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Jack Nicklaus


Golden Bear at 80

Jack Nicklaus

There is little that has not already been said about the man that many regard to be golf’s greatest ever player.  

Reams upon reams have been written, endless hours spent in discussion and countless moments immortalised from the career of three-time Champion Golfer of the Year Jack Nicklaus.

And on the day that the man with an unparalleled 18 major titles to his celebrates his 80th birthday, it seems appropriate to cast the mind back over the life of a golfer the likes of which may never be seen again.

A Natural Sportsman

Given his preternatural talent off the tee, it should come as little surprise that Nicklaus’ instinctive abilities should extend to other sports.

Born and raised in Ohio to mother Helen and sportsman father Charlie, Jack excelled at basketball, tennis and golf during a childhood divvied up between the court and the course.

Picking up a golf club for the first time when he was ten, Nicklaus famously shot 51 over his first ever nine holes at the Scioto Country Club.

From there-on it soon became clear as to the nature of Nicklaus’ calling; he cut his teeth at the Upper Arlington club and was coached by Jack Grout – a contemporary and friend of golden era greats Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson – who was subsequently termed Jack’s ‘first and only’ coach.

His development continued at exponential pace: he qualified for the US Amateur at 16 after shooting 66 at Scioto and a year later competed at his first of 44 consecutive US Opens.

Major Accomplishments

It would be just five short years between Nicklaus’ major championship debut and his first title, as the young star catapulted from rumour to reality on the world stage.

After finishing second at the 1960 US Open as an amateur – a tournament that playing partner Hogan quickly admitted he should have won – Nicklaus balanced his college studies with Walker Cup victories and a record-breaking Eisenhower Cup performance, where he shot a four-round score of 269.

But it was 1962 when Nicklaus truly began to deliver on his potential; the 22-year-old capped his maiden year on the PGA Tour with US Open victory as he became the youngest winner of the tournament since Bobby Jones in 1923.

The following year saw him claim the first of his record six green jackets at Augusta, a result he followed up with victory in the US PGA, leaving him just one title short of the career slam.

Open Sesame

When Nicklaus arrived at Gullane in July 1966, he was fresh from being crowned the Masters’ first ever back-to-back winner, but he was well-aware that the Muirfield links would provide a totally different challenge to the tree-lined fairways of Augusta.

And if Nicklaus was to seal that career slam, he would have to do it the hard way, as difficult conditions on the course limited him to only 17 uses of his driver.

But in the face of adversity, Nicklaus prevailed to shoot under par in each of his four rounds as he finished a shot ahead of Doug Sanders and Dave Thomas to win on what he would later term “the best course in Britain.”

At 26, he became just the fifth golfer to achieve the career slam, and the youngest – until Tiger Woods achieved the feat in 2000.

An era of dominance

After three years without a major between 1967 and 1970 – a veritable drought by Nicklaus’ lofty standards – the Golden Bear hit back with gusto.

He kickstarted a streak of seven majors in the next five years with The 1970 Open title – just five moths after the death of his father, Charlie.

Nicklaus battled high winds and an exhaustive playoff against compatriot Sanders at St Andrews to see him outdrive the green at the par-four 18th, before nudging a tricky pitch to within eight feet. 

Upon sinking his putt, Nicklaus hurled his club triumphantly into the air as he toasted victory at the home of golf.

A year later he became the first player to win a second career slam as he took home the 1971 PGA Championship, and had fans around the world mooting the possibility of a first calendar slam since Jones' in 1930, when he took the Masters and the US Open in 1972.

Although Lee Trevino put paid to his chances when he won that year’s Open at Muirfield, Nicklaus’ PGA Championship triumph the following year took him ahead of Jones in the all-time majors list with what was the Ohio native’s 12th professional title.

And just three years later Nicklaus cemented his legacy as one of the sport’s all-time greats when he achieved a third career slam with his third and final Open.

Taking the title two shots clear of Raymond Floyd, Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw and Simon Owen, again at St Andrews, Nicklaus described it as his best four days of tee-to-green golf.

The Comeback

US Open and PGA titles in 1980 brought his major total to 17, but at the age of 40, time was no longer on his side.

Nicklaus followed up a perfect 4-0-0 showing at the 1981 Ryder Cup by captaining the USA to a dramatic one-point victory in 1983, but individual glories eluded him despite several strong showings.

That was until 1986 when, at 46 years of age, Nicklaus shot 65 in the final round at Augusta to take a sixth Masters title, meaning that over the course of 25-years he had won 18 major titles - a record that famously stands firm to this day.

The Golden Bear finished his professional career at The Open at St Andrews in 2005, the perfect way to sign off – he said – from one of golf’s all-time greatest careers.

“I'm very sentimental and the place gets to me every time I go there. In May I walked around and welled up with hardly anyone watching me," he said. 

“St Andrews was always where I wanted to finish my major career.”