Jack William Nicklaus

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NICKLAUS, Jack William

(b. 21 January 1940 in Columbus, Ohio), golfer whose accomplishments include winning the most major championship victories in the history of golf; he received the "Golfer of the Century" award in 1988.

Nicklaus is the son of Louis Charles Nicklaus, Jr., a pharmacist and an enthusiastic golfer who sparked his son's interest in the game, and Helen Schoener. Nicklaus was a natural athlete with many athletic interests. At Upper Arlington High School he played center on the basketball team, catcher on the baseball team, and quarterback on the football team. But from the age of ten he also played golf. As the golfer Chi Chi Rodriquez said, Nicklaus became "a legend in his spare time."

But Nicklaus, the all-around teenage athlete, was able to focus on his goals, and his ambition was to become the world's best golfer. Along with an abundance of natural talent, he had two other advantages: a world-class home course, the Scioto Country Club, and one of the finest golf instructors in America, Jack Grout, who remained his lifelong teacher and mentor.

At the age of thirteen Nicklaus began a streak of amateur victories by winning the Ohio State Junior and Columbus Junior Match-Play Championships. During the next six years, he won fourteen tournaments, including the Trans-Mississippi Championship at age eighteen, and qualified for the second year in a row for the U.S. Open. In 1959 he won the U.S. Amateur, the North and South, and the Trans-Mississippi Championships. In 1960, still an amateur, Nicklaus came within two strokes of beating Arnold Palmer in the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, Denver, with a record 282 for an amateur playing in an Open.

On 23 July 1960, having just completed his junior year at Ohio State University, Nicklaus married Barbara Bash. In between visits to Manhattan and Atlantic City during their honeymoon, Jack played golf at Winged Foot and then at Pine Valley, a men-only club that barred Barbara from the grounds.

In 1961 Nicklaus won the U.S. Amateur title for a second time, a victory that led him to abandon a career as an insurance salesman to join the Professional Golf Association (PGA) tour. In 1962 Nicklaus turned professional and also won the Rookie of the Year award. Nicklaus's first major victory, the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club in 1962, not only tested his golfing skills but his self-control and character. It was an unpopular triumph, perhaps the most unpopular in the history of golf. "Arnie's Army" (as Arnold Palmer's many golf fans proudly called themselves) did not want this overweight, country club–bred, deliberately playing upstart to beat their hero. But Nicklaus won the play-off decisively, 71 to 74. For accomplishing this feat he was considered a villain. He was verbally abused—"Fat Jack" and "Nick Louse" were among the gentler names shouted at him from the gallery. A man of lesser confidence and character might understandably have reacted with hostility to such treatment. But Nicklaus took the high road, never complained, continued to play superior golf, became good friends with Palmer, and won over U.S. golf fans by consistently setting an example of athletic excellence. His fans gave him the more flattering nickname "Golden Bear," because of his body shape and blond hair. Watching Nicklaus win the 1965 Masters by nine strokes with a record 271, the golf legend Bobby Jones remarked, "He plays a kind of golf with which I am not familiar."

In 1971, after winning the PGA Championship, Nicklaus became the first golfer ever to record a double grand slam, completing the cycle of major championship victories twice. Nicklaus not only holds the record for the most majors won, but through 1998 he had played in an amazing 154 consecutive majors, an accomplishment that can only be appreciated when set alongside that of the runner-up Nick Faldo, who played in forty-four straight major tournaments. Nicklaus's record is often called the greatest streak in sports history.

Nicklaus's U.S. Open victory in 1972 at Pebble Beach also produced a great one-iron shot onto the seventeenth green that hit the pin for a tap-in. At the 1975 Masters, he hit a one-iron 246 yards in the final round to the fifteenth green, which led to a one-shot victory over Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf. This is often spoken of as the most impressive shot of his career.

But his last tour win, the 1986 Masters, when he was forty-six years old, was his most dramatic victory. In the final round he eagled the fifteenth, and birdied the sixteenth and seventeenth to pass Greg Norman and Tom Kite by a stroke. It was a fitting achievement with which to cap the most successful playing career in golf.

Nicklaus was also competitive off the course. Once golf course architecture caught his interest, he committed to it thoroughly (perhaps to the detriment of his game). By the end of the century Nicklaus had designed nearly 200 courses in the United States and in more than twenty-four other countries. Over twelve of these courses are among the U.S. top 100, as selected by Golf Digest.

In business, Nicklaus has had some serious failures along with his many successes. His company, Golden Bear International Inc., almost failed around 1990 when Nicklaus made an admittedly "very, very big tactical error" by diversifying and going public. "I should have stayed with our core businesses and invested instead with money managers in the proper places," he told Golf Digest. "I'm still working because I think I have to."

