Regarded by many as the greatest professional golfer of all time, the name of Jack Nicklaus is synonymous with golf. Also known as ‘The Golden Bear’, Nicklaus has carried the golf standard for almost fifty years since he first came to prominence as an amateur.
Nicklaus was born on January 21st, 1940 in Columbus, Ohio and first took up golf at the age of ten. He won the first of five straight Ohio State Junior titles at twelve years of age, and at sixteen he won the Ohio Open, where he competed against professional players. He also won the U.S Amateur title twice; the first in 1959 and again in 1961 while attending Ohio State University. He represented the United States twice in the Walker Cup, in 1959 and 1961.
In 1960, Nicklaus contested the U.S Open tournament as an amateur and finished second; 2 shots behind Arnold Palmer. For the tournament, Nicklaus carded a four-round total of 282 which stands today as the lowest ever score made by an amateur in the Major tournament and the magazine, Golf Digest, named Nicklaus as the top amateur player in the world three years running between 1959 and 1961.
However, as impressive as Nicklaus’ amateur record was, his achievements as a professional are what has really defined him as perhaps the best golfer of all time. Since turning professional in 1962, Nicklaus has chalked up a remarkable 103 professional wins, which includes 18 Major championship successes; the first of which coming in his debut season as a professional where he beat Arnold Palmer in a play-off to win the U.S. Open, and later that same season he also won the Seattle Open and the Portland Open.
The following year, Nicklaus won two of the four Major tournaments – the U.S Masters and the USPGA – as well as a further three tournaments, including the Tournament of Champions but endured a Major-less season in 1964, although he did finish top of the tour money list that year.
Nicklaus captured the U.S Masters again in 1965 and 1966, making him the first player to win consecutive Masters titles, and set a tournament record of 271 in 1965 which was only bested in 1997 by Tiger Woods’ four-round total of 270. Nicklaus also won the 1966 Open at Muirfield to complete his first ‘Grand Slam’ – a feat he would complete three times over. His second U.S Open win came in 1967, but this win heralded the beginning of a drought in Nicklaus’ Major career and it would be 1970 before he would taste Major success again.
That success would come in the 1970 British Open where he would defeat countryman Doug Sanders in a playoff, which by virtue only occurred thanks to a missed short-putt by Sanders on the final green. A USPGA title would follow in 1971, and two further Majors would be added to Nicklaus’ haul in 1972 – a fourth U.S Masters and third U.S Open; the latter tying Nicklaus’ major haul with that of Bobby Jones. Nicklaus failed in his bid to capture all four Majors in the same season, being foiled first by Lee Trevino in The Open and by Gary Player in the USPGA.
Nicklaus surpassed Bobby Jones’ record by taking the 1973 USPGA for his fourteenth career Major and won a further six tournaments that year, although he failed to win any of the Major championships in 1974. In 1975, Nicklaus started the season with a bang, winning the Doral-Eastern Open, Heritage Classic and U.S. Masters in consecutive starts, as well as winning a fourth USPGA title before topping the tour money list in 1976 despite playing only sixteen tournaments that year. He won two tournaments that year – neither of them Majors – and would also fail to secure a Major in 1977. The closest Nicklaus came to a Major that year was his second-place finish in the British Open at Turnberry behind Tom Watson in the famous ‘Duel in the Sun.’ Nicklaus would, however, take his number of career wins to sixty-three that same year before winning the British Open in 1978.
Nicklaus’ form dipped after that success and he had to wait until 1980 before he won another tournament. In all, he enjoyed only three top-ten finishes in 1980 – two of which were victories; the U.S Open and the USPGA, but despite these wins, Nicklaus would win only twice more on the tour in the next five years before rolling back the years to capture the 1986 U.S Masters – his sixth in all – by posting a back nine score of 30, which featured a eagle-birdie-birdie run-in before making par at the last to become the oldest winner of a Major championship. This victory was his last on the PGA Tour, although twelve years later he tied for sixth place in the same tournament.
Nicklaus joined the Champions Tour in 1990 when he turned 50 and continued winning ways, with a further nineteen tournament wins on the tour, before bowing out of competitive play at the Bayer Advantage Classic in Kansas on June 13th, 2005 and bringing the curtain down on an illustrious career.
Nicklaus now devotes much of his time to golf course design and operates one of the largest design practices in the world. He is now in partnership with his four sons and son-in-law, with their design company, Nicklaus Designs. Nicklaus himself has designed such courses as Muirfield Village, Shoal Creek and Gleneagles’ PGA Centenary Course.
Nicklaus is also an accomplished instructional golf writer, and has had several golf instruction books published as well as an autobiography and a book on golf course design methods and philosophy. He has also produced several golf instruction videos, written columns for various golf magazines and has appeared on television as an analyst and commentator.
(Image via Wikipedia)