Jack Nicklaus turned 73 Monday, marking one year for each of his PGA Tour victories.
The standard-bearer for the game of golf worldwide – a pedestal that appears sturdier and sturdier with each passing year – it comes as no surprise Nicklaus has a distinguished history with Pinehurst.
And it is an interesting history, to say the least. His win at the 1975 World Open – a playoff victory over Billy Casper that counts as No. 59 on the Nicklaus PGA Tour ledger – is probably the least surprising of all. Nicklaus won at least one PGA Tour event in 17 consecutive years. Of course he won in Pinehurst.
Not that 1975 was a season to overlook in the Nicklaus canon. It proved to be one of his best, and Pinehurst capped it. He won five times and was named the PGA Player of the Year for the fourth time. Two of those victories were in major championships, including The Masters (his fifth) and the PGA Championship (his fourth), which came a mere 31 days before the start of the ’75 World Open.
But Nicklaus had won in Pinehurst long before he toured Pinehurst No. 2 in 4-under 280 in September 1975. Just a few weeks before he made his signature splash on the golf scene with a victory in the 1959 U.S. Amateur, Nicklaus captured the 1959 North and South Amateur at Pinehurst, clipping Gene Andrews 1-up.
Nicklaus was 19. Stocky. With a crew cut.
Years later, he reflected on the victory.
“Back then the fairways were firm and the greens were firm,” Nicklaus recounts, as told by author Lee Pace in his book, The Spirit of Pinehurst. “There was virtually no rough. The ball ran through the fairways into the trees. … There weren’t really many good scores back then. I didn’t feel I played all that badly, but I wasn’t near par when I won.” (Newspaper accounts note Nicklaus shot 79-76 in the 36-hole final match.)
While Nicklaus was featured with Arnold Palmer in the Shell Wonderful World of Golf exhibition at Pinehurst in 1994 and played in the U.S. Senior Open the same year (he tied for 7th), he also competed in the 1999 U.S. Open, missing the cut with rounds of 78 and 75.
But his career highlight at Pinehurst may have come without him playing a single shot.
Nicklaus’ son Jackie chose to play collegiately at the University of North Carolina in part because of his fondness of No. 2. OK, perhaps it was more than just a part of the reason: “No. 2 was the reason I went to Carolina,” Jack II told Pace.
That fondness was evident in 1985 when Jackie created a fervor around The North and South Amateur, one of amateur golf’s most prestigious tournaments, with his standout play.
Nicklaus, as Pace tells it, originally planned to make a quick trip to Pinehurst on his way to Dublin, Ohio, and The Memorial Tournament. But Jackie kept winning and Nicklaus, always the dedicated family man, wasn’t going to miss the action. While galleries swelled to more than 2,000 people, only one of them mattered, at least to Peter Parsons, who lost 4 & 3 to Jackie in the semifinals.
“It wasn’t the gallery that bothered me, it was one person in the gallery,” Pace quotes Parsons.
After Jackie dispatched Tom McKnight 2 & 1 to win the championship and earn his place near his father on Pinehurst’s Perpetual Wall and in the famed North and South Locker Room, the two bonded over the Putter Boy trophy, becoming the first – and only so far – father and son pairing to win the North and South Amateur, the longest consecutively running championship in America.
“It’s not easy being a father to a famous golfer,” Jack said to Jack II, Pace reported.
Nine months later, with Jackie on the bag and wearing a yellow shirt similar to the one he wore to see his son win in Pinehurst, Nicklaus won his sixth Masters.
Editor’s Note: Find Lee Pace’s new book The Golden Age of Pinehurst.