Still Glittering After All These Years

For 20 glorious years, from his first U.S. Amateur win in 1959 to his third British Open victory in July, Jack Nicklaus has dominated the world of golf
For 20 glorious years, from his first U.S. Amateur win in 1959 to his third British Open victory in July, Jack Nicklaus has dominated the world of golf
December 25, 1978

Surely the closest place to Heaven in all of sport is a golf course. The prevailing feeling is one of good will. For the most part, the fans at tournaments are themselves active golfers, and they suffer for the competitors, shouting encouragement to them and calling out travel advisories to the balls they strike. Players and spectators troop the same ground, interacting physically from green to tee, spiritually from tee to green. On the best of afternoons, those soft, bright, blue days when God's own weather lives up to the luxuriant landscape that He and man have wrought, the game even verges on the ethereal. A golfer has to be a different breed of cat.

This is where we come to Jack Nicklaus, the greatest golfer of all time. Of course he has played better than the rest for almost 20 years. Of course he has won more often. Of course he has dominated the game. This is all well documented. What is of greater significance is the mystic oneness that he has had with the game of golf itself during that long span and with the courses on which it is played. Nicklaus would probably reject the word "mystic." But it may have been part of what Bobby Jones understood about Nicklaus many years ago, when he said, in tribute, "Jack Nicklaus plays a game with which I am not familiar."

How many other champions have become so identified with their sport, with every aspect of it, with the very essence of it, that it is impossible to think of one without the other? Babe Ruth, for sure; Bobby Jones himself; Muhammad Ali. But they are few, very few; in his remarkable career, Nicklaus has achieved that preeminence as much as anyone.

It has long been fashionable to say that Nicklaus wins by overpowering the course. But that misses the point. Jack Nicklaus overpower a golf course? Why, you might as well say that Mozart overpowered music or that Rembrandt overpowered a canvas. The ultimate art is to make an accomplice of whatever you are dealing with—melodies, forms, fairways. Over the years, scores of golfers have whipped golf courses—overpowered them. Nicklaus has won with golf courses, by driving, putting, attacking, thinking—by playing whatever sort of golf was required of him at that particular moment. The uniqueness of Nicklaus, his definition, is that rarely has he ever fought a golf course, so utterly is he in consonance with his sport, with its substance and spirit.

He has never been what is called a "personality." Palmer is a personality, and Player, too, and Trevino, and a few others. But not Nicklaus; he has never been perceived as anything but a golfer. He has never been the showman. Younger or older, fatter or thinner, despised or admired, his enormous presence has always been the product of the shots he has pulled out of his bag. Yet that is not quite all. In a sport in which longevity is a measure of the performer—as much as speed or strength defines athletes in other sports—Nicklaus has for nearly two decades stood up for the values he considers inherent in the game. He has turned down $1 million to play a Vegas-style TV "challenge match" because he feared it would demean the game of golf. His conduct has been so impeccable it is almost boring. It must be, you see, because, as he explains, "Golf is as clean a sport as there is." Just so: clean. His attitude in defeat is always as correct and elegant as that which he displays in triumph.

Nicklaus has even come to build golf courses himself, spreading his own ashes while he lives: vanity, yes, but tempered with love and a sense of where he fits in. "My golf game can only go on so long," he says, "but what I've learned can be put into a piece of ground to last beyond me. I'll always be part of golf because I'll have the courses. Building a golf course is my total expression."

The course lasts. Nicklaus knows that. The Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, but St. Andrews isn't going anywhere. There is something at once proper and touching that after two seasons without a major championship, Nicklaus, age 38, won the British Open last summer at St. Andrews, age 500; the preeminent man and the preeminent course coming together. It seems apt, then, that this year Jack Nicklaus is SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S Sportsman of the Year. He has had better years; nearly all of his years have been so very good. Indeed, they have been 20 years of surpassing excellence. And that is why we are naming him now.