Jack and Barbara had five children, and they make their home in North Palm Beach, Florida. His home golf club is Muirfield Village Golf Club, Dublin, Ohio.

Nicklaus won seventy tour victories, among them eighteen majors, twenty when his two National Amateur championships (1959 and 1961) are included. His career tour average was 71.0 strokes per round. He was the top money winner eight times and runner-up six times. He was the PGA Player of the Year five times and Athlete of the Decade for the 1970s. He was a member of the U.S. Ryder Cup Teams, compiling a record of 17–8–3, and was the nonplaying captain of the 1983 and 1987 teams. Nicklaus won every major at least three times, while no one else has even won every major twice.

Until Eldrick "Tiger" Woods came on the scene thirty-five years later, no golfer ever dominated the field as thoroughly as Nicklaus. He was the longest and the straightest off the tee, he hit his irons with Hoganesque accuracy, and his squat, hunched-over putting setup led to remarkable results, especially under pressure. Combined with this exceptional collection of physical skills, Nicklaus added a mental discipline that was equally impressive. He was a master of course strategy and self-control. Every important shot was calculated to balance success against failure. He played to be a winner, not a hero. Asked if his emotions might affect his game playing at his beloved Saint Andrews golf course in Scotland, Nicklaus responded, "That's kind of a silly question, don't you think?"

Lee Trevino once quipped that the best way to avoid being struck by lightning on a golf course is to hold a one-iron over your head because, "Even God can't hit a one-iron." But Nicklaus could. Asked in 2000 to recall the best golf shots of his life, he named three of his most memorable one-iron swings. In 1967 at the U.S. Open at Baltusrol he was 238 yards away from the pin on the last hole, and with his one-iron—and hitting into the wind—he put the ball close enough to putt it in. That shot earned him victory at 275, which beat Hogan's record 276 held since 1948. Because of hip problems, Nicklaus decided that 2000 would be the final year that he would play in all four major tournaments.

On 20 June 1988 Nicklaus received the "Golfer of the Century" award at the "Centennial of Golf in America Celebration." The panelists, composed of journalists and golf officials, had to pass over many of the century's greatest golfers, including the most popular golfer in America, Arnold Palmer. But their choice was a foregone conclusion. Jack Nicklaus's long career and his extraordinary record of accomplishments left them no option. As Bobby Jones once observed: "I think it is completely safe to say that there has not yet been a more effective golfer than Jack Nicklaus."

Nicklaus's autobiography, written with Ken Bowden, is Jack Nicklaus: My Story (1997). For perspective on Nicklaus's final tour of golf's major tournaments, see David S. Shedloski, Golden Twilight (2001).

Martin Sherwin

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NICKLAUS, Jack William

(b. 21 January 1940 in Columbus, Ohio), prominent golfer who established himself during the 1960s as one of the sport's all-time greatest players at both the amateur and professional levels, as he won eight of the major championships and numerous other tournaments during the decade.

Nicklaus was one of two children born to Louis Charles Nicklaus, a pharmacist, and Helen Schoener, a housewife. He began taking golf lessons at the age of ten, and just two years later he won the Ohio State Junior Championship. He qualified for his first United States Amateur tournament in 1955. At the age of sixteen Nicklaus won the Ohio State Open with scores of sixty-four and seventy-two on the final day, and he qualified for his first United States Open at the age of seventeen. In 1958, after his freshman year at Ohio State University, Nicklaus won the prestigious Trans-Mississippi Amateur tournament and also played in his first Professional Golf Association (PGA) event, the Rubber City Open in Akron, Ohio, where he finished in twelfth place. In 1959 Nicklaus was ready to begin establishing himself among golf's elite players, and that summer he won his first major championship, capturing the United States Amateur with a one-up victory over Charley Coe in the final match. Also that season Nicklaus played for the United States Walker Cup team in Scotland, reached the quarter-finals of the British Amateur, and successfully defended his title at the Trans-Mississippi.

On 23 July 1960 Nicklaus married his college sweetheart, Barbara Bash, and the couple eventually raised five children. That season he played inconsistently, being eliminated from the U.S. Amateur in the fourth round after finishing just two strokes behind the winner, Arnold Palmer, at the U.S. Open. But in September, Nicklaus set the tone for the rest of the 1960s as he won the individual title at the World Amateur Team Championship at the Merion Club near Philadelphia. Pacing the United States team to a runaway victory, he posted a stunning four-round score of 269, which was eighteen strokes lower than the mark previously posted there by Ben Hogan while winning the 1950 U.S. Open.

