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Behind the Picture

Jack Nicklaus


St Andrews swansong in 2005

Jack Nicklaus waves on the Swilcan Bridge at St Andrews

Even the golfing gods would have struggled to come up with a more fitting Open farewell for Jack Nicklaus than the one he experienced at The 134th Open in 2005.

The three-time Champion Golfer of the Year called time on his storied relationship with the Claret Jug at the age of 65 at the Home of Golf – the Old Course at St Andrews.

Rapturous applause and cheers echoed around the famous venue as spectators showed their love for the Golden Bear, greeting every shot with louder and louder roars of approval.

And while the legendary 18-time major champion was bowing out years after his peak, a birdie on the last hole ensured he finished on a high despite missing the 36-hole cut.

Even Tiger Woods winning his second Claret Jug could not take away from Nicklaus’ poignant swansong as the greatest brought the curtain down on a fairytale career.

Engineering St Andrews return

Some thought Nicklaus had made his last Open appearance at the Old Course in 2000.

It certainly looked that way when he stopped on the famous Swilcan Bridge on the 18th fairway to wave to supporters, soak in the atmosphere and pose for pictures.

After all, where better for the Florida native to finish his Open career than at the course where he won two Claret Jugs and finished runner-up in just his third Championship appearance.

But that was not part of his grand plan. In fact, Nicklaus revealed a year before The 134th Open that he had influenced the decision to stage it at St Andrews once again in 2005.

“I spoke to Peter Dawson [chief executive of the R&A] at St Andrews in 2000 and asked him when we would be coming back,” said Nicklaus about the prospect of playing his 33rd Open.

Jack Nicklaus celebrates on final green

“He said 2006 and I said that was a shame as I would be past my eligibility, which runs until I'm 65. He asked me if it was held in 2005 would I play and next thing I see it was announced for 2005.”

Finishing with a flourish

Nicklaus is far from the only golfing great to treasure St Andrews and it was no surprise when Woods, who won his first Open at the Old Course in 2000, took an early lead.

The American topped the leaderboard on day one with a six-under 66 but Nicklaus showed he still possessed plenty of tricks in his bag as he posted a respectable three-over 75.

Woods continued to run riot in the second round and a five-under 67 opened up a four-shot lead over his nearest competitor Colin Montgomery – but Friday was all about Nicklaus.

Refusing to go down without a fight, Nicklaus shot a magnificent even-par 72 in his final competitive round, which included sinking a memorable 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole.

“I knew that the hole would move where I hit it; I always make it on the 18th,” Nicklaus joked after. 

Jack Nicklaus and his son Steve Nicklaus

“I aimed six inches left of the hole, played a six-inch break, hit it and the ball was going along and every other putt going that way missed the hole, but this one gobbled it in. It was like Pac-Man.”

But despite finishing with a flourish, Nicklaus stressed it was the right time to hang up his clubs, with father time preventing him from being as competitive as he would have liked. 

"When I come in here and say that I shot 72, and it's the best round I shot this year, and I played well, and I'm missing the cut, you know it's time to leave. That's sort of the way I look at it."

Emotions run high for final farewell

Even before holing yet another birdie putt on the 18th, the scene at St Andrews provided the perfect stage for Nicklaus to exit – the right way for the best of all time to bow out.

Having nailed his drive down the final fairway, it was time for Nicklaus to wave goodbye one final time as he stepped on the Swilcan Bridge to soak up the applause all around him.

He was joined by playing partner and fellow Open legend Tom Watson – the man who had famously beat him to the Claret Jug in 1977 in the great ‘Duel in the Sun’ at Turnberry.

And it was Watson rather than Nicklaus who got caught up in the emotion of it all. 

“Here’s the greatest player who has ever played the game in his final Championship of his career and I had the privilege of being able to play with him,” said Watson.

“I joined him on his last walk, the last hole of his Championship career and I lost it.”

Nicklaus added: “Tom was far more emotional than I was. Tom was on the bridge with tears running down his face and I’m like, ‘Watson!’ – but he was doing it on Tuesday in the practice round.”

Watson continued: “I was walking up the fairway, over the bridge crying and Jack finally grabbed me and said, ‘Tom, come on, get a hold of yourself, you have a golf tournament to play here.’

“I had to par the last hole to make the cut, he knew my position, it wasn’t all about him – he had concern for me and that’s something he always had – I appreciated that very much.”

Watson went on to hole his par putt before watching on along with the thousands of spectators around the green as Nicklaus stepped up for his birdie effort – the rest, as they say, is history.