From the Golf Journal Archives - Placing Jack Nicklaus In History – Is He The Greatest Of Them All?

Jun 18, 2010

After his fourth victory in the United States Open Championship, does Jack Nicklaus deserve to be ranked alongside Harry Vardon, Bob Jones, and Ben Hogan as the greatest players the game has known?

By Robert Sommers

(Note: This article originally appeared in the August 1980 issue of Golf Journal.)

Jack Nicklaus

IN THE AFTERGLOW of Jack Nicklaus’s victory in the 80th United States Open Championship, in June, which he won with a record score of 272 for 72 holes over the Lower Course of the Baltusrol Golf Club, in Springfield, New Jersey, it seems appropriate that we address ourselves to the question of his place in history; whether he is the game’s consummate player, or whether he is something less than that; whether he belongs in the same company with Harry Vardon, Bob Jones, and Ben Hogan, the three primary players of the last century, or whether he is a notch below them in rank.

Debates of this sort, of course, are never wholly satisfactory – no one is ever entirely convinced one way or another because so much rests on subjective analysis – but it seems worthwhile to examine some of the evidence.

To begin with, no one questions that Nicklaus is the best golfer of his time. He has been the dominant player on the PGA Tour almost from the time he became a professional late in 1961, when Arnold Palmer was at his peak. Since then he has won 67 tournaments in the United States and Great Britain, and who knows how many others in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Europe – wherever the game is played. Confining ourselves strictly to the PGA Tour, only Sam Snead, with 84, has won more. Whether his record entitles him to equal status with Vardon, Jones, and Hogan is another matter, and not everyone will agree that it does.

THEIR ARGUMENTS, however, were at least weakened if not destroyed by what Nicklaus accomplished at Baltusrol. Consider this: His victory was his fourth in the Open, something that had been done only by Jones, Hogan, and Willie Anderson, a mysterious figure from the early years of the century who won four times within five years. Nicklaus won his first in 1962, and so his four Open Championships span 18 years. No one else has ever won our Open over so long a period. Julius Boros won his two 11 years apart, and Gene Sarazen won twice over 10 years. Nicklaus’s score of 272 at Baltusrol was three strokes under the previous record 275 that he himself set in 1967 over the same course (matched a year later by Lee Trevino at the Oak Hill Country Club, in Rochester, New York). In a remarkable four-day period, Nicklaus also equaled the 18-hole record by shooting 63 in the first round, set the 36-hole record at 134 and the 54-hole record at 204 (also matched by Isao Aoki, of Japan, who finished second, with 274). Nicklaus was never out of the lead, although he was tied at the end of 18 holes and 54 holes, and he did all this at the age of 40, when only the rare golfer still has his competitive edge. As a matter of fact, since the Open began in 1895, only Boros, Hogan, and Ted Ray, an English contemporary of Vardon, won the Open after they passed 40.

This was also his 18th victory in what is popularly called the “major” competitions – the U.S. and British Opens, the Masters Tournament and the PGA Championship, and, in Nicklaus’s case, the U.S. Amateur. In addition to winning the Open four times, he has also won the Masters five times, the British Open three, the PGA four and the Amateur twice.


HOW, THEN, DO we measure his standing in the game? By the number of tournaments he has won, by the scores he shot, by the number of “majors” he’s won, or by a combination of them all, never forgetting our own personal prejudices?

To use the number of major tournament victories as a gauge would be fatuous. Vardon, for example, would be out of the running. He won the British Open six times and the United States Open only once. In his time, however, a period that began in the late 19th century and extended into the 20th, the British Open was the only tournament for professionals that mattered. The U.S. Open was hardly worth the effort for a British golfer, and, we must remember, in that period the British were the best. When Vardon won the U.S. Open in 1900, he played only because he was here on an exhibition tour.

Hogan, too, falls short by that standard. His major accomplishments, in addition to his four U.S. Open victories, are made up of two PGA Championships, two Masters Tournaments, and one British Open. The career of Jones was built around four competitions, the Open and Amateur Championships of the United States and Great Britain. He won 13 of those, and for a period of eight consecutive years, he was never without one of those championships.

We must also remember that the Masters is relatively new. Of those four players, only Hogan and Nicklaus competed in it seriously; Vardon didn’t play at all, and Jones did only after he had been retired four years. We must also remember that, while it began in 1934, it did not become the important competition it is today until after World War II. Remember, too, that in the ‘teens and 1920s, the Western Open was every bit as important as the Masters is today. Walter Hagen won the Western five times. Combine this with his two U.S. Open Championships, his four British Opens, and five PGA Championships (four of them in succession) and he has 16 victories, as many as Nicklaus since Jack became a professional.

