it must be at least arguable that had he had the same advantages in terms of nutrition, training, equipment etc. he might have found a way to run under 9.7 or jump over 29 feet. This reinforces your point about Hogan, and probably elevates the claims of even earlier players. Crappy equipment, inferior greens, I'm inclined to believe that some of the very early players must have been highly talented to shoot anything approaching a decent score. Does this mean they played as well as Woods or Nicklaus? Certainly not. Does it mean they may have been as talented, or had similar potential? Perhaps.
As to your first point I would say not really. Because in Nicklaus' era none of the players, with very rare exceptions, had the kind of single-mindedness we see commonly today. OTOH, one could argue that since Jack was really the first guy to play his whole schedule around te majors, was one of the first ones to go ahead of time to major venues to practice and prepare he had an advantage over his contemporaries that top players do not have today.
As to our second point, you are talking about absolute level. In comparing eras I think it is more appropriate to compare level of dominance rather than absolute scores. When people talk about the equipment, ease of traveling, percs, etc. that the current players get, as if that is some kind of advantage vis a vis the players of Jack's era they are really missing the point Jack played with the same equipment as his contemporaries just as Tiger plays with the same equipment as HIS contemporaries.
Equipment: According to Jack, the improvements in equipment, while maybe lowering lower scores in general, actually hurts the ability of the top players to separate themselves.
Travel: Jack was one of the few players in his era who could afford to fly to events regularly - even had his own plane. That seems like no big deal because all the players fly now, but if you read a book like Pro: Frank Beard on the Pro Tour which recounts the day to day year-long experience of a fairly high level player (won the money title the year of the book) in the heart of Jack's career, you will see what a slog even a top level guy went through in driving to events, staying in cheap motels, etc.
So these factors actually were an advantage to Jack in helping enable him to beat his competitors. But even with these advantages, Nicklaus was never as dominant as Tiger. Rank their years from best to worst and compare them side by side and there is no comparison From 1999 to 2008 there were only 2 years, '98 and '04, the swing change years, when Tiger was not clearly the best player in the world. In Jack's 25 years there are surprisingly few years in which he was clearly the best player in the world. He was always in the top 3 or so, bu not really #1 all that often.