For over four decades Jack Nicklaus has been one of the greatest players to ever pick up a club. The man known as the Golden Bear is one of only five golfers to ever win all four major tournaments. But more than that, Nicklaus remained dominant in the sport for nearly three decades, with twenty-five years separating his first and last Masters win. He consistently returned to top form and won an incredible 20 major victories in his career. By the time he left the professional tour, Nicklaus amassed an amazing 71 PGA tour wins, with 58 second place and 36 third place finishes. He has also been voted PGA Tour Player of the year five times (1967, 1972-73, 1975-76).
Jack William Nicklaus was born on January 21, 1940 in Columbus, Ohio, to Louis Charles, Jr. (a pharmacist) and Helen Nicklaus. The young Jack first took up the game of golf when he was ten, and it took scarcely any time for people around him to realize that there was something special about his golf game. He won the first tournament he entered at the Scioto Country Club Juvenile Championship in Columbus, and soon thereafter began lessons with the local club pro, Jack Grout, who became one of the major influences on Nicklaus, both the man and the golfer. By the time he was 13, Nicklaus had already broken 70 for eighteen holes and held a 3 handicap (better than many serious adult golfers ever achieve).
As an amateur player in Ohio he took home every major trophy he could, winning the Ohio State Junior Championship in 1953, 1954 and 1955, as well as the Ohio State Open Championship in 1956. When he took his first shot at the United States Amateur Championship in 1955 (and many critics rank the U.S. Amateur
right up there with the "majors" on the PGA Tour), Nicklaus failed to win, but he returned to the championship in 1959, winning the U.S. Amateur that year.
Nicklaus played his collegiate golf at Ohio State, remaining in his hometown and majoring in pre-pharmacy. His world seemed to be falling into place. At school he met Barbara Bash, whom he fell in love with and ended up marrying in 1959 (together they would eventually have five children). Nicklaus won most of his college tournaments, and then won his second U.S. Amateur in 1961.
The Next Challenge
The blond, pudgy young golf phenom from Ohio became a United States Professional Golf Association member in November of 1961, but he would be no stranger to the PGA tour. His amateur reputation preceded him, and many professionals were in awe of his play. One player in particular, who only four years earlier had become a major superstar in his own right, had just cause to be concerned.
Arnold Palmer is often uttered in the same sentence when the debate over the "Greatest Golfer of All Time" begins. As much as their careers seemed to overlap, it's amazing how relatively little these two actually competed against each other when considering the longevity of Nicklaus' career on the PGA Tour. When they did compete, however, the matches were memorable.
In the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, which just happens to be a stone's throw from where Palmer grew up—and therefore one of the hotbeds of Palmer fandom—Jack and Arnold squared off in their first heated major tournament. As the tournament wound down on that final Sunday, Nicklaus and Palmer wound up tied at the end of regulation play. In the ensuing playoff, Nicklaus—a young upstart whom fans had heard of but who could not hold a candle to their hero Arnie—took the playoff and the Open championship from Palmer.
"Arnie's Army" was collectively devastated, and rather than helping Nicklaus usher in his era as one of golf's finest, it set up a split between the two. Nicklaus became the bad guy, the one to beat, and Arnold Palmer (known as The King) was the fallen hero, the one people still rooted for. There are many reasons for the Nicklaus-Palmer split among fans of golf, one of which might simply be that Palmer was there first. Another might be that Palmer, the handsome, tall and tan professional, was one of the crowd, every person's movie star. And they loved him. Nicklaus, on the other hand, was boyish and pudgy, and fans did not like him stripping away the glory from the man they had gone through so much with.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1962||PGA Rookie of the Year; Golf Digest 's Rookie of the Year|
|1964-65, 1967, 1972-73, 1975||Golf Digest Byron Nelson Award for Tournament Victories|
|1967, 1972-73, 1975-76||PGA Player of the Year|
|1972, 1975-76||Golf Writers Association of America (GWAA) Player of the Year|
|1974||Inducted into PGA/World Golf Hall of Fame|
|1975||Wins United States Golf Association (USGA) Bobby Jones Award|
|1975-77||Awarded Seagram's Seven Crowns of Sports Award|
|1978||Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year; wins GWAA Richardson Award|
|1980||Named the 1970s Athlete of the Decade|
|1980||Receives the Comeback of the Year Award|
|1982||Wins Card Walker Award for Outstanding Contributions to Junior Golf|
|1985||Wins Golf Family of the Year award, presented by the National Golf Foundation|
|1988||Named the Golfer of the Century|
|1993||Earns Golf World 's Golf Course Architect of the Year award|
|1996||Golf Monthly 's "Golfer of the Century"|
|1999||Wins Father of the Year Award, presented by the Minority Golf Association of America|
In 1962, as Nicklaus began his career as one of the finest golfers ever to walk the fairways, fans of Palmer were vocal in their opposition. Nicklaus came back and won the 1963 Masters (a tournament most thought of as Palmer's) and that season's PGA Championship also went to Nicklaus. Then, following the last major victory by Palmer (in 1964), Nicklaus obliterated the competition at the 1965 Masters Tournament, beating the field by nine strokes in what Bobby Jones called "the greatest performance in golf history." Nicklaus shattered, by three strokes, the great Jones' previous Masters record of 274.