WHAT, THEN, about scoring? Nicklaus currently holds the 72-hole record for the Open and shares with Ray Floyd the Masters 72-hole record (271), but how can his scores be compared to those of Vardon’s day? Obviously they can’t. Equipment is different – clubs are made better and the ball is more reliable – and courses are tended differently. Putting is ever so more important today than it was in the Vardon era, and even the Jones era. Greens are so well cared for today, the player knows that if he reads the putt correctly and strokes it properly, it can do nothing else but go into the hole. Watering systems, too, have had their effect. Greens are basically softer, although the USGA tries to assure that they are firm and fast for an Open Championship. They certainly are not as hard as they were in 1950 at the Merion Golf Club, in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, where only the crisply hit ball would stay near where it landed once it hit the green. Golf is an easier game to play today.

We have to accept, also, that each generation sets its own scoring records. Hogan held the 72-hold records in both the Open (276 in 1948) and the Masters (274 in 1953), and Vardon set the British Open record at 300, in 1903. Strangely enough, Jones did not hold the scoring record for either the United States or the British Opens, but he did equal the low score for the Amateur qualifying round with 142 for 36 holes in both 1927 and 1930. What he did best of all was win.


WHEN NICKLAUS WON at Baltusrol in June, it had been eight years since his previous Open Championship, at Pebble Beach, California, in 1972. Twice before that he had gone five years between Open victories. Although he was always a man to be dealt with in any tournament, he didn’t seem to dominate the Open as both Jones and Hogan did in their best years. Jones, as we all know, won – in 1923,1926, 1929, and 1930 – four of eight Opens and he also finished second three times during that period; Hogan won four of six – 1948, 1950, 1951, and 1953. Consider also that while Nicklaus clearly has the edge over both Jones and Hogan in longevity, Vardon, too, won over a period of 18 years, and also won four of eight British Opens early in his career.

Nicklaus has a few years to go to match a different kind of longevity. While Jones retired from championship golf at 28, both Vardon and Hogan were very serious contenders in the U.S. Open when they were much older than Nicklaus is today. Vardon was 50 years old in 1920 when he very nearly won the Open at Inverness Club, in Toledo, Ohio. He was leading by five strokes with seven holes to play when a gale blew in from Lake Erie, and he lost seven strokes on those last few holes. Remember, too, that in 1960, when Nicklaus, as a 20-year-old college boy, was making his first serious bid for the Open, Hogan was 47, and he very nearly won. After holing a 20-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole of the Cherry Hills Country Club, in Denver, Colorado, Hogan was tied for the lead with just three holes to play. His tee-to-green golf that day was magnificent. This was the era of the double round, and Hogan hit 34 consecutive greens. He missed on the 17th, and that cost him the championship.

THE POINT IS that the methods of both Vardon and Hogan were so sound that even at their relatively advanced ages, from tee to green they could still play the game better than anybody. They failed on the greens in their later competitive years. Nicklaus today plays the game from tee to green better than anybody. He hit 59 greens at Baltusrol, only two fewer than he did when
he won there in 1967, and, with that, he had the best percentage of greens hit of those who play the PGA Tour. Of 684 holes he played in 38 rounds through the Open, he hit 497 greens for a percentage of .727. And, for a few days in June, anyway, he once again became a great holer of putts.

For a time, when he was at the peak of his game, Hogan was a great 10-foot putter. The suspicion lingers, however, that Nicklaus is better. He is perhaps the best clutch putter we’ve seen since Jones. Jones always seemed to hole the putt he had to hole; Nicklaus always seems to drop the crucial putt, too.

Whenever we think of Jones and Hogan, we tend to remember that each had that one overpowering season when he simply could not be beaten (Vardon must be excused from this argument since he had only the British Open). Jones had his great year in 1930 when he entered seven tournaments and won six, including the Open and Amateur Championships of both the United States and Great Britain, the Grand Slam. For Hogan it was 1953, when he entered six tournaments and won five, including the United States and British Opens and the Masters Tournament. No one else has ever won those three in the same year. For those who wonder about the PGA, he had not played in it since his automobile accident, in 1949, and even if he had chosen to play in 1953, he could not have won both the PGA and the British Open because they conflicted in dates. The final match of the PGA was played the same day as the first qualifying round of the British Open, and Hogan had to qualify. (The conditions are different now; the U.S. Open champion is exempt from qualifying for the British Open.)