In the last twelvemonth, a lot has happened in sports, and most of it predictable. The Red Sox collapsed. The Yankees beat the Dodgers in the World Series. We had another Triple Crown champion. What Borg did not win, Connors did; on the distaff side it was mostly Evert. And moving further down Dèjà Vu Lane: the Canadiens won; the Cowboys, too; Kentucky in college basketball, Notre Dame in college football. But for the fact that pro basketball went on and on and on until hardly anybody was watching, we could say for certain that the Celtics won that. One of the Unsers came in first again at Indy. Ali regained his title once more. Bill Rodgers won another Boston Marathon. SWIMMING MARKS FALL. Billy Martin got fired again. And so forth and so on.

However, if you missed any of this, Jack Nicklaus can bring you up to date. One of the reasons Nicklaus has himself in such perfect golf perspective is that he's got most of the rest of the world of sports down pat. He can do such things as quote, verbatim, football tips from Bear Bryant. When not practicing on the golf course, he devotes himself to every conceivable athletic activity: tennis, skiing, basketball, hunting, bicycling, fishing (he reeled in a 1,358-pound black marlin off Australia last month as a prelude to winning the Australian Open), weight lifting, touch football. You've heard of the girl next door. Jack Nicklaus is the jock next door. His everyday attire is tennis clothes. His closest friend in North Palm Beach, Fla., where he lives, is a high school athletic director and coach; he plans his golf tournaments around the football and basketball schedules of Benjamin High, where his two oldest boys are football and basketball stars. Mom is the scorekeeper for the basketball team, partly because that way she doesn't have to sit next to Dad, who has been known to get excited. Wow, is Dad some kind of bore on the subject of Benjamin High's athletic fortunes. He goes to all the practices; he even knows all the damn plays. Says Barbara Nicklaus, "We have to get to the games 45 minutes early so Jack can get taped."

Nicklaus (cradling a pigskin, to son Steve): You ought to run more play-action stuff.

Steve: We don't have any of those.

Nicklaus (sharply): Whaddya mean? You got 36 and 37.

Steve: Oh, yeah.

Jack Nicklaus, the champion, is forever the son of the father, Charlie Nicklaus, who was the same sort of athletic mentor for him when he was growing up in Columbus in the '50s. Sports would have been Nicklaus' way of life even if he had not become the best in history at this one particular athletic endeavor. Indeed, Jack's estate on the northern shore of Lake Worth, Fla. is a contained sporting paradise, with the air not so much of having been built as wished for, in the manner of a child addressing Santa Claus: "...and I'd like a swimming pool, and two grass tennis courts, and a weight room, and a trampoline, and a basketball court, and a football field, and three boats, and a...."

The house is large but not ostentatious. The climate is controlled. The rooms are attractive, and so perfectly stylized that they appear to be sets for a situation-comedy family, an athletic Brady Bunch. Some rooms possess an almost Pompeian stillness, while others, around the TV and the kitchen, have just the proper amount of lived-in disarray. The TV set appears to be on permanently, so that Lucy Ricardo or Hogan's Heroes are a part of the decor in the same way as, say, the furnishings in the breakfast nook. There are, all told, five children, the middle one a girl. Plus friends dropping by, and a golden retriever. The school drawings of the youngest child are taped on the refrigerator door, just as they would be in the house of an insurance salesman in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio.

The home is ruled over by the former Barbara Bash, who entertains her friends in the kitchen. The Nicklauses met, if you can stand this, their first week at Ohio State. They were instant sweethearts, wedded after their junior year, and, despite the long odds against the survival of a teen-age marriage parlayed by a traveling husband, they remain hopelessly happily married.

People help Nicklaus run his businesses. People advise him. All right. But what is crucial to understanding Nicklaus and his success is that the former Barbara Bash is his only partner. More than that, she is really the only lasting contemporary in his life. His best Columbus friends, his early business associates, were all older. He never formed a close friendship on tour. He was devoted to his father as a friend, and he still goes back to his one and only golf coach, Jack Grout, who first instructed him at the age of 10.

But Nicklaus, the champion, at this moment in his life that he describes as "somewhere in the prime of my career," is a growing, fuller man. More and more he has assumed control of his business affairs. He has certified his ascension from the Buckeye middle class by learning about wines. He has developed a sense of humor that can be sharp and biting. He is short with those who fawn over him. And for all his balance, he can be something of a know-it-all. "Jack's one problem is that he is an instant expert on everything," says one friend who, with some delight, can't resist citing an afternoon a year or so ago, when, in quick succession, Nicklaus displayed total