In 1961 Nicklaus compiled an impressive record in his last season as an amateur. He capped off his days of college golf by winning the Big Ten Conference title by twenty-two strokes in pacing Ohio State to the team championship, and followed this up by winning the individual championship at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament. Nicklaus also posted top ten finishes at the Masters (seventh place) and the U.S. Open (fourth), won the Western Amateur, and then finished off the year by sweeping to his second U.S. Amateur title, defeating Dudley Wysong eight and six in the final.

In November 1961 Nicklaus (who was five feet, eleven inches tall and weighed approximately 195 pounds at his peak) decided to leave Ohio State and become a full-time professional golfer on the PGA tour. He made his debut as a professional at the Los Angeles Open, the first event of the 1962 tour, and he finished in a tie for fiftieth place, which brought him a check for $33.33. His first good tournament as a pro came at the Phoenix Open, where he finished in a tie for second place and won $2,300, and later that spring he tied for first place in the Houston Classic before losing the play-off. Nicklaus then won the U.S. Open in an eighteen-hole play-off against Arnold Palmer, and in the fall he tacked on titles at the Seattle and Portland tourneys. Nicklaus finished as the third highest money winner for 1962 with $61,868, and he was voted the PGA's Rookie of the Year.

In 1963 Nicklaus notched five tournament championships and finished second on the money-winning list with $100,400. His highlights for 1963 included winning the Masters (shooting 286) and the PGA (279), along with a third place finish at the British Open. In 1964, now being referred to as "Fat Jack" by the media because of the weight he had put on, Nicklaus notched four tournament wins on the tour and also captured the Australian Open and Canada Cup titles. He finished as the tour's top money winner and scoring champion for 1964, despite his frustration at finishing in second place or tied for second in the Masters, British Open, and PGA tournaments.

With Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, Nicklaus was now regarded as one of the world's premier golfers. From 1964 to 1967 he joined his two rivals in the television series The Big Three, in which the trio played competitive matches on some of the world's most famous courses. Meanwhile, Nicklaus posted another of his best seasons of the decade in 1965 as he won five tournaments, including the Masters, in which he set a new scoring record with a total of 271, while also finishing on top of the money-winning and scoring average lists. That season he posted an amazing twenty top ten finishes in twenty-four tournaments.

Nicklaus captured three tournaments on the 1966 PGA tour while finishing second in money winnings, but the highlights of the season came with his victories in two major championships—the Masters (288) and the British Open (282). In his last blockbuster season of the decade in 1967, Nicklaus piled up another five tournament championships while finishing on top of the money-winning list, along with garnering the PGA's Player of the Year award. He also won another U.S. Open championship in 1967 after shooting a blistering sixty-five in the final round.

The 1968 season began a frustrating run of four years during which Nicklaus played well and won some tournaments on the tour yet struggled in the all-important major championships, winning just the 1970 British Open and the 1971 PGA. In 1968 he won two tournaments on the tour, along with the Australian Open, yet he had good chances to win at least six other events. Three tournament wins on the tour and third place in money winnings marked his 1969 season, but his tie for sixth place at the British Open was easily his top finish in the majors.

In 1970, frustrated by the past two seasons, Nicklaus began to lose weight; the "Fat Jack" image was soon gone forever. In the early 1970s he quickly reestablished himself as professional golf's most dominant player on his way to a career total of twenty major championships before joining the Senior PGA tour in 1990. With a powerful swing that allowed him to hit the ball a long way, while also blending in a deft touch that made him one of the best players around the greens, Nicklaus unquestionably established himself during the 1960s as one of golf's all-time great players.

Relatively early in his career, Nicklaus coauthored an autobiography with Herbert Warren Wind, The Greatest Game of All: My Life in Golf (1969), and then advanced the story with On and Off the Fairway: A Pictorial Autobiography (1978). Additional information can be found in the entry "Jack Nicklaus" in Peter Alliss, The Who's Who of Golf (1983). Throughout his career Nicklaus has authored or coauthored an extensive list of golf instructional books, including such titles as Golf My Way (1974) and Jack Nicklaus' Playing Lessons (1981).

Raymond Schmidt

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Nicklaus, Jack William (1940– ) US golfer. He won a record 18 professional majors between 1962 and 1986, including the US Open (1962, 1967, 1972, 1980), British Open (1966, 1970, 1978), US PGA (1963, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1980), and the US Masters (1963, 1965–66, 1972, 1975, 1986). He captained the irrepressible US Ryder Cup team (1969–81). In 1988, Nicklaus was voted ‘golfer of the century’.

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