As Palmer tried repeatedly to win another major, Nicklaus always seemed right there to pull it out from under him. The more Nicklaus won, the more he slowly gathered in his own followers. But "Arnie's Army" could not be drawn to the enemy's side, and the Golden Bear (the nickname he earned for his yellow hair and pudgy features) often was heckled as he bent over a putt, the crowd's stares and attempts to will him out of his concentration palpable on the links. Palpable to everyone but Nicklaus.
A Golfing Mind
Nicklaus' concentration—his ability to focus on the task at hand—is legendary. Indeed, many critics point to his phenomenal mental acuity and ability to focus as a major part of his success. Palmer, who in his young days was famous for his comeback victories, was now getting the comebacks pulled on him by a man who methodically sucked the leaders back in before propelling himself on to victory.
In 1967, in one of their last famous duels, Nicklaus drew close to Palmer as the final round of the U.S. Open waned. Then Nicklaus began to pull away. He was soon four strokes ahead of the field, his final margin of victory. Palmer faded into the background of the PGA Tour (although, it must be noted, he never faded from his celebrity), and Nicklaus, three years into his professional life, had many records to shatter.
Golf—in spite of the jokes to the contrary—is a physically demanding game for tour professionals. Professionals appear on the links for four days straight on weeks of tournaments, playing 18 holes each of those days, as well as practicing before and after each round. And they do this week in and week out, throughout the season, while at the same time dealing with the media and with the other pressures that arise from traveling the country and the globe. So if a player gets just a bit out of rhythm in his swing, it can throw off the entire game.
|1940||Born Jack William Nicklaus on January 21|
|1950||Plays golf for the first time, winning his first tournament later in the year|
|1953||Wins Ohio State Junior Championship|
|1953||Breaks 70 for 18 holes and holds a three handicap|
|1954||Repeats as Ohio State Junior Champion|
|1955||Wins Ohio State Junior Championship yet again; loses his first United States Amateur Championshiop in first round|
|1956||Wins Ohio State Open Championship|
|1957||Enters Ohio State University|
|1959||Wins the U.S. Amateur (repeats in 1960 and 1961); member of Walker Cup Team|
|1960||Marries Barbara Bash on July 23|
|1961||Has first child with wife Barbara—Jack II—on September 23|
|1961||Wins NCAA Championship|
|1961||Turns professional in November|
|1961||Member of Walker Cup Team|
|1962||Graduates from Ohio State|
|1962||Earns first pro victory, defeating Arnold Palmer in an 18-hole playoff at the U.S. Open (first of a career-record 18 major championship victories)|
|1962||Wins the U.S. Open|
|1962-78||Records the most consecutive years with a victory (17), winning at least once per year|
|1963||Wins his first Masters. Youngest winner at the time; wins the PGA Championship (23)|
|1963||Second son, Steve, born on April 11|
|1965||Daughter Nancy born on May 5|
|1965||Wins Masters Tournament|
|1966||Wins Masters and British Open|
|1967||Wins U.S. Open|
|1969||Son Gary born on January 15|
|1969||Plays in first Ryder Cup and concedes a two-foot putt to Tony Jacklin—results in the first tie in the Ryder Cup history|
|1970||Wins British Open|
|1971||Wins PGA Championship|
|1972||Wins Masters and U.S. Open|
|1973||Wins PGA Championship|
|1973||Becomes the first player to reach $2 million in tournament earnings|
|1973||Fourth son Michael born on July 24|
|1975||Wins Masters and PGA Championship|
|1977||Becomes the first player to reach $3 million in tournament earnings|
|1978||Wins British Open|
|1980||Wins U.S. Open and PGA Championship|
|1983||Becomes the first player to reach $4 million in tournament earnings|
|1986||Wins the Masters when he's 46 years old. Oldest winner in event's history|
|1987||Captains the U.S. Ryder Cup at Muirfield Village|
|1988||Becomes the first player to reach $5 million in tournament earnings|
|1989||Leaves the PGA Tour with an incredible 71 tournament victories|
|1990||Joins Senior Tour, winning in his debut at The Tradition|
|1991||Wins U.S. Seniors Open|
|1993||Wins U.S. Seniors Open|
|1996||Plays his 10,000 hole at the U.S. Open|
