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’, due to his natural ability for hard-hitting ball striking and nerves of steel. Nicklaus has carried the golf standard for over half a Century since he first came to prominence as an amateur.
Born on January 21st, 1940 in Columbus, Ohio he took up golf at the age of ten winning the first of five straight Ohio State Junior titles at 12 years of age and the Ohio Open at 16, where he competed against professional players. He also won the U.S Amateur title twice; while attending Ohio State University and represented the United States in the Walker Cup, in 1959 and 1961.
In 1960, Nicklaus finished second in the U.S Open, 2 shots behind Arnold Palmer. Nicklaus carded a four-round total of 282 which stands today as the lowest ever score made by an amateur in the Major causing Golf Digest to name Nicklaus as the top amateur player in the world three years running.
Nicklaus’ amateur record was impressive but it is his achievements as a professional that 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 Majors; 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.
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.
Bobby Jones’ record was surpassed in 1973 by taking the USPGA for his 12th career Major and between 1975 and 1978 he would go on to add 3 more Major titles taking his career total to 15 adding a fourth USPGA title a Masters and the 1978 Open.
In 1980 he clinched the U.S. Open and the USPGA taking his Major tally to 17 but would only win twice more on tour in the next 5 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 an eagle-birdie-birdie run-in before making par at the last to become the oldest winner of a Major championship and take his Major total to 18.
Nicklaus joined the Champions Tour in 1990 when he turned 50 and won a further 19 tournaments before bowing out of competitive play on June 13th, 2005, bringing the curtain down on an illustrious career.
During his playing days, he founded Nicklaus Design, which has designed over 425 golf courses across the world. Their philosophy of ‘timeless, premium golf courses’ has been shown almost every time, with well-known examples including Gleneagles PGA Centenary course, Harbour Town Golf Links, Turtle Point at Kiawah Island, Monte Rei and Muirfield Village.
His own, bold, personal philosophies shine through at many of his courses, with Nicklaus being quoted that par-3 holes should be played with irons, rather than woods and that distance does not necessarily indicated quality. He also considered himself to be an ‘armchair architect’ from early in his career, admitting to visualising improvements whenever he played.
Today, he is still the head of Nicklaus Design and runs the Memorial Tournament on the PGA Tour.