“Jack Nicklaus is the greatest winner I've ever seen.”
– Author and Sports Illustrated writer Dan Jenkins (1928 – 2019). He played on the TCU golf team.
Eighteen-time Major winner Jack Nicklaus turned 80 on Jan. 21! How is that possible? It seems just like 10 years ago when he won his last Major, the 1986 Masters, defeating Tom Kite and Greg Norman by one stroke (279 vs. 280). On Sunday, he shot a hard-to-imagine final round 65 (35 – 30) at the age of 46 years 2 months, 23 days. Only Julius Boros, who won the 1968 PGA at age 48 years, 4 months, 18 days, and Old Tom Morris, who won The (British) Open Championship in 1867 at the age of 46 years, 3 months, 10 days were older when they won a Major.
I was 34 years 3 months 20 days old when Nicklaus made his 20-foot birdie putt on the 17th green to take solo possession of the lead for the first time, so I actually remember CBS’s Verne Lundquist call, "Maybe. … Yes sir!"
And I, along with any golf fan over 60, certainly won’t forget that oversized MacGregor Response ZT 615 putter he used to win his 18thMajor -- or those checkered pants. (Fun Fact: The day after Nicklaus' Masters victory, MacGregor received over 5,000 orders for the Response and sold 300,000 units that year.)
His birthday triggered my stroll down memory lane and reinforced my belief that Nicklaus is the best player of all time.
There are many younger fans who try to make the case for Tiger (winner of 144 tournaments worldwide, including 82 PGA events, which is tied for first all-time with Sam Snead, and 15 Majors wins, six seconds and four thirds, and there are historians who love Bobby Jones, who won 13 Majors, including the Grand Slam in 1930. At that time, the four Majors were: The British Amateur, The (British) Open Championship, U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur. As his World Golf Hall of Fame bio says, “Beginning with his victory in the 1923 U.S. Open at Inwood and ending with his U.S. Amateur victory at Merion in 1930, Jones won 13 championships in 20 tries, the most imposing run of Major titles the game has ever seen.”
I am going with Jack not only because of his record -- 18 wins, 19 seconds and nine thirds in the Majors and 73 PGA victories, which is third all-time – but because of the competition he faced during his prime years. Think about it? From 1963 to 1986 Nicklaus routinely faced Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Billy Casper, Julius Boros, Peter Thomson, Ray Floyd, Johnny Miller Hale Irwin and Tom Watson. On the other hand, from 1997 to 2008 Tiger won 14 of his 15 Majors. During that time span his major competitors were Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Padraig Harrington and Phil Mickelson.
Now you know why when it comes to advice, I first go to Jack Nicklaus:
“Bear in mind that the shorter the club, the shorter the backswing, thus the shorter the follow-through. The best policy here is to be natural. Let the club stop at whatever point in the follow-through it runs out of momentum.”
“Keeping the right knee slightly flexed yet firmly in position during the backswing is tough for many golfers. The trick is to set and keep your weight on the inside of the right foot."
“There are a lot of ways to play good golf, but they all have one thing in common: a steady head.”
“Most amateurs when trying for extra distance instinctively try to hit harder with their hands and arms from the top of the backswing. It’s a sure way to both diminish clubhead speed and distort clubface alignment.”
“Rather than tamper with what comes naturally, strive to swing rhythmically whatever your pace. Rhythm is the quality with which you meld all the moving parts of the swing, and the smoother it is the better your timing will be.”
“Work on the feeling of turning the shoulders fully, then keeping them fully coiled as long as you can while your knees move targetwards and your hips unwind.”
“Instead or practicing to an actual hole, try putting to a tee stuck in the ground. By making you less ‘cup conscious,’ this will help you concentrate on speed and line, and thus on tempo and stroke pattern.”
Thanks for the memories, Mr. Nicklaus!