TULSA, AUG. 9 -- Jack Nicklaus declined further public comment today on controversial remarks he made last month to a Canadian newspaper reporter about blacks in golf. However, he did issue a written statement "to personally clarify an issue which has unfortunately been misinterpreted."

Nicklaus was quoted in the July 10 editions of the daily Vancouver Province, saying blacks have "different muscles that react in different ways" when he was asked to explain why there are not more blacks playing at the highest levels of the game.

He also rejected the notion that players such as he and Arnold Palmer could have helped eliminate discrimination toward minorities by refusing to play in what the Vancouver story described as "racist clubs." Nicklaus told reporter Don Harrison, "I don't buy that."

Asked about his remarks by Sports Illustrated during the British Open, Nicklaus did not deny the comments but said they were taken out of context.

"I said the kids today are gravitating to the sports that best fit their body and the environment where they're growing up," he told the magazine. "The white society to a large degree is becoming nonfunctional. {Whites are} spending time in cars, they're sitting behind desks, they're not out exercising, whereas the young black kid is in an environment where he's exercising.

"His muscles develop and they develop to the degree of that type of sport. I think the opportunity is there for young black kids to play golf, just like the opportunity is there for young white kids to play basketball. But I don't think they're gravitating to the same level."

After his practice round and participation in a clinic at the PGA Championship today, Nicklaus declined to comment.

Earlier in the day, a spokesman for his company, Golden Bear International, released a statement from Nicklaus saying that "despite confusion over my initial comments and the resulting publicity, let me make clear my position and feelings: I have never knowingly or willingly made a statement or action that is racist.

"God created all of us equally. We are then influenced by our environment. That is all I have said. If confusion regarding my feelings has caused an offense, I hope my clarification will remind everyone of my personal convictions, which are as strong today as they have been throughout my life."

Nicklaus has a well-documented track record of helping minorities in the sport, and has always insisted any club in which he owns an equity interest have minority membership. When Payne Stewart said he thought the controversy over no minority members at Shoal Creek, site of the 1990 PGA Championship in Birmingham, was "a joke," Nicklaus said, "this is no laughing matter."

Several players also came to Nicklaus's defense today, including his longtime friend and foe, Tom Watson.

"As long as I've known Jack Nicklaus, he's never shown me anything but being a fair person," Watson said. "He's a blunt and honest person who treats people equally."

Said Corey Pavin: "Jack is certainly not a racist. I'm sure it was something that was taken wrong."