A Golden Anniversary for the Golden Bear
In 1963 at blistering-hot Dallas Athletic Club, Jack Nicklaus won the first of his five PGA Championship titles. Now, as the season's final major heads back to Oak Hill Country Club this week for a third time, the Golden Bear reflects on the 50th anniversary of winning his record-tying victory fifth Wanamaker Trophy.
By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com
A Golden Anniversary will take place for the Golden Bear when the 95th PGA Championship tees off Thursday at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.
When Jack Nicklaus won the 1963 PGA Championship at Dallas Athletic Club 50 years ago, it was the third of the Golden Bear's record 18 major titles. And -- for the purposes of this Golden Anniversary -- it was the first of five PGA Championship victories for arguably the greatest golfer in history.
With the victory, Nicklaus at age 23 joined fellow legends Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, and Ben Hogan as the only winners of all three American majors -- the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship. Nicklaus would go on to complete the first of his three career grand slams three years later at Muirfield in the 1966 Open Championship.
Coincidentally, Oak Hill was also the host venue for the 1980 PGA Championship, where Nicklaus won the last of those five PGA Championships to tie Walter Hagen, a Rochester native, for most all time.
For several years in the 1960s, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship were played in the month of July in consecutive weeks. Imagine that -- not only back-to-back major championships, but also both contested on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Travel then for top players certainly wasn't what it is today.
"In those days you didn't have the jets to get back," Nicklaus said. "So we got right back and went right straight to Dallas so I went from a 55-degree temperature to a 110-degree temperature. Big change ... a lot of the guys had a hard time with it. I didn't seem to have a hard time with it except that I knew that I absolutely soaked my clothes everyday and I remember when I picked up the trophy I couldn't pick it up. I had to take a towel. I mean you could've cooked your breakfast on the trophy sitting out there it was so hot."
That 1963 Open Championship was contested at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Nicklaus finished third, one shot out of the 36-hole playoff won by New Zealand's Bob Charles.
Though it was five decades ago, Nicklaus remembers quite well what it was like to come so close in England before the start of the PGA.
"We had just finished and I felt like gave away the British Open the week before," he said. "At the British Open I bogeyed the last two holes to lose my shot. That was a great learning experience for me ... it was just like stupidity. You know, I didn't have to do that. I just bogeyed them. I just played them dumb."
The learning experience from that bitter end at Royal Lytham & St. Annes would serve Nicklaus well at Dallas Athletic Club.
"I think that the experience I had at the British Open helped me a lot in the PGA Championship because I knew how dumb I had been," Nicklaus said. "And so I played far more intelligently coming down the stretch and I remember the 17th hole I hit it in the rough off the tee. It was a hole that went down a hill, across water, to an elevated green and I hit it in the rough.
"And instead of being stupid, I did just pitch it out. I took my medicine. I think Dave Ragan was on my tail at the time, and then I hit it up there on the green and I can't remember whether I made the putt or not but I won the tournament. Whereas, had I been there the week before, I probably would've tried to hit it out of the rough over the water, probably put it in the water and I would've lost the PGA Championship.
"But you learn from your mistakes -- that's how you learn to play golf," Nicklaus added. "You learn from your successes but you also learn from your failures. And I put the two together."
The win at Dallas Athletic Club was, of course, special. But along with the victory, Nicklaus picked up a memento that he's carried with him throughout his career from a long-drive competition he won at the PGA Championship that same week.
"I have a money clip that's in my pocket right now and it's been in my pocket for 50 years," Nicklaus explained. "It says, 'Driving Distance Winner' -- that's what it says across the PGA Championship [money clip]. That drive was 341 yards, 17 inches. I do remember that, too. That was an 11-degree wood driver, 42¾-inch shaft, Dynamic S shaft, and nobody had a preference on what golf ball was hit."
Seventeen years later in the 1980 PGA Championship at Oak Hill, Nicklaus put on a dominating performance. He was the only player to break par at the PGA Championship that year, finishing at 6-under-par 274 to win by seven shots over Andy Bean. That was a record margin of victory and it stood for just over 30 years until Rory McIlroy's eight-shot romp a year ago at Kiawah Island.
For some perspective on just how difficult a course Oak Hill is, consider this: In the previous two PGA Championships held there in 1980 and 2003, only four players finished with a 72-hole total score under par.
"I remember that was the year that I came to Oak Hill having won the U.S. Open at Baltusrol and I remember following that, I had a letdown and I had a hard time getting myself back up from a ball striking standpoint," said Nicklaus, who also finished second at Oak Hill to Lee Trevino in the 1968 U.S. Open, where they were the only two players with an under-par total.
"I was up there playing the weekend before with my son, Jack. We were playing, and I was hitting the ball fair, but I was just putting awful. And Jackie gave me a putting lesson on taking the heel of my putter through the line and breaking it off; I was breaking off my stroke. And anyway, that week, I never did hit the ball very well, but I absolutely ran the tables with my putter. Everything I drew back went in the hole. It was one of those weeks that I just turned around and I make a mistake, and all of a sudden I hole a 30 footer and I just started chuckling and I'd think, 'OK, here we go, let's keep on going.' But it was fun. I love Oak Hill."