His fraternitymates Call him Blob-o, his neighborhood friends call him Whaleman and his wifehas even called him Fat Boy, but no matter what you care to call him the U.S.has never had an amateur golf champion with quite the combination ofcompetitive intensity and easygoing charm of big Jack Nicklaus.
See him, as onthis week's cover, his lips pursed tight in concentration and his massiveforearms whipping a clubhead through a shot, and you can understand how he won29 of 30 matches against the world's best amateurs in 1959 and almost won the1960 National Open against the best professionals. Watch him play golf and youcan well believe that he will succeed in his eventual goal: winning the U.S.and British Amateur and Open titles—becoming, in short, a second BobbyJones.
Then see him on aFriday afternoon in the Heidelberg, a rathskeller near the Ohio StateUniversity campus, downing a Blatz beer with impressive gulps, clowning withhis Phi Gamma Delta fraternity mates, and suddenly he is just another20-year-old college junior from Columbus, Ohio who is more excited by thepresent than he is concerned with the future.
Jack Nicklaus(pronounced Nicklus) is a study in such contrasts. He displays a maturity inregard to his sport that many golfers never attain. "Golf," he says,and he means it, "is, above all, a game." Yet he also can be boyishlycandid and exuberant. He was introduced to Vice-President Nixon recently at alarge formal dinner. "Hey, Dad, come here," he shouted across the roomto his father. "I want you to meet Dick Nixon."
He is so avidabout golf that he played 18 holes on his wedding day, and he is so determinedabout it that he can say, "Hogan is the greatest hitter of the ball thatever played the game. But I should hit the ball as well as Hogan someday. Maybebetter." And yet he can take the game so casually that he says, "I'drather fish than play golf any day."
He can exhibitthe gigantic lassitude of an elephant lolling in the sun. More than once he hasalmost slept past his tee-off time in tournaments. Yet he can be as tense as astalking tiger. "I can't stand to lose any game, ever," he hassaid.
His friends sayhe is a practical realist. Yet Nicklaus is superstitious. He will play onlywith Titleist No. 5 golf balls. To get all the No. 5s he needs he has to orderthem direct from the factory.
Fury on ahoneymoon
He is said to benerveless. Leading the National Open on the 67th hole, he missed an 18-inchputt because of a ball mark on the green, yet seemed unruffled. But Barbara,his bride of a month, recalls his fury at missing a highway turnoff in Erie,Pa. on their honeymoon, and the wild 80-mph ride which followed. Here, perhaps,was one of the rare overt indications of the fires that burn in thisplacid-appearing golden bear of a fellow, a hint at one of the facets of thepersonality that makes him a supreme competitor.
But, generally,it is not the hidden personality of Jack Nicklaus that excites the imaginationso much as the way he hits a golf ball.
Above all,Nicklaus is strong. He is 5 feet 11 inches, and weighs anything from arelatively svelte 195 to a round 210. It usually is the latter, since he likesto quench his thirst between nines with three bottles of chocolate milk andisn't above having a side dish of French fries with a spaghetti dinner. He isall muscle. His thighs look as big as his waist, his arms as big as his thighsand his neck as big as them both. The very sight of him is enough to setfootball coaches drooling, though he has refused to play that game since juniorhigh school because the season conflicts with golf.
When Nicklaushits a drive he fairly explodes on the ball. He averages nearly 300 yards withtowering shots that soar high and far like Babe Ruth home runs, then fallgently to the fairway. Few professionals outdrive him.
His long woodshots give him a special advantage in match play, putting pressure directly onopponents by forcing them to hit their approach shots to the green first, andfrom farther out than Nicklaus.
He has the goodsense not to over-swing, however. And against the very best amateurs he changeshis strategy, playing his woods shorter and safer. "Let's face it," hesays, "You can outdrive a fellow like Charlie Coe forever and it won'tbother him." Nicklaus beat Coe last year in the finals of the NationalAmateur.
Compared to hiswoods, Nicklaus hits his irons deceptively lightly. His swing is almost gentle,with his tremendous arm strength making up for the lack of initial clubheadspeed. He keeps the club well under control, hitting the ball firmly, whiledigging out distinctive shovel-sized divots.
