7 Best Golden Bear Golf Moments
Having 18 major championships and being runner-up in 20 other major tournaments pretty much solidifies Jack Nicklaus’ standing as GOAT – Greatest Of All Time.
In honor of the Golden Bear’s 74th birthday, here’s seven moments that, together but in ascending order, encapsulate the man’s standing in the game.
1. 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont
It was Arnold Palmer’s home town, and the crowd was pulling for “The King” during the game’s toughest tournament on one of the toughest courses in the world. You’d think that some kid fresh out of the amateur ranks would buckle.
Not Jack. On a Sunday playoff, the Golden Bear won his first pro tournament in just his 17th start, and it just happened to be the U.S. Open, edging Palmer by three strokes.
2. 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Creek
Golf writer extraordinaire Dan Jenkins has written extensively that this was the greatest U.S. Open as Palmer stormed back from seven strokes in the final round to win by a shot. Ben Hogan, making one last stand, hit 35 of 36 greens in regulation during that two-round Saturday final. The one green missed came when he was tied for the lead on the 71st hole. His approach shot to the par-5 17th green actually hit the putting surface but spun back into a creek.
Afterward, Hogan sat in the clubhouse and told writers, in so many words, that he played with a “21-year-old kid who should have won this thing by three shots.” Indeed, poor putting had haunted a young Nicklaus during the tournament, but his presence certainly became known.
3. 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach
As Tom Watson walked to his ball left of the green on the par-3 17th, Nicklaus finished his final round with a par on No. 18 to pull even with Watson. He looked to be safe in the clubhouse and, with Watson facing a daunting chip, the Golden Bear would have his 18th major. But we know how that turned out. Watson chipped in, and then came to the 18th and promptly buried a long birdie putt to win by two shots. To Nicklaus’ credit, he gladly shook Watson’s hand afterward, jokingly saying, “You did it to me again, you little SOB.” Nicklaus was always gracious in defeat.
4. 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach
People remember the final-round 1-iron that cut through the wind to the par-3 17th. No one seems to remember Pebble Beach that week had turned into a viciously vindictive lady. The scoring average was 78.5, six-plus strokes over par. Nicklaus finished two strokes above par with a 290 total, beating Bruce Crampton by three shots. That 1-iron – the most difficult club to hit – on that hole, in that tournament, at that time – demonstrated Nicklaus’ superior talent.
5. 1966 Open at Muirfield
At the course he came to love so much that he named his own home course near Columbus, Ohio, after the famous Gullane, Scotland-layout, the 26-year-old Nicklaus nailed down his first British Open and in so doing he became the youngest to win all four majors.
6. 1977 Open Championships at Turnberry
Known as “The Duel in the Sun,” Nicklaus and Watson moved away from the field like two rockets headed to the moon. Watson shot 65-65 in the final two rounds to edge Nicklaus, who merely shot 65-66. The intensity increased on the par-4 18th, where Nicklaus’ drive carried into deep rough. Watson was safe in the fairway.
With seemingly super-human strength, Nicklaus gouged out his approach to land the ball more than 40 feet from the cup. Watson’s approach landed within six feet, but he knew. “He’s going to make it,” Watson said to caddie Bruce Edwards.
And Nicklaus did, forcing Watson to make his – and he did for the win. A glorious, once-in-a-lifetime battle of golf greats.
7. 1986 Masters
The classic Masters highlight, the one that always ends the Sunday intro: The 17th green baked out so much it was like putting on a giant, tilted pancake, Nicklaus sized up his 18-foot birdie putt. Son Jackie on the bag suggested right edge, but the old man knew better. “It always breaks to Rae’s Creek,” he said, and sure enough there was the Golden Bear – yellow shirt, white belt, checked slacks – watching and then accentuating the putter for a birdie and the outright lead.
“Yes, sir!” said broadcaster Verne Lundquist.
Few things could sum up Jack’s career than that statement.
Happy Birthday, Bear.
Featured image courtesy of Golfweek.