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Celebrating Jack Nicklaus’ PGA Championship win 50 years ago

On February 28, Jack Nicklaus returned to the scene of his ninth of 18 main titles, 50 years to the day that he hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy for the second time. Nicklaus recounted to members at BallenIsles Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, which then was often known as PGA National’s East Course (till 1987) when it hosted the 1971 PGA Championship, that he was paired within the opening two rounds with Hall of Famer Gene Sarazen.

The Squire, who gained the primary of his three PGA titles in 1922, was enjoying in his fiftieth PGA whereas celebrating turning 69 years outdated and searching as dapper as ever in his trademark knickers and a straw Panama hat.

“Now they say if you’ve played a long time you’ve played with Jack Nicklaus,” the Golden Bear stated.

But 50 years ago, Nicklaus was 31 years of age and in full flight. He led the match wire-to-wire en path to capturing 7-under 281, two strokes higher than Billy Casper, and in doing so turned the primary participant in historical past to finish the trendy profession Grand Slam twice.

“The world’s largest bookshelf may be needed one of these days to store all the records that belong to Nicklaus,” Dan Jenkins wrote in Sports Illustrated.

No more true phrases about Nicklaus could have ever been written as he was simply making the activate the best way to filling up his bookshelf with a document 18 majors, together with 5 victories on the PGA. Nicklaus’s ardour and need to win the Wanamaker Trophy took form greater than twenty years earlier when the 1950 PGA Championship was held at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, the place the Nicklaus household had a membership.

With the assistance of his instructor, Scioto’s head skilled Jack Grout, a 10-year-old Nicklaus gained entry to the locker room to satisfy most of the stars of the sport, together with buying autographs from Hall of Famer Sam Snead, eventual champion, Chandler Harper, who had been assigned to father Charlie Nicklaus’s locker, and most memorably Lloyd Mangrum.

“I can still see that slim, dark figure sitting at a table with a fan of cards in one hand and a glass of hooch in the other and a cigarette dangling from his lips, and recall how intimidated I was when he turned to me and gave me that famous tough look of his and snarled, ‘Whaddya want, kid?’ ” Nicklaus wrote in My Story, his 1997 autobiography. “But he signed my autograph book, and I remember being extremely proud of my courage in standing up to such a fearsome character.”

Nicklaus typically has credited that have with shaping his need to be an expert golfer when he grew up. Having already gained the PGA in 1963, Nicklaus loved a veritable dwelling recreation in 1971, one in all thrice in his profession the place he slept in his personal mattress in North Palm Beach. Holding the 53rd PGA in Florida required reorganizing the golf calendar in order that the championship might be held within the balmy situations of February slightly than its conventional slot through the canine days of August to keep away from the Sunshine State’s oppressive warmth. It’s the one time the PGA was performed in February, incomes the moniker of “Glory’s First Shot,” and marked the primary time the PGA was carried out as back-to-back majors.

“I thought it was the best time and the best thing for the PGA because it gave them the opportunity to start the year off in the majors,” Nicklaus instructed Golf Digest in 2011.

Nicklaus had only a five-mile commute to the course from Long Tree Village and his houseguests included Gary Player and Tony Jacklin. On the Sunday earlier than the match started, Nicklaus had shot a dreadful 80 and struggled on the greens, leaving a number of putts quick. Deane Beman, who had given Nicklaus a putter nicknamed “White Fang” forward of the Golden Bear’s victory on the 1967 U.S. Open, stopped by for dinner and a recreation of bridge. The Bemans dominated at bridge — “They murdered us,” Nicklaus recalled — however Nicklaus gained some worthwhile intel. Beman, thought to be the most effective putters on the time, had a hunch what was plaguing his placing: he wasn’t ending his backstroke.

Jack Nicklaus smiles and holds up his membership after successful the PGA Championship, 7 beneath par, at Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Feb. 28, 1971.

That evening, about 11 p.m., Nicklaus took a putter and a few balls out to a patch of Astroturf close to his yard pool and practiced. Beman’s tip was spot on.

“I concentrated on doing that with every putt the rest of the week,” he stated. “I putted very well that week because of that lesson.”

Did he ever. Nicklaus took simply 23 putts on the sluggish Bermuda greens within the first spherical and he one-putted eight of the final 10 holes. He opened with a pair of 69s, together with birdies on 4 of the final 9 holes Friday, to take a two-shot lead over Miller Barber on the midway level. In all, 81 gamers made the lower at 5-over par.

Nicklaus’s most noteworthy achievement to the halfway level of the match could have been impressing Sarazen, the primary participant to finish the profession Grand Slam, who joined the plenty in awe of Nicklaus’s huge abilities.

“I saw a real champion,” Sarazen stated. (*50*)

South Africa’s Gary Player, one in all Nicklaus’s closest pals and a housemate that week, shot a 68 Saturday to maneuver into second place getting into the ultimate spherical, 4 photographs again of Nicklaus, who reeled off 4 birdies in a row, starting with a 40-footer at No. 11, in posting a third-round 70 in gusty situations.

“Jack saw the competition and he met it,” Player stated of the birdie run by Nicklaus simply as he and others had been on the verge of overtaking him.