Unlike manylong-hitting young golfers, Nicklaus plays a fine game around the green. Hischip shots are sound, and when he grasps his specially designed lightweightScottish putter and drops into his distinctive knock-kneed stance, he lookslike the firm, consistent putter he is. The only variation in his puttingstroke is a tendency to crouch lower and lower over a crucial putt.
Like ArnoldPalmer, whom he resembles in many respects, Nicklaus is a bold, confidentplayer, willing to take risks but smart enough to take them only when he hasto.
He learned muchabout golf strategy while playing in 13 professional tournaments during thepast two years. "You find out how the professionals score," he says,"not just how they hit the ball. For instance, I found that when I missed ashot I often missed it into trouble. But when the pros miss one they canusually recover without wasting a shot. I'm doing that now. My golf is muchbetter than it was last year."
This judgment,upsetting as it must be to the 200 amateurs gathering at the St. Louis CountryClub next week for the National Amateur, is confirmed by Coe. "His game hasimproved over last summer," he says, "and it was awfully goodthen." This spring Bobby Jones said Nicklaus was showing "the finestpotential of any young player in years."
The NationalAmateur is a tough tournament. The winner must take eight straight matches, sixof them 18-hole affairs, where an unknown can have a sudden hot round and beatanybody. But Nicklaus is playing very well right now, easily winning theColonial amateur just last week, and has an excellent chance of duplicating his1959 National Amateur victory. If for no other reason, there is hisdetermination.
"Some peoplesay it's O.K. to lose if your opponent has a hot round," says Nicklaus."Phooey on that. I hate to lose—period. If a guy is going to shoot a 10under par I am going to shoot an 11 under par.
"People askme if I got a thrill out of finishing second in the Open this year [his 282 wasthe lowest score ever shot by an amateur in the National Open]. It wasn't athrill. I didn't win. Nobody ever remembers who finished second atanything."
Equally asinteresting as Nicklaus' ability to play winning golf is his resolve to remainan amateur in an era that tends to heap its greatest plaudits onprofessionals.
He was askedabout this the other day across a tuna salad sandwich in the grill of theScioto Country Club in Columbus, his home course. Basically shy, he didn't wantto talk about it much, just as he never cares to talk about himself. Butbecause he is friendly and, above all, a gentleman, he explained.
"Any golferwould like to be a Bobby Jones," he said, "and have enough money toplay as an amateur but still be good enough to beat the pros. For me, golf hasto be a game, not a business. It is a sport, a competition to be enjoyed. If Ican find a way to make enough money and still play topflight golf, I willalways be an amateur."
Nickiaus, who iswell acquainted with the hard life of the pros, is also well aware of what itcosts to play in the big tournaments as an amateur. His father, L. CharlesNicklaus, a pharmacist and part owner of four Columbus drugstores, has financedhim to date. Last year's expenses were $5,000. "Dad feels that a dollarspent on my golf was a dollar well spent," says Jack. "I agree. Thegame has helped me be a better person. But pretty soon I've got to start payingmy own way. I think I can."
Jack's remarkablegolf career began 10 years ago, largely because his father fractured anankle.
Built on evenmore heroic proportions than his son, the elder Nicklaus, whose only nicknameis a prosaic Charlie, was an 11-letter athlete in high school and a tennischampion after college. But it was at volleyball that he broke his ankle, andto golf that he turned to strengthen it.
Since he couldplay only three holes at a time, he took Jack along as company. Jack liked thegame, and his father enrolled him in a group class being given by Scioto proJack Grout. Mr. Nicklaus has paid his son's golf bills since then, though he isnot a particularly wealthy man. He has also encouraged his son, but not pushedhim, and has shared in the pleasures of his victories without attempting toshare the publicity as well.
"Hit the ballas hard as you can," was Jack Grout's unusual advice to his group ofbeginners back in 1950. "We'll hit it straight later."
"Right fromthe start," he recalls, "Jack could hit the daylights out of a golfball, and pretty straight, too."
