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The 150th Open

Jack Nicklaus


Golden Bear thanks St Andrews for honorary citizenship

Nicklaus honourary citizen

Jack Nicklaus paid an emotional tribute to the people of St Andrews after being made an honorary citizen in a special ceremony.

The three-time Champion Golfer won two of his three Claret Jugs at the Old Course in 1970 and 1978 before playing his final major championship at the venue in 2005.

Now Nicklaus has become only the third American to be awarded the honorary citizenship of St Andrews, following in the footsteps of 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.

18-time major winner Nicklaus, who made his first appearance at St Andrews in 1964, received the honour at a public ceremony at the town’s Younger Hall on Tuesday.

Nicklaus said: “Let’s go back to 1959, my first visit to Scotland. I was a 19-year-old, I was an Ohio State University College student and made the US Walker Cup team.

“I came to Muirfield, home of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, to play the matches and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit - it was one of the greatest experiences of my life, I loved it and it will stay in my memory forever.

“I then came back in 1962 as the US Open champion for my first Open Championship, not knowing much about seaside golf, to play at Troon and I didn’t fare so well.

“Arnold Palmer shot 276 and only nipped me by 29 shots, a very humbling experience. But I knew I really like seaside golf and I made a good run the next year at Lytham and came back the next year for my first experience at St Andrews.

“I had heard so much about St Andrews and how it had stood the test of time. How Bobby Jones once told me that a golfer’s resume is not complete until he has won at St Andrews.

“That always stuck in my mind. When I got to St Andrews I loved it from the start. How could this old, old course still be a challenge to the golfers of 1964?

“I then came back in 1966 to the first place I’d been in Scotland, Muirfield, a golf course that was theoretically not suited to my game - so I made my game suit the golf course.

“I used my head and I fortunately won. It was now 1970 and I was ready for St Andrews, I played well it looked like I was going to finish a disappointing second to Doug Sanders until he missed a short putt on the 72nd hole and allowed me to get into a play-off which I won.

“My golfing resume was now complete according to Mr Jones, I had won at St Andrews. I came back to St Andrews in 1978, I played well again and I won again.

Nicklaus honourary citizen

“The people of St Andrews were unbelievable, they welcomed us with open arms, hanging from the rooftops as we finished. I’ll never forget that reception I received. It was unbelievable.

“I returned in 1984 and I was bestowed an honorary doctor of law degree from the University of St Andrews, a wonderful honour. You humbled me then just as you are humbling me today.

“It remains one of my proudest moments as a golfer and a person. There seemed to be a mutual admiration and love affair between the people of Scotland, St Andrews and me.

“All the experiences I had at St Andrews, and I was here on eight occasions to play The Open, have been something I will love and cherish forever - and so will my family.

“They were all here with me then and they are all here with me now. Thank you so much for this wonderful honour. To quote Bobby Jones, ‘I could take out of my life everything except my experiences at St Andrews and I’d still have a rich, full life’. I feel exactly the same.”

Before returning to the home of golf this week to receive the honour, Nicklaus had not been back to St Andrews since making his final competitive appearance at The Open in 2005.

The Golden Bear, who birdied the 18th hole of the Old Course during an emotional swansong to his career 17 years ago, also stopped by for The R&A Celebration of Champions on Monday.

He added: “I’m now 82 years old, 44 years removed from my last win, as Grantland Rice wrote they rarely remember as quickly as they forget so let me say thank you for remembering and not forgetting me and most importantly, thank you for allowing me to be what I always felt I was for so many decades - one of you. Thank you, St Andrews.”

In addition to Nicklaus’ honour, two-time Champion Golfer Lee Trevino, 1985 winner Sandy Lyle and 2009 Women’s Open champion Catriona Matthew also received honorary degrees from the University of St Andrews at the ceremony, recognising their outstanding service to golf.