SOMETIMES WE FORGET that in 1972 Nicklaus was very good, indeed. In addition to winning five tournaments on the PGA Tour, he won both the Open and the Masters, finished 13th in the PGA, and finished second in the British Open by one stroke when Lee Trevino chipped into the hole on the 17th at Muirfield, in Scotland. Still, second is not first, and Nicklaus has not yet won three in a single year.

One further point of comparison. These four men – Vardon, Jones, Hogan, and Nicklaus – seem to fit neatly into two categories. In method and style, Vardon and Hogan seem to be of a kind, and Jones and Nicklaus appear to be of a pattern. It was often said of Vardon that he could not play the same course twice in one day because in the second round he’d be playing from his divot holes of the first. That was fantasy, of course, but we do know that both he and Hogan could place their tee shots probably more precisely, both for length and for direction, than anyone who ever played the game. During the last day of the 1953 British Open, for example, we do know that for those 36 holes Hogan always seemed to be playing his second shots from level lies while Hector Thompson, his playing companion that day, always seemed to have one foot above the other. Hogan and Vardon reduced the game to mathematical certainty.

Jones and Nicklaus, on the other hand, appeared to be a bit more unpredictable. While Jones and Nicklaus both hit a lot of greens, Jones often won when he seemed to have thrown away his best chance, and Nicklaus hit a lot of those greens from the rough. It is, moreover, one of Jack’s great strengths that he can reach greens from the rough. That is not to say that he spends most of his time there, or that he manufactures birdies from sows’ ears, but he is not the precision player that Hogan was or that Vardon was. Still, it is difficult to believe that anyone could have played nine holes better than Nicklaus’s final nine at Baltusrol. It was as close to perfection as we are likely to see in this life.

TO SUM UP, in Nicklaus we have a man whose career as a serious threat in the U.S. Open has spanned 20 years, from 1960, when he finished second to Arnold Palmer by two strokes; who is the longest straight driver the game has known; as good a holer of crucial putts as ever lived, possibly the best putter of all the great players; and a man who holds the 72-hole scoring record for the Open and is co-holder of the 72- and the 18-hole (64) records for the Masters.

With credentials like this, does he deserve to be included among the four best the game has known? Yes, he does. Does he stand above the others? No, he doesn’t. While his record surpasses those others, it is also true that Vardon, Jones, and Hogan raised the game to new levels. Watching Hogan, for example, we were almost convinced that if he hit a shot into a bunker, well, that’s the way the hole should be played. We are also left with the memories of Bobby Cruickshank placing a sizable bet on Jones to win the Grand Slam even before he sailed for Britain in 1930, and of that hazy morning in 1970 when Hogan played the first round of the Houston Open followed by a gallery that included, among other players of prominence, Hale Irwin and R. H. Sikes (after the round, Sikes spent 10 minutes studying a shot-by-shot account).

We are probably too close to him to determine how or if Nicklaus has elevated the game, and he is too close to the other players to expect them to follow along in his gallery just to see him play, but his game is certainly the most admired by the rest of the players, and we may yet see them gawking at him as he drills a 1-iron at the heart of a distant green.

The Open

AS THE OPEN approached, Nicklaus was not given much consideration as a potential winner. He had been in what for him amounted to a dreadful slump, and he had given no indication that he was about to break out of it. He had not won a tournament since the Philadelphia Tour event, in July of 1978, and he had finished the 1979 season ranked 71st on the PGA Tour’s money-winning list after never before having been lower than fourth. Things looked no brighter in 1980. Until the Open, he had played in nine tournaments, and aside from a second place in the Doral-Eastern Open, in March, had finished in such unglamorous positions as 33rd, 43rd, and 53rd. The week before the Open, he missed the 36-hole cut in Atlanta.

It was, therefore, a surprise when he went out on a sunny, windless Thursday and shot 63 over the Lower Course at Baltusrol. Now a man who shoots 63 in the first round of the Open figures to be in front by a few strokes. Not this year; Tom Weiskopf had 63, too. These were the lowest scores in the Open since John Miller shot 63 at the Oakmont Country Club, in Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, in the final round in 1973. They were only the beginning. Three others shot 66, three more 67, and altogether, 19 players broke par 70, the most ever in the first round. When the championship was over, 49 rounds were played under par, the most ever, and both Nicklaus and Isao Aoki broke the previous 72-hole record of 275. Tom Watson was stunned. “I just shot the third lowest score in the history of the Open,” he said, “and lost by four strokes.” Watson shot 276, the same as Keith Fergus and Lon Hinkle.

