Jack Nicklaus never wanted to be a ceremonial golfer, hence why he stopped playing in the Open Championship in 2000. That came at St Andrews, home to two of his three Claret Jugs in 1970 and ‘78, and after 38 starts in the game’s oldest major that appeared to be that.
But then a chance conversation with the R&A’s Peter Dawson took place, one thing led to another and the Open was moved to accommodate the 18-time major winner.
“We were at the Champions dinner in 2000 – and I fully expected 2000 to be my last time to come here – and I was talking with Peter Dawson” Nicklaus explains.
“I said, ‘When is the Open coming to St Andrews again?’ He said, ‘We haven’t announced it yet but we’re thinking about 2006.’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s too bad, I’ll be past the age to be able to play.’
“He said, ‘That’s right. If it happened to be 2005, would you come back?’ I said, ‘Peter, you don’t want to do that.’
“Next thing, I read in the newspaper it was scheduled for 2005. I thought that was an awfully nice compliment.”
This would be Nicklaus’ 164th and final major – the stats reading 45 Masters, 44 US Opens, 38 Opens and 37 PGA Championships. The run began with the 1957 US Open and he would play in every single one between 1962 Masters and 1998 US Open.
Nicklaus’s Open career began in ignominious fashion with an opening round of 80 at Troon in 1962, the year Arnold Palmer claimed his second Claret Jug as the young Nicklaus, then just 22 and dubbed Ohio Fats in his home country where Palmer was the people’s champion, tried to come to terms with the then alien concept of links golf.
Move the clock forward and Nicklaus’ Open career read the three wins (the other came at Muirfield), seven runners-up spots and 18 top 10s in total.
“If a golfer is to be remembered he must win the Open at St Andrews,” Bobby Jones once said – and Nicklaus knew it.
“That is a quote I always remembered in my career and because of that I knew it would be important to win at St Andrews.”
As it transpired he finished with a level-par 72 which was helped by his best drive of the week and a closing birdie, his final shot in a major a curling 15-footer on a green where so few putts are made. Playing alongside him was Tom Watson.
“There were three times in the game that I’ve had where the people were just unbelievable. I’d say four now. It was ’78 here, ’72 at Muirfield and ’80 at Baltusrol, where the people just absolutely went bonkers over what went on. I was caught up in what was going on with it.
“And today was equally as nice and it’s fantastic. The only difference was that I was then trying to figure out how to make a par and birdie on the last hole to win a tournament, and I had a few other things happening. Today I wasn’t too worried about having to make birdie on the last hole. Of course I didn’t birdie any of those but I did today.”
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The Open for the Ages
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