Category: Baltusrol Golf Course

The Legend That Is Jack Nicklaus

As an older golf fan who writes stories about current stars on the PGA, LPGA, and European Tours, I am probably as guilty as the next for loosing perspective. I know that for most of the younger fans today, and by younger, I mean anyone under the age of 50, you probably don’t have a connection with some of the super stars from the past.

I know that I have trouble connecting with players like Ben Hogan Sam Snead, and really even Arnie because they played and were the stars of an era that existed before I gained an interest in this great game. I am fairly sure that this would be your perspective on The Memorial Tournament host, Jack Nicklaus. Jack was the Tiger Woods of the day, when I become a golf fan back in the 1970’s and I will continue to see him as the young super star that he was, and not the aging honorary first day starter at The Masters.

To get a sense of Jack’s accomplishments as a player, one only needs to visit Wikipedia and take a trip down memory lane. Actually, you don’t even need to do that because I did it for you. Although he never caught up with Slammin’ Sammy Snead in total career victories, my thoughts are, Jack played in a time when the competition got a little tougher. There was Arnie, Lee Trevino, and Gary Player keeping him out of a few victory celebrations.

Jack is actually third on the all-time wins list behind Tiger Woods who tied his total last year at The Memorial. He still leads Tiger for Most Major Championships with 18. A number Tiger has in his sights which is currently 14. Being the true professional he is, Jack is actually rooting for Tiger to tie, and beat this record. He said in an interview earlier this year that if Tiger wants to beat his record, “at 37 years old, he better get busy if he’s going to do it”.

In 1978, Jack Nicklaus became the first player to win the “Triple Slam”. By winning the 1978 British Open at St. Andrews, he became the only golfer at the time to win all four of the Major Championships three times. This was a feat that stood until 2008 when , who else but Tiger Woods beat Rocco Mediate for his third US Open, which incidentally was tiger’s last major win.

To go along with Jack’s three British Opens, he won the US Open four times, the 1962 US Open was his first major, the PGA Championship five times, and of course The Masters a record seven times. His last major was the 1986 Masters where he won at age 46, making him the oldest player to win a major. A little known fact is he had a solo sixth place finish at Augusta in 1990 at age 60, and a tie for sixth place in 1998 at age 68. Father time finally caught up with him and he became an honorary starter. When you watch the Masters, and they tell you about all of the former Masters Champions, just remember, Jack Nicklaus was the king of Augusta.

To go along with his 18 major victories, Jack had 18 runner up finishes in major championships. Even when he didn’t win, he was there on Sunday with a chance to win. When you talk to him today, he remembers every one of those losses, and can tell you what mistakes he made in them. He doesn’t always recall the victories, but he does remember the ones that got away.

The victory I have the most connection with was the 1980 US Open. I watched every shot between him, and Isao Aoki as they played at Baltusrol Golf Course in Springfield, New Jersey. They began the final round tied, and Jack prevailed in one of the best head to head battles I had ever saw. Nicklaus won by two strokes for his third to last major. He also beat Andy Bean for the 1980 PGA Championship for his next to last major.

I know that Tiger Woods is the greatest player most of you have ever seen, and he rightly deserves that distinction. But there were some great players from my generation as well, and the greatest player from my generation was Jack Nicklaus.

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Credit: © Jack Nicklaus & the Nicklaus Companies