Player additionally joked that since he was the one participant inside shouting distance that Barbara Nicklaus may attempt to poison his meals. Player wasn’t taking any possibilities at breakfast, claiming he watched Barbara put together the meal “like a hawk.”

“I told her Jack would have to be the official food taster before I’d eat,” Player stated. “When he sipped his milk, I switched glasses. When he took some grapefruit, I switched them.”

“He’d tell me to look out the window and then he’d switch plates,” Nicklaus recounted 50 years later. This working gag took on a lifetime of its personal within the locker room forward of the ultimate spherical.

“Barbara’s getting a complex,” Nicklaus relayed. “She gives him a cheese omelette, he pours catsup all over it. She cooks him a steak, he pours catsup all over it. A couple of fried eggs, catsup all over it.”


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“So would you if you had a catsup contract,” Player cracked. “I didn’t know you had a catsup contract,” Nicklaus stated. “I will when these fellows get through writing about it,” Player stated. The evening earlier than the ultimate spherical, Nicklaus and Player had stayed up late watching Mannix, a detective present they each appreciated on tv. On Sunday, Player posed an actual risk to play the spoiler, slicing the deficit to at least one stroke till catastrophe struck at 15. “I hit my drive to the right, only about 4 yards off the fairway. But the ball hit on the cart path and bounced way out-of-bounds,” Player stated of the shot that sealed his destiny. Or was it one thing else? “He was convinced Barbara’s prune cake eventually got him at the end of that week,” Nicklaus stated.

The blond bomber had been cruising alongside for 3 days, however main wire-to-wire is not any straightforward discount even for a participant of Nicklaus’s caliber and he made three bogeys in his first 5 holes to provide his rivals a ray of hope.

“I had a hard time settling down,” Nicklaus conceded. “When you play late in the days and lead, you get a bit tight and tired. That’s the way I felt out there.”

He acquired one stroke again with a birdie on the sixth, bogeyed the eleventh however bounced again with a birdie one gap later. Despite a shaky passage, Nicklaus recovered and maintained the pole place for the stretch run.

“I felt like it was my tournament all along after Thursday,” Nicklaus recalled. “I wanted to avoid only one thing. I didn’t want to have to make a 4 at 18 on Sunday to win it. That’s a hard hole.”

Casper, who began the day seven strokes again, made a late cost with birdies on the ultimate two holes, together with a 25-footer on the final, to shoot 68 and signed for a 72-hole complete of 5-under 283. Ageless surprise Tommy Bolt, 52, completed in third one other stroke again and one higher than Barber and Player, who tied for fourth.

PGA champion Jack Nicklaus smiles on the trophy he earned after successful the match at Palm Beach Gardens, Fl., Feb 28, 1971. (AP Photo)

“I hadn’t thought of Casper all day,” Nicklaus stated. “Now I’m on the 17th with a one-shot lead. If I don’t birdie the 17th, I’m in exactly the situation I don’t want to be in. I’ll have to make 4 on 18 to win.” Nicklaus eliminated any doubt on the 588-yard par-5 seventeenth. Despite being one of many few gamers able to reaching the inexperienced in two, Nicklaus elected to put up wanting the bunkers guarding the inexperienced. He wedged to 5 toes and stood over his birdie attempt in his trademark cocoon of focus for 21 seconds earlier than holing the putt that gave him a two-stroke cushion going to the 72nd gap of the match. “I’ve never seen a man stand over a putt so long and putt as well,” Sarazen stated that week. “People who do this generally finally come apart.” Not Nicklaus. He remained pink scorching, tallying 29 one-putt greens for the week and deeming it “the best putting in a tournament in my life.”

“When you point for something so long, you want it to end up sweet,” stated Nicklaus, who closed in 1-over 73. “The birdie putt on 17, I felt, was it. I said to myself, ‘Work hard on this one and you’ve got it.’ ”

Nicklaus notched his thirty first Tour title, his first trophy in his adopted dwelling state of Florida and capped off the double profession slam – no less than two victories in every of the 4 skilled main championships, a feat matched by solely Tiger Woods.

When Nicklaus arrived dwelling with the Wanamaker Trophy, there was a double celebration. It was spouse Barbara’s thirty first birthday. She had traipsed after her hubby with their oldest son, Jackie, 9. The earlier day, she had taken 7-year-old Steve. Asked by the Palm Beach Post why she hadn’t taken each boys on the similar time, she replied, “Never. There’d be the biggest knock-down, drag-out fight you ever saw.” The struggle was on for Nicklaus, who conceded afterwards that eclipsing Bobby Jones’s main complete of 13 was on his radar.

“I’ll be honest about it,” Nicklaus stated. “I want to win more than Jones. That’s what you play for, to separate yourself from the crowd.”

He would go on to try this after which some, etching his title on the Wanamaker Trophy once more in 1973, 1975 and 1980. Fifty years after being topped champion at BallenIsles Golf Club, Nicklaus could also be smaller in stature however he stays an enormous within the recreation and his document within the majors nonetheless is the gold commonplace.

“The greatest champion in the history of the game won here,” PGA CEO Seth Waugh instructed attendees on the ceremony commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Nicklaus’s achievement. “You can’t ever take that away.”

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