Ohio’s Golf Legend
By Todd Jones
No sports figure from Ohio has achieved as much worldwide acclaim as Jack Nicklaus. And the desire and dedication necessary to achieve such fame were evident in the man known as the Golden Bear when he was merely a cub.
In 1950, Charlie Nicklaus paid for golf lessons for his 10-year-old son to try the sport at Scioto Country Club, across from their home in Upper Arlington. His golf teacher, Jack Grout, soon spotted young Jack alone on the range, practicing shots in the rain. He was hooked; one day alone, the kid played 63 holes.
Jack Nicklaus at 13 years old. Credit: Jack Nicklaus Museum
Prodigious talent was there from the start. Nicklaus shot 51 on the first nine holes he kept score, and carded a 69 at age 13. However, it was competitiveness, determination and mental toughness that honed his enormous skill and helped Nicklaus forge a career that remains the best in golf history. (Sorry, Tiger.)
A Career Unlike Any Other
Nicklaus won a record 18 major tournaments–six Masters, five PGA Championships, four U.S. Opens and three British Opens – while compiling 73 PGA Tour wins and 11 victories in other worldwide events. He also had 10 Senior PGA Tour wins.
Pause and ponder Nicklaus in his prime: In a span of 33 majors beginning with a win at the 1970 British Open, he had eight victories, 20 finishes in the top three, and four fourth-place finishes. Six times in his career he won two majors in a year. From 1962 through ’79, Nicklaus finished in the top 10 of two-thirds of all tournaments he played.
No wonder Nicklaus, who turned 79 on Jan. 21, already has a museum in his honor on Ohio State’s campus and countless other honors. He was named the “Golfer of the Century” by Golf Magazine in 1988, two years after he won his final Masters at age 46 with an unforgettable charge in which he played the final 10 holes at seven under par.
Jack Nicklaus receiving his green jacket at the 1986 Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia. This was his sixth Masters win. Credit: Jack Nicklaus Museum
Yet Nicklaus, married to his college sweetheart Barbara for 59 years, is also as well-known for his stellar comportment on and off the course. His sportsmanship was legendary while finishing second in 19 majors. He’s been a grand philanthropist, especially to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. And Nicklaus has helped grow the sport through designing equipment and 300 courses in 41 countries around the world.
Jack Nicklaus golfs at the 1970 Columbus Pro-Am Golf Spectacular, a charity event for Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
One of his courses is Muirfield Village Golf Club, which opened in 1974 in Dublin, Ohio, and has been the site for the Memorial Tournament – a crown jewel on the PGA Tour – every year since ’76. Muirfield has also hosted the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and Solheim Cup.
Strong Ohio Roots
Through it all, Nicklaus has been a proud Buckeye.
From 1952 to ’56, Nicklaus won five Ohio junior championships. At age 16, he won the Ohio Open at the Country Club of Marietta. A year later came his first national title, the 1957 U.S. National Jaycees Championship, played at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course. He also qualified and played in the U.S. Open that year at Inverness in Toledo.
Nicklaus played golf with Arnold Palmer–the king he’d eventually take a crown from–for the first time at Athens Country Club in Athens, Ohio on Sept. 28, 1958. Three years later, Nicklaus became the first golfer to win an individual NCAA championship and the U.S. Amateur, his second such title.
On Nov. 8, 1961, Nicklaus left Ohio State University early and became a professional golfer. Someone asked him then about his ambition. He replied: “To be the greatest golfer the world has ever seen.”
45 years later, on another November day, the Ohio State University Marching Band honored Nicklaus by having him dot the “i” during its Script Ohio formation at halftime of a football game, a rare honor. More than 100,000 Buckeye fans in Ohio Stadium roared their approval for the hometown Bear. He is, after all, Golden.
Nicklaus is led onto the field to dot the “i” at an Ohio State University football game. Credit: Getty Images
Todd Jones was a sportswriter for The Columbus Dispatch for 20 years and for the Cincinnati Post for 10 years. Todd covered Nicklaus’ last appearance in the British Open at St. Andrews in 2005. He walked all 18 holes of Nicklaus’ final round with him and Tom Watson.