Jack Nicklaus admitted he was flattered to be asked to be an Honorary Citizen of St Andrews as the three-time Champion Golfer of the Year returned to the home of golf.
The 18-time major winner won two of his three Claret Jugs on the Old Course in 1970 and 1978 before choosing the venue for his memorable Championship farewell in 2005.
But now the 82-year-old joins a truly exclusive club as only the third American to be awarded honorary citizenship in St Andrews, following Bobby Jones in 1958 and Benjamin Franklin in 1759.
The honour for Nicklaus was conferred by the Royal Burgh of St. Andrews Community Council, which is the equivalent of the “Freedom of the City” honour given to Jones.
“It's pretty special, it’s the reason I'm back. There are a lot of reasons to be back, the 150th anniversary, the tournament, the whole thing but this is why I'm back,” he said.
“That’s pretty special, I think only two Americans have ever been honoured before, so it’s special and I'm very flattered. I'm sure it will be a very humbling experience for me.
“I declined to come back the last couple of times to St Andrews because it made my farewell in 2005, and I didn't want to come back and dilute that for what it was. It was fantastic then.
“But when I got the invitation this time to be an honorary citizen of St Andrews and to follow Bobby Jones and Benjamin Franklin, I've got to come back. So to be back is fantastic.”
Nicklaus retired from competitive golf with his final appearance at St Andrews in 2005 and the Golden Bear said the Old Course remains one of the sport’s most iconic locations.
“When I first came here in 1964, I couldn’t believe that St Andrews was a golf course that still tested golfers of that time, that’s what… 60 years ago? Or close to that,” he said.
“It didn’t think it could still test golfers of this time but it’s a magical golf course. The conditions, the weather, where you choose to put the pins, whether it gets drier or wet, all those things make St Andrews a magical place.
“The game of golf essentially started here and it’s just absolutely mind-blowing to me that it still stands up to the golfers of today - and it does, especially when you get the weather.
“St Andrews the week of The Open is always beautiful. I imagine for anybody who makes the pilgrimage here to play this golf course feels that.”
The winning score at St Andrews has traditionally been low, with 15-under, 16-under, 14-under and 19-under winning the Championship in the last five editions at the Old Course.
But Nicklaus does not believe it matters what the title-winning score is come Sunday evening, insisting the home of golf always provides a stern test to the world’s best.
“They might shoot low, so what? That’s the way I look at it. If they shoot low now to what they did 100 years ago but times change. Golfers get better, the equipment gets better,” he added.
“Conditions get better and they shoot low scores but I don’t think it makes a whole lot of difference actually. It’s St Andrews, it’s what it is and it will produce a good Champion.
“The game has changed quite a bit but St Andrews hasn’t. It’s had a little bit of length added to it to try and compromise the golf ball of today and you still have to play golf.
“You still have those pesky little bunkers that grab your ball every time you hit an errant shot. You hit one out there, you play it out sideways, you say why did I hit it here?
“If you really play well, play smart at St Andrews, you're playing like most of the seaside golf courses, you're playing by where the bunkers are.
“If you play smart, really play smart, you're probably going to take a couple of chances during the week, but most of the time you don’t.”