Jack Nicklaus

‘The Golden Bear’ is one of the greatest golfers of all time. You only have to glance at his trophy cabinet to see. During his mighty reign over the professional game in the 60s, 70s and 80s, he won 18 professional PGA tournaments and when he reached a more mature age he won 8 Champions Tours. Now into his sixties, Nicklaus hasn’t taken much of a sabbatical from the game. He designs courses and writes books on improving your game. He’s a monumental ambassador for the sport and someone, for whom anyone connected with golf, has huge respect.

Amateur – but only in name.

All sportsmen have to earn their stripes at the foot of the ladder, but from the age of ten it was pretty obvious that Jack Nicklaus, from Upper Arlington, Columbus, Ohio, would climb the ladder pretty quickly. He was already winning titles at the age of 12 when he won the Ohio State Junior title and then won it again for the next five years running.

Whilst studying at Ohio State University, Jack won the US Amateur title twice, which led him to the US Open in 1960, where he amazingly finished second behind Arnold Palmer with the highest score for an amateur ever (282). He was the world’s top amateur golfer and was hotly anticipated when he turned professional.

Professional – more than just in name.

Nicklaus began his professional golf career explosively. In 1962 he returned to the US Open and this time he beat Arnold Palmer to win the title. He also won a few other tours in the US that year and ended with a very impressive $60,000 in first-year prize money. The following year, he continued to make an impact by winning the Masters and the PGA Championship. He was only 23 but this didn’t worry him. His prize money increased again that year and again in 1964, making him the highest earning golfer, fractionally winning more cash than his biggest rival, Arnold Palmer.

Nicklaus wasn’t just winning titles: he was setting records with it. He was the first to win the Masters back-to-back when he took the title in 1965 and 1966. The first of these two gave him the record for lowest score of 271 which stood until another prodigy, Tiger Woods, came along in 1997 and beat it.

1966 was a year Nicklaus was particularly happy with. He won the British Open, a major he hadn’t managed to win until then. This meant he was the youngest ever player to win all four major titles, which are now known as the Career Slam. He was only 26 and that record would stand for some time too, but for that man Tiger Woods again, a few decades later.

Nicklaus had become a completely unstoppable force in golf. He was the man everyone wanted to beat, but it didn’t look likely for some time.

Fall from grace

After Jack won the US Open in 1967, he seemed to get stuck in a rut. He didn’t win another major title until he took the British Open in 1970. During this time Nicklaus also let his physical fitness dip somewhat. He put on weight and generally didn’t look as comfortable on the links. Just before the Open in 1970 at St Andrews, Jack’s father died, so when he went on to win the Open by beating Doug Sanders in a dramatic playoff final, he looked like a man desperately pleased to be back on form.

Back to form

You can’t keep a good man like Jack down for long. Following the British Open, Nicklaus won the PGA Championship in 1971. He would go from strength to strength during the seventies and complete the decade with eight major titles, including the Masters and the US Open in 1972 and a very famous win over Tom Watson in the British Open in 1977, when the winner was decided on a tense and famous playoff, coined the Duel in the Sun.

At the close of the decade in 1979, Nicklaus endured the same dip in form as he had done at the end of the sixties. He didn’t manage any major title that year. He thought it might be a coaching problem so he drafted in an old friend and former player, Phil Rodgers, who was tasked with trying to help Jack’s swing improve and bring him back to meet expectations.

Up and down

It’s a sad day when a sporting legend looks as though they have played their best. Although Jack won the US Open and the PGA Championship in 1980, he didn’t manage to win another major title until 1986, when he won The Masters. He didn’t make it easy for himself that year though, but he proved he certainly still possessed the ability to wow the crowds. At the 17th, Jack managed a birdie shot, which finished him on 279 and meant he sat and waited for the likes of Greg Norman and Tom Kite to slip up. They did and Jack won the title for a record sixth time by one stroke at the age of 46. He was and still is the oldest player ever to win the Masters.

Last days of his playing career

When he reached the age of 50, Nicklaus joined the Champions Tour and he didn’t stop his winning ways. He won the PGA Senior Championship, the US Senior Open, and the Tradition. He played in the 1998 Masters during this time and ended up finishing a very modest 6th. Then tragedy struck Jack and his family and it would be golf that saved the day.

Jack’s grandson died in 2005 and he and his son Steve looked to golf to help them grieve. Jack’s return to the game saw him gain the confidence to take on what everyone around him said he should do, and he made the cut to compete in the Masters tournament in 2005. He also decided to enter the British Open that year too and, on the links at St Andrews, Jack received a huge standing ovation at the tee of the 18th. It was the man many have called the new Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, who won both of these titles that year.

Off the links

Jack will always live and breathe golf and even when he isn’t playing, he is actively involved in the game. He designs golf courses now and has designed them for over thirty US states and over 25 different countries in the world. He also established and runs the Memorial Tournament in his home state of Ohio, which has now become one of the major fixtures on the tour.

Jack spends a lot of his time now writing many golfing books, which detail precisely the indispensable tips he has built up over his long and successful playing career.

Jack Nicklaus is one of the best, if not the best, golfer who has ever lived. There are very few men to rival him in terms of titles wins and records broken. He could hit the ball further than many of his peers and possessed a very careful eye on the putting green. His love of the world’s courses has always meant he knows exactly where to hit the ball. He is without doubt a true golfing legend. Here he is at his very best.