THE SCORING WAS SURPRISING because Baltusrol is generally considered among our very best golf courses. While being good doesn’t necessarily mean a course is brutally hard, scoring like this is extraordinary. If it proved anything, it demonstrated that when the greens are soft, today’s breed of player might shoot any score. All day long they were throwing their shots right at the flagstick, and the ball was hitting and stopping. The reason why was easy to explain. New Jersey had had about 24 inches of rainfall since January 1, but the winter had been quite dry, and most of that rain had fallen in the spring. The bases of the greens, therefore, were soft. Then, rainstorms had struck on the Monday and Tuesday nights preceding the first round, on Thursday. Otherwise, the course was just about what had been expected. The fairways were fine, cut to about a half inch, and the rough was ample, although in places the grass had grown so tall it lay flat. Aside from their being soft, the greens were true and very fast; giving a reading of over 10 feet on the Stimpmeter scale, a device used for measuring green speed. (For the sake of comparison, the average American green will give a Stimpmeter reading of 6 feet 6 inches; a green that is considered fast by a club player will read about 8 feet 6 inches.)

The first indication that we were in for some unexpected scoring came from Raymond Floyd, one of the early starters in the first round. Par at Baltusrol is a bit uneven – 34 out and 36 in. After eight holes, Floyd was four under par, and he made the turn for home in 30 strokes, matching an Open record shared by five others. To give an indication of how the greens were holding, on his four birdies on the first nine, Floyd hit his approaches to 15 feet on the first hole, five inches on the fourth, eight feet on the sixth, and five feet on the eighth. He had no such luck coming back, shot 37, and finished with Jay Haas and Calvin Peete at 67.

WEISKOPF BEGAN LATER in the day, playing just a few holes ahead of Nicklaus, and was off to an uncertain start. He lost a stroke to par on the first, where he was bunkered, but then made four birdies for an outgoing 31. He had two sizable putts on that nine, holing from 35 feet on the sixth, a very long par 4 of 470 yards, and from 18 feet on the eighth, shorter at 374 yards. Coming back he had four more birdies, his longest from 25 feet on the 15th, a very strong par 4 of 430 yards. He played the second nine in 32 for his 63.

Nicklaus, meanwhile, was out in 32 with three birdies and a bogey on the first nine. He lost a stroke on the second, an uphill par 4 of 377 yards, where he played a 1-iron from the tee and hit the ball under a pine tree. His longest birdie putt was from 35 feet on the fifth, and he also holed from three feet on the third and from 11 feet on the seventh, another 470-yard par 4.

Nicklaus effectively shifted into high gear coming back. He began firing his approach shots at the hole and birdied three straight, beginning with the 11th. He added another birdie at the 15th and still another at the 17th, at 630 yards, the longest hole in Open history.

He was then seven under par with a chance to break the record with 62 if he could birdie the 18th. Baltusrol is unusual in that it ends with two par-5 holes. The 18th is 542 yards in length, and in 1967, Nicklaus birdied it in the last round to shoot 65 and set the record. Here, with the single-round record in sight, he played two fine shots short of the green and the bunker that guards the opening, and then a lovely little pitch to three feet. His putt, however, never once looked as if it might fall. It was right of the hole all the way and he took his 63.

Hale Irwin, the 1979 champion, couldn’t get anything going and shot 70, and Lee Trevino, who had first come to prominence at Baltusrol in 1967, shot 68.

THE SECOND ROUND began under unfortunate circumstances. Severiano Ballesteros, of Spain, who had won the 1979 British Open and the 1980 Masters, had played an indifferent round on Thursday, often driving into the rough and finding no way to reach the greens from there. He shot 75 and, truthfully, did rather well to score that low. On Friday morning he was late for his starting time of 9:45 and was disqualified. He said he was under the impression that he was to start an hour later, and he was delayed in traffic on the way from his hotel, about two miles away, and took approximately 25 minutes to make the trip.

