The Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide: Jack Nicklaus, tournament founder and host

By Ryan Watson

Jack Nicklaus is a legendary golfer and founder and host of the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide. His career spans several decades and he remains one of golf’s most decorated players. As fans and professionals alike get ready to take in all the action of the 2018 Memorial taking place May 31-June 3, GolfLink is taking a look at the amazing life and career the Golden Bear.

Amateur Career

Jack Nicklaus was born January 21, 1940 in Columbus, Ohio. He began golfing at age 10 when his father joined the Scioto Country Club. Club pro Jack Gout, a former PGA Tour professional, became Nicklaus’ lifelong coach. Gout recognized early the talent Nicklaus possessed and helped him hone his game into an impressive youth career. Nicklaus would win the first of his 5 consecutive Ohio State Junior Titles at 12, win a combined high school Championship for Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana at 14, and qualify for the U.S. Amateur at 15. A 17 year old Nicklaus also played his first U.S. Open in 1957. Nicklaus would go on to play college golf for Ohio State University, leading the Buckeyes to the 1961 NCAA Championship. As an amateur he would also win two U.S. Amateurs and compete in a handful of PGA Tour events. His most impressive amateur finishes came while playing in the majors, including a remarkable 2nd place finish at the 1960 U.S. Open and a tied for 7th finish at the 1961 Masters. Nicklaus wanted to remain amateur at least until he won his first major, and even entertained the idea of remaining an amateur and working in insurance. However, after his marriage in to Barbara Bash and the birth of their first child in 1961, Nicklaus made the decision to leave college and turn professional.

Professional Career

Nicklaus' first season as a professional was spent on the 1962 PGA Tour. He would also acquire his nickname “the Golden Bear” as a rookie when sports agent Mark McCormack coined the name in an interview. His first professional win would come in remarkable style as Nicklaus beat Arnold Palmer in a playoff for the 1962 U.S. Open, beginning Nicklaus’ almost singular goal to accumulate major championship wins. He would win a further two events and finish third on the money list, earning him the very deserved Rookie of the Year award. 1963 would be even better for Nicklaus as he took home two more major championships: the 1963 Masters and PGA Championship. This meant Nicklaus was only one major away from a career grand slam in just his second year of professional play. This excellence would continue, as a golden age of golf would be dominated by the tandem of Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer for years to come. Nicklaus won the Masters again in 1965 and 1966, becoming the tournament's first back-to-back champion. 1966 also saw Nicklaus complete his career grand slam by winning the British Open at Muirfield, becoming one of only four players at the time to have achieved this feat (Tiger Woods has since joined this group in 2000). Nicklaus, in just his fifth year on the PGA Tour, had conquered all of golf’s greatest challenges.

Many wondered how long Nicklaus could keep up this blistering pace as he continued winning tournaments. A brief decline beginning in 1968 and lasting until 1970 had many claiming his best days were gone. Instead, a resurgent Nicklaus would win the 1971 PGA to become the first golfer to complete two career grand slams. 1972 would see Nicklaus win a further two majors, putting his career total at 11. Nicklaus would complete his third career grand slam with a win at the 1978 British Open. Only Tiger Woods has matched this feat and the two players alone can claim multiple career grand slams. Nicklaus would continue to compete on the PGA Tour, winning more tournaments and majors until his final major championship in 1986. That year, Nicklaus became the oldest player at 46 to win the Masters in what would be Nicklaus’ last PGA Tour win. Nicklaus would later transition to the Senior Tour, where he would win further championships and senior majors. He played the 2005 British Open, his last major tournament, at the age of 65 at St. Andrews. During the tournament, Nicklaus received a 10 minute standing ovation before finishing his last hole of the tournament, a fitting end to the master golfer. Nicklaus’ career has been unmatched and he is considered by many to be the greatest golfer to have played the game.

Nicklaus’ Stats and Records

  • Official Tour Victories: 73
  • Total Professional Victories: 118
  • Second Place or Ties: 58 (19 in major championships)
  • Top Money Winner: 8
  • Most Career Grand Slams: 3 (later tied by Tiger Woods in 2000)
  • Most Career Major Titles: 18
  • Most Masters Wins: 6
  • Most U.S. Open Wins: 4 (tied with Ben Hogan)
  • Most PGA Championship Wins: 5
  • British Open Wins: 3
  • U.S. Amateur Wins: 2
  • Senior Major wins: 8
  • Ryder Cup Wins: 6 (5 as a player, 1 as a non-playing captain)
  • Inaugural World Golf Hall of Fame Member

Golf Course Design

In addition to his playing career, Nicklaus has become one of the world’s leading course designers. Nicklaus learned from the best, beginning his work with Pete Dye in the mid-1960s while still playing. His first co-design with Dye was the Harbour Town Golf Links, host of the RBC Heritage. He would also work with Desmond Muirhead, together designing Muirfield Village Golf Club, home of the Memorial. By 1976, Nicklaus completed his first solo work when he designed the Glen Abbey Golf Course on Oakville, Canada. He went on to found Nicklaus Design with his sons and together they have built over 415 courses in 45 countries. Nicklaus designed courses such as May River Golf Club, the Ocean course at Cabo del Sol and the Sebonack Golf Club routinely feature on top-100 lists for both American and international golf lists.

The Memorial presented by Nationwide

Jack Nicklaus dreamed of bringing a high-profile PGA Tour event to central Ohio, the region where Nicklaus was born and learned his love of the game. After designing and opening the Muirfield Village Golf Club with Desmond Muirhead in 1974, Nicklaus had the venue for just such a tournament. In 1976, Nicklaus fulfilled his goal by hosting the first Memorial Tournament, an invitational tournament that sought premier competition while honoring the best of golf’s past. This is apparent in the traditions of the tournament, including awarding one past golfer and journalist each year and through the annual Legends Luncheon featuring past greats. The tournament also looks to aid central Ohio charities, notably through supporting the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Jack Nicklaus remains the host of this tournament that has raised over $27 million since its inception.

About the Author

Ryan Watson is a freelance sportswriter and history professor. He has been an avid fan of golf since his father signed him up for golf camp as a young child. Ryan enjoys following the professional game and learning about new equipment and gadgets.