|1997||Breaks Sam Snead's record for most rounds played in the Masters (147)|
|1998||Suffers increasing pain in left hip and has difficulty playing much of the year|
|1999||Undergoes hip replacement surgery|
|2000||Named co-chair with Juli Inkster of The First Tee's Capital Campaign, More Than A Game, in November|
|2001||Records two top-ten finishes|
|2002||Jack Nicklaus Musuem opens on campus of Ohio State in Maysidebar text|
Nicklaus was unwavering in his focus. He was a powerhouse of a player who drove the ball farther than almost anyone he encountered; he mastered the putter, sinking long putts as if he were tapping the ball in from three feet; and his iron play and his shots from tough situations were as good than any other professionals he encountered. With his razor-sharp focus, he became very difficult to beat.
Yet he also became an ambassador for the game of golf. During the 1969 Ryder Cup play at Royal Birkdale, Nicklaus performed one of the true gestures of good faith in the game, conceding a short putt to Britain's Tony Jacklin, giving him the match, which in turn gave America the victory but allowed England to keep the Ryder Cup trophy one more year. Many consider it one of the best gestures in the history of sport, and though it was controversial at the time (teammate Sam Snead was upset that Nicklaus had conceded), the heart with which Nicklaus made the gesture showed his true colors.
Determined to change the way the public perceived him, Nicklaus emerged the next year as a leaner and more fit player. As the 1970s began, Nicklaus had changed his drab wardrobe for brighter colors and sought to make himself into an all-around player, one worthy of admiration for more than just his stellar play. He soon released books on how to play better golf, collaborating with his mentor Jack Grout as well as with his longtime writing ally Ken Bowden. Nicklaus' body of work itself is a veritable library of golf knowledge.
During the seventies, Nicklaus continued to accumulate tournament victories. He left the 60s with thirty victories, and added 36 more during the seventies, winning his fifth Masters in 1975 in thrilling fashion by sinking a forty-foot putt to pull one stroke ahead of Tom Weiskopf.
In 1979, however, Nicklaus stumbled. He went winless for the first time, finishing 71st on the money list. Some felt this was the beginning of his decline. After all, he had been dominating for at least fifteen seasons, and it was time for newcomers like Tom Watson to step up. (Palmer's dominance lasted a mere seven seasons, although some argues that it was not even that long.)
But Nicklaus, like the phoenix from the ashes, came back in the 1980s and helped usher in a new decade, proving that it was his decade as much as any other golfer's. With new major victories in the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship early on, many thought that he
was finally slowing down when he went several seasons without a major. Nicklaus had been the youngest winner of the Masters when he first won the tournament in 1963, but he needed to endcap his record. In 1986 he became the oldest player, at 46, to win a Masters green jacket.
Address: Home: 11397 Old Harbour Rd., North Palm Beach, FL 33408. Office: 11780 U.S. Highway No. 1, North Palm Beach, FL 33408.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY NICKLAUS:
My Fifty-Five Ways to Lower Your Golf Score. Simon & Schuster, 1964.
Take a Tip From Me. Simon & Schuster, 1968.
Where Is He Now?
Nicklaus has never really retired from the game of golf—he simply matriculated into the Seniors Tournament, winning several of the Senior majors and many of the lesser tournaments. (Nicklaus himself said once that the majors "are the only ones that count.") He continues to win occasionally on the Senior tour, but he does not play as often because, upon leaving the PGA tour, Nicklaus in turn increased his input into his business, Golden Bear International (of which he is chairman). The business allows him to manage his many businesses, all of which relate to golf or sports in some way. Nicklaus is well known for his golf course design, with over 150 courses worldwide designed and built by Nicklaus' firm. Of the top 100 courses in the country, 12 have been designed and built by Nicklaus.
(With Herbert Warren Wind) The Greatest Game of All: My Life in Golf. Simon & Schuster, 1969.