Weiskopf was among the early starters, teeing off before 8 o’clock, and when he hit a 5-iron shot 30 feet from the hole on the first and holed it for a birdie 3, he looked as if he would keep up his amazing pace of the previous day. At that stage he was eight under par for 19 holes, and he seemed to be loose and relaxed. Weiskopf has looked this way before, though, and still not won. He gave that stroke back on the second, where he three-putted, and then ran into serious trouble on the sixth. He drove into the rough and needed four more shots to reach the green, where he holed from one foot for 6 on a par-4 hole. He followed that by three-putting from 12 feet on the seventh, and now instead of being eight under par he was four under. After a birdie on the 13th, he closed out by making three straight bogeys on the last three holes and shot 75, giving him a 36-hole score of 138, only two under par. Weiskopf was finished. He shot 76 and 75 in the last two rounds, 289 for the 72 holes, and was in 36th place.

NICKLAUS, TOO, had a good start, and even though he lost strokes in mid-round, he held on for 71 and a 36-hole score of 134, a record low, and a two-stroke lead. Nicklaus birdied both the first and third holes, lost one stroke at the sixth, where he three-putted from 45 feet, and then dropped three more strokes at the 11th and 12th. The 11th is a 428-yard par 4 that doglegs sharply left around some tall evergreens. A bunker also guards the bend on the left, and that is precisely where Nicklaus hit his tee shot. He came out to mid-fairway, pitched on and took two putts for 5.

Worse was coming. The 12th is a 193-yard par 3, a very good hole with a cross bunker cutting in front of the green. Nicklaus played a 4-iron from the tee, but he hit it fat, and the ball plugged in the face of the bunker. He dug at it with his sand wedge and managed to pop it into the rough, still short of the green. From there he deliberately bladed a wedge, a shot he often uses when his ball is in rough just off the edge of a green. The ball shot out of the grass much faster than he anticipated, and if it had not hit the hole and jumped a few inches off the ground, it might have gone off the back of the green. Never mind: it stopped, and Nicklaus needed two putts, giving him 5 on a par 3. He was then two over par for the day, but he made up one stroke by holing from five feet on the 17th for a birdie, and then saved par on the 18th with a marvelous little pop shot over a bank and down to the hole after he overshot the green with his third. Bob Rosburg, the former PGA champion who is now a broadcaster for ABC, was watching and said to Nicklaus, “People don’t know how good that shot was.” Nicklaus, grinning, answered, “But I do.”

IT WAS on this day that many spectators began to believe that Aoki is as good a putter as he looked in the first round. On the second nine of the second round, Aoki had only one two-putt green, the 12th. He one-putted all the others – 10 putts for nine holes. He also had but 13 on the first nine, giving him 23 for the day. In the first round he had but 27, and so for two rounds he had 50 putts. Weiskopf had 71. Aoki had two rounds of 68, giving him 136 for the 36 holes, and at this point he was tied for second place with Keith Fergus, Lon Hinkle, and Mike Reid. Mark Hayes was next at 137, followed by Weiskopf and Pat McGowan, at 138. Irwin had another par 70, but he was never really a factor in this Open.

Not much had been heard of Aoki before the Open, although he has played in many of the principal tournaments and is, of course, very well known in Japan. He played in the 1979 Open at Inverness, has been in the World Series of Golf three times, and has played in the Masters six times. He has won 32 tournaments, most of them in Japan, and in 1980 played in six tournaments in Japan and won two.

The next day Aoki’s putting slipped somewhat. He used 31, but his tee-to-green golf was noticeably better and he shot still another 68. Nicklaus could have run away with the Open that day, but at the end he had to struggle to hold onto a tie with Aoki. Nicklaus shot 70, even par, but after seven holes he was two under par for the round and eight under for the 43 holes. He was out in 32, but he lost control slightly on the home nine and lost strokes on both the 14th, where he drove into the right rough and then hit into the right greenside bunker, and the 15th, where he putted poorly, leaving a 20-footer six or seven feet short, and missing from there. After a par 3 at the 16th, Nicklaus topped his second shot on the 17th, a fairway wood. He had to play a 4-iron for his third shot, hit the ball beautifully, and saved his par. He had a chance for a birdie on the 18th when he reached the green with his second shot, but once again he three-putted.

TOM WATSON, meanwhile, was making progress. Watson had come into the Open as one of the favorites, but he had a dull 71 in the opening round and lost much of his following. A 68 in the second round moved him closer to the lead, and then on Saturday he shot 67, and when the day ended he was two strokes behind the leaders, at 206, a stroke behind Hinkle, at 205, and tied with Hayes and Fergus.

In this same round, Hubert Green, the 1977 Open champion, although well out of contention, shot 65, a round that included eight consecutive 3s, from the ninth hole through the 16th. He also had two more 3s earlier in the round, 10 for the day.