Nicklaus firstbroke 70 when he was 13, qualified for his first National Amateur at 15 (hehasn't missed one since), won the Ohio Open at 16 and the National Jaycee titleat 17.
One of his worstbut most memorable rounds was in a celebrity tournament in 1954 in which heplayed with Patty Berg. Obviously sick, he insisted on finishing. The next dayhe came down with nonparalytic polio. His younger sister Marilyn, then 11, theonly other Nicklaus child, was afflicted, too.
In his earlyyears Nicklaus practiced golf constantly. He might just as well have become afootball or baseball player if he could have found other boys who wouldpractice those sports as much as he wanted to. "They just wouldn't work atthe games," he says. "In golf I was on my own. I could practice andplay all I wanted, and that meant all day every day."
But by the timehe got to college he found he could get his game at its competitive peak withonly four days of practice, and he stopped being a golfing machine. He got goodgrades (B average) in the prepharmacy course of study he took, reveled infootball weekends—he hasn't missed an OSU home game since he was 5—and begandating Barbara Bash, the tall, attractive blonde he married last July 23.
At college hebecame a good, albeit overbold, bridge player. He took on such fraternityduties as being chairman of Hell Week, and last year found a new love,fishing.
"I nevercatch a thing," he says. "I don't understand it. I'm as good afisherman as most people, but I don't catch fish."
His travel togolf tournaments, including last year's trip to England with the U.S. WalkerCup team, has lengthened his stay at college. He still needs six quarters tograduate and hasn't yet decided whether to pursue his pharmacy education or addmore business courses to his curriculum and not become a pharmacist afterall.
A scene withfidgety Deane
But his travelhas been educational, and not without its amusing moments, too. He tells ofsharing a hotel room with his friend, fidgety little Deane Beman, the 1959British Amateur champion. "Deane is always tinkering around with hisgame," says Jack. "Early one morning I hear this funny tap, tap, tap bymy bed. It's Beman taking little swings with a golf club and muttering, 'I'vegot it, I've got it.' "
One of Jack'sbest friends and his favorite playing partner among the young amateurs is WardWettlaufer. This pair has won 25 matches, formal and informal, without everbeing beaten. This spring, before the Masters, they took on Coe and Billy JoePatton in a classic struggle at Augusta.
At the end of thefirst nine Jack and Ward had shot a fantastic 30, but were only even withPatton and Coe. They were two holes behind after the 15th, then birdied thelast three holes to win. Nicklaus had a 66 that day, a better round than anyprofessional had in the Masters.
A lot of fun andsome superb golf behind him, Jack Nicklaus stood the other day in front of hisnew $22,000 Cape Cod house in the Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington andconsidered the challenge—to remain an amateur—he had set for himself.
"The downpayment on the house was a wedding present from my parents," he said."From here on out Barbara and I are pretty well on our own. First, we bothhave to finish school."
Crab grass in hisfuture
"I've got ajob selling insurance. I like the work, and I am considering making a career ofit. I went to this insurance company; they didn't come to me. When the bosshired me he said, 'I don't want any barnacles in this company.' That suits mefine. I'm working on straight commission, and being on my own hours will let mefinish school and play golf too.
"The way Ifigure it I'll eventually have to make $25,000 a year to be able to afford toplay golf in the major tournaments. That's a lot, but I think it will workout."
Nicklaus suddenlyfrowned. He scuffed his foot angrily at a bit of crab grass growing onto hissidewalk.
"I trimmedthis perfectly two weeks ago," he said. "Now look at it." Anotherirritation came to mind. "Two of the car windows won't roll up," hesaid, looking toward his Buick convertible. "Wish it had happened twomonths ago. Dad would have paid for it."
But then hesmiled, golf's golden bear again. "I really want to win the big ones as anamateur," he said. "The Open, the PGA and, most of all, theMasters."
There may be asubconscious reason for Nicklaus' wanting to win the Masters.
Bobby Jones gavethe tournament to golf. It is Jones himself who each year presents the winnerwith the Masters' green coat that no amateur has ever won but which all golferscovet.
One of theseyears there just could be a Masters champion named Blob-o. He's a big boy, Mr.Jones. Tell the tailor to have plenty of green cloth ready.