(With Ken Bowden) Jack Nicklaus'Lesson Tee. Simon & Schuster, 1972.
(With Bowden) Golf My Way. Simon & Schuster, 1974.
The Best Way to Better Golf, Numbers 1-3. Fawcett, 1975.
(With Bowden) Jack Nicklaus'Playing Lessons. Golf Digest, 1976.
(With Bowden. On and Off the Fairway. Simon & Schuster, 1979.
(With Bowden) Play Better Golf with Jack Nicklaus, Volume 1: The Swing from A to Z. Simon and Schuster, 1980.
With Bowden) Play Better Golf with Jack Nicklaus, Volume 2: The Short Game and Scoring. Simon and Schuster, 1981.
With Bowden) Play Better Golf with Jack Nicklaus, Volume 3: Short Cuts to Lower Scores. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983.
With Bowden) Jack Nicklaus'the Full Swing in Photos. Golf Digest, 1984.
My Most Memorable Shots in the Majors. Golf Digest, 1988.
My Story. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.
Argea, Angelo, and Jolee Edmondson. Bear and I: The Story of the World's Most Famous Caddie. New York: Atheneum, 1979.
"A Bear Necessity." Sports Illustrated (July 19, 1993): 6.
Biography News (August 1974).
Boston Globe (April 11, 1996).
Business Week (February 15, 1988).
Golf Magazine (September, 1988).
"Jack Nicklaus." Sports Illustrated (September 19, 1994): 100.
Los Angeles Times (March 24, 1996).
Maclean's (May 16, 1994).
Newsweek (April 25, 1966; July 18, 1966; February 6, 1967; March 20, 1972; April 24, 1972; July 3, 1972; July 24, 1972; August 27, 1973; April 14, 1975; March 27, 1978; July 24, 1978; June 30, 1980).
New York Times (February 2, 1992).
New Yorker (August 13, 1966; November 5, 1966; July 8, 1967; July 8, 1972; July 14, 1980; May 30, 1983).
Sports Illustrated (April 4, 1966; April 18, 1966; July 18, 1966; December 19, 1966; January 30, 1967; June 26, 1967; October 14, 1968; April 14, 1969; May 19, 1969; October 27, 1969; November 7, 1969; December 8, 1969; June 15, 1970; July 20, 1970; August 3, 1970; March 8, 1971; May 3, 1971; June 28, 1971; August 9, 1971; November 8, 1971; January 24, 1972; April 3, 1972; April 17, 1972; June 26, 1972; September 4, 1972; February 19, 1973; June 11, 1973; August 20, 1973; October 15, 1973; October 14, 1974; February 3, 1975; June 16, 1975; August 18, 1975; September 22, 1975; December 22, 1975; June 7, 1976; September 13, 1976; May 30, 1977; July 18, 1977; March 27, 1978; July 24; 1978; December 25, 1978; March 31, 1980; April7, 1980; June 23, 1980; August 18, 1980; September 1, 1980; April 21, 1986; April 9, 1990).
Swift, E.M. "Long Live the King." Sports Illustrated (April 9, 1990): 32.
Verdi, B. "'I Had My Century': His Most Personal Interview: Jack Nicklaus on Life, Love, Beer, Business—and Winning the Big Ones." Golf Digest (July 2000).
"Jack Nicklaus." http://www.nicklaus.com (January 15, 2003).
"Jack Nicklaus." Player Biography. http://www.golfweb.com/players/00/18/69/bio.html (January 20, 2003).
Sketch by Eric Lagergren
For most of the past 30 years Jack Nicklaus (born 1940) has been considered golf's greatest. His longevity has proved equal to Arnold Palmer's, and only Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones can be considered players in Nicklaus's league.
In numbers of major tournaments won, golfer Jack Nicklaus stands alone with 20 victories—a remarkable figure that does not include major titles won on the Senior Tour. He has won 70 times on the PGA Tour and had 58 second-place and 36 third place finishes. Nicklaus has finished top PGA Tour money winner and held the tour's low-score average eight times. He was named the PGA Tour Player of the Year in 1967, 1972, 1973, 1975, and 1976, and Golf magazine in 1988 celebrated American golf's centennial by naming Nicklaus the "Player of the Century."