IN THE END, the Open settled into a duel between Nicklaus and Aoki, although several others were on the fringe of the action. Hayes dropped out early and finished with 74 for the day, but Fergus hung on and could have been a more serious threat if some putts had fallen. Watson was in trouble from the beginning, pushing his tee shot on the first hole into the trees and losing a stroke to par right away, and while Hinkle once came within a stroke of Nicklaus and actually into second place, passing Aoki, he soon fell back and finished the round with 71.

Nicklaus and Aoki played what amounted to match-play golf in the last round. Nicklaus went ahead by a stroke when Aoki bogeyed the second, and went two strokes ahead with a birdie from five feet on the third. Both men lost strokes on the fourth, the lovely par 3 with the pond in front, and after they played the fifth beautifully, Nicklaus lost control of his driver. He drove into the left rough on the sixth and the right rough on the seventh and eighth. He missed the sixth green but salvaged a par, missed the seventh green and dropped a stroke, but from the rough on the eighth he lofted a high pitch onto the green and two-putted from 30 feet. Aoki birdied there to cut his deficit to one stroke, but he bogeyed the ninth while Nicklaus made his par, and never again was he closer than two strokes behind.

FOR ONE THING, Nicklaus wouldn’t allow it. The tee shot on the eighth was his last error, the result of a technical flaw he corrected right then. After that his golf was of another world. He hit every fairway in just the right spot, and he hit every green. Not only was his direction flawless, but what was more, he gauged the distance of his shots perfectly. When the hole was on the back of the green, he hit the back of the green; when the hole was on the front, he hit the front. On the 10th, for example, the hole was well to the back; Nicklaus hit a driver to a level area right of center-fairway and then played a 7-iron hole-high three feet to the right. On the 11th, a hole that doglegs left, his tee shot found the perfect spot, beyond the bend of the dogleg and safely away from the bunkers on both right and left.

One flawless shot followed another. On the 15th, he hit the only shot that looked as if it was well off line, perhaps 25 or 30 feet left of the hole, but there is hardly any doubt that he aimed left of the hole and missed his target by no more than 10 or 15 feet, for the hole was cut to the rear right, and no one leading the Open by two strokes would have gone for the hole there.

Still, he could not shake Aoki, and when they stood on the 17th tee they remained just two strokes apart. Here Nicklaus hit a thunderous tee shot that arched high, as his shots usually do, and drifted very slightly right, coming to rest no less than 275 yards from the tee. An iron followed, over the cross bunkers and short of the rise before the green, with its scraggly rough and nests of bunkers. From there he pitched 20 feet from the hole, but there was Aoki no more than five feet away, and Nicklaus knew with certainty that Aoki would not miss that putt. Nicklaus also knew that, to avoid a playoff, if not an outright loss of the Open, he would have to birdie either the 17th or the 18th.

HIS FACE WAS DRAWN as he stood over his putt, showing the strain he had been under these last four days, but he stroked the ball perfectly, and when it tumbled into the hole, the enormous crowd that had followed him around Baltusrol roared wildly, and Nicklaus grinned a grin we have not seen before. It was the grin of fulfillment and of immense satisfaction. The Open was his, barring a miracle eagle-3 by Aoki on the 18th.

Aoki very nearly made that eagle. His third shot, a short little pitch, just missed the hole and stopped about three feet away. Nicklaus played a 3-wood from the tee, a 3-iron short of the green and pitched 10 feet from the hole. He said later that he was not trying to hole that putt, only roll it close, but it fell into the hole for another birdie. The crowd had broken through the restraining ropes and encircled the green, and now it began to charge toward him. Nicklaus held up his hand, palm toward the gallery, much as a traffic policeman halts onrushing cars, and the crowd stopped long enough for Aoki, predictably, to hole his putt.

As Aoki’s putt dropped, New Jersey State Troopers grouped themselves around Nicklaus and led him through the cheering throng, into a corridor separating sections of the grandstand to the big Tudor-style clubhouse. Fans, grinning almost as happily as Nicklaus, reached toward him hoping for a brief handclasp or simply to touch him.

Off to the side, attendants on the big scoreboard spelled out a message: Jack is Back

Time compressed itself: it hardly seemed that he had been away.

To begin with, no one questions that Nicklaus is the best golfer of his time. (USGA Museum)


As Aoki's putt dropped, New Jersey State Troopers grouped themselves around Nicklaus and led him through the cheering throng, into a corridor separating sections of the grandstand to the big Tudor-style clubhouse. (USGA Museum)


Harry Vardon (left) and Bob Jones. (USGA Museum)