Today golfing legend Jack Nicklaus is celebrating his 81st birthday. As he once said, “The older you get the stronger the wind gets — and it’s always in your face.”
Nicklaus, nicknamed “The Golden Bear,” is retired from the game. However, this is only after winning 73 PGA tournaments and a record-breaking 18 major championships.
Nicklaus is considered to be one of the best and is sitting above Tiger Woods in his total of championships won.
Now that he’s retired, he instead has one of the largest golf course design companies. Nicklaus is responsible for Harbour Town Golf Links as well as many others.
With a record-breaking and iconic career, what were some of his standout moments?
U.S. Amateur Win
In 1959, Nicklaus got his first of two U.S. Amateur wins.
He defeated defending champion Charlie Coe on The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He had an elegant eight-foot birdie putt on the final hole that would bring him his first win in this category. At 19, this was a defining moment for the future of Nicklaus’ career.
For years, this championship match was actually considered to be a major. However, that has since changed. Before he was credited with 20 major titles to include his U.S. Amateur wins. This means that for Nicklaus at the time, this win felt like his first major win.
1962 U.S. Open
Jack Nicklaus defeated another golfing icon, Arnold Palmer, in a legendary 18-hole playoff. The match was at Oakmont Country Club. This was Nicklaus’ first U.S. Open title. He also won in 1967, 1972, and 1980.
Some consider this matchup to showcase one of the great rivalries of golf — Nicklaus vs. Palmer. At the end of it all Nicklaus said, “Now that the big guy is out of the cage, everybody better run for cover.” Before getting this win, he was the runner-up to become the most recent amateur to win the U.S. Open.
Nicklaus reflected on his relationship with Palmer in an interview with Kingdom.
“Arnold was always incredibly kind to me, and he sort of took me under his wing early on and gave me a lot of great advice. One bit of advice, which I still use today, is every time I play a golf tournament, I drop the sponsors and the organizers a simple thank you note. Years later, I see these people and they say, ‘Jack, you were the only player who wrote me a note!’ That is sad to me. So many people do a lot of work to put tournaments on and to have a player be appreciative of that is very important. To me, that was a good lesson from Arnie,” Nicklaus said.
One of his greatest accomplishments was when he first won The Masters in 1963. However, for Nicklaus, his memory of the ’65 Masters is even more special to him.
Nicklaus shot a third-round 64 and finished 17-under 271. He beat out Arnold Palmer and Gary Player by nine strokes. This is one of his best rounds in golf during his whole career.
For a rookie on the court and the underdog in some tournaments, Nicklaus hadn’t gotten a lot of public support at this point in his career. However, after his performance, fans shouted in encouragement.
In his autobiography, “My Story,” Nicklaus explains how it “was a moving experience, and, I now realize, one of the great turning points in my career.”
1978 PGA Championship
Nicklaus had entered the Canterbury Golf Club in Cleveland with 13 major championship wins under his belt. He then left with number 14.
One of his idols in the game is Bob Jones. During this matchup, he was able to pass up Jones to win his very coveted championship win.
Also, at the end of the third round, his son Gary ran onto the putting green. His father held the boy in his arms and carried his 4-year-old off. Photographers captured the moment and it remains one of Jack Nicklaus’ favorites.
He has been married to his wife Barbara Bash since 1940. They had Jack in 1960, then four other kids followed along the way. While he had an outstanding career, he was also quite the family man.
At this time, Jack was 46. Many considered him to be out of the game due to his age. However, he proved critics wrong at the time when he was able to win his 18th professional major during his last PGA Tour.
His mother Helen was in the crowd for the first time since 1959. He ended up with a score of 65. His rivals, Seve Ballesteros, Tom Kite, and Greg Norman were unable to beat his score. He considers this one of the most fulfilling wins of his career.
Jack Nicklaus’ Life After Golf
After he retired, Nicklaus still had plenty of memorable moments in his career.
In 2005, he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush. The next year he was able to walk onto the field at an Ohio State game to dot the “I” in Script Ohio, the school’s famous marching band.
He was one of five to get this honor. It was a privilege, as Nicklaus had met his wife and started his career with that school. In 2015, he received the Congressional Gold Medal. This was to honor his community service and charitable work. Nicklaus had been the behind the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation with his wife. It was geared toward helping children through their medical needs in South Florida. It has raised over $100 million.
Then, in 2018, he earned the Lincoln Medal. He is the first athlete to ever receive this honor. The medal is to honor the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln.
When he went to receive it he said, “Everything that has happened good for me in the game of golf has been because of my family. They give my life meaning and purpose. I will never be able to repay what the game of golf has given me.”