Took Amateur Titles
Nicklaus shot a fifty-one for the first nine holes he ever played. At the age of 13 he broke a 70 and held a three handicap. By then his hero had become the great Jones, who won the 1926 U.S. Open at Nicklaus's home course, the Scioto Country Club. Tutored by club pro Jack Grout, Nicklaus early on realized his potential for tournament play, dominating local and national junior golf events and going on to capture two U.S. Amateur Championships (1959 and 1961). Indeed, by the time he turned pro in November 1961 he had established himself as an the country's greatest amateur golfer while simultaneously giving the professionals a scare as runner-up to Arnold Palmer by only two strokes in the 1960 U.S. Open and as an a fourth-place finisher in the 1961 U.S. Open.
Victory over Palmer
In 1962, at the Oakmont Country Club outside of Pittsburgh, Nicklaus beat Arnold Palmer in a play-off to win the U.S. Open. Palmer's millions of diehard fans—and huge throng of gallery members, called Arnie's Army, that followed their hero from tee to green—were crushed by their hero's loss, and the Nicklaus victory went down as an one of the most unpopular the world of golf had ever known. The two men could not have been more different in appearance and temperament. Palmer was a handsome, dashing figure whose powerful, lunging swing often knocked his ball into troublesome spots well off the fairway. Nicklaus was round-faced and pudgy—his girth and blond hair giving rise to his nickname, the Golden Bear—and his well-oiled, smoothly tempoed swing rarely failed him. Palmer wore his emotions on his sleeve, often grimacing and chain-smoking his way through a particularly tough round. Nicklaus was often expressionless on the course, and although he smoked—at one time up to two packs a day—he never lit up on the golf course. In explaining his ability to abstain from a nerve-smoothing addiction while playing a nerve-racking game, Nicklaus simply stated, "I don't think about it." Nicklaus's mind, even more than his great natural talent and long-ball swing, was the key to his phenomenal success. He rarely made a poor tactical decision in a tournament; he had an unflappable ego, never second-guessing himself—and his powers of concentration were intense.
In 1963 Nicklaus won the Masters and the PGA. He ran away with the 1965 Masters, winning by nine strokes in what Jones called "the greatest performance in golf history." Nicklaus shattered Hogan's seemingly insurmountable Masters record of 274 by three strokes. Nicklaus successfully defended his Masters title the following year and won his first British Open, becoming one of only four golfers to win all four majors (the others are Gene Sarazen, Hogan, and Gary Player). At the 1967 U.S. Open Nicklaus pulled away from Palmer in the final round to win by four strokes, signaling to even the most obstinate among Arnie's Army that the Golden Bear had forever robbed the king of his throne.
The New Bear
The beginning of the new decade saw a leaner, more fashionable Bear. Nicklaus dropped weight and let his golden hair grow prior to the 1970 season. He adopted more colorful golf course attire, adding color and flair to an image that had suffered from fat jokes and the general perception that Nicklaus was boring and mechanical. When it came to winning consistently, however, Nicklaus was every bit a machine. Between 1970 and 1975 he won several more majors—the only victories "that count," he liked to say. His 1973 PGA title put him one ahead of Jones's 13 major victories, and his 1975 Masters was his fifth win in Augusta, Georgia, and was proclaimed by observers and sportswriters to have been one of the most thrilling golf victories of all time. On Augusta's sixteenth hole the last day of the tournament, Nicklaus sank a 40-foot putt to take a one-stroke lead and held on the last two holes—winning by one over Tom Weiskopf and two over Johnny Miller.
Improved Failing Game
In 1977 Nicklaus was involved in a thrilling duel with Tom Watson, America's new star, at the British Open. He lost what sportswriters later called the "Duel in the Sun" but returned in 1978 to claim the British title. With the emergence of players such as Watson, however, Nicklaus's victories seemed less easy to come by with each passing year, and by the end of the decade, many in golfing believed that Nicklaus's dominance—at least when it came to the majors—had ended. In 1979 Nicklaus had his worst season to date, having gone winless and finishing seventy-first on the money list. His length off the tee and the long flight and high trajectory of his iron shots had once given him a huge advantage over the rest of the field—and had revolutionized the game. But there was a new generation of golfers who hit the ball as high and as far as their idol could. Nicklaus decided to go back to the drawing board, looking to improve his biggest weakness—the short game—and turn it into a strength. In 1980 he returned to top form, winning the U.S. Open and PGA Tour during the 1980s, and at the 1986 Masters he scored perhaps golf's most emotion-stirring victory. He had by then become the game's elder statesman and had gone from being golf's villain—the fat kid who beat Arnie—to being one of the most popular athletes the world of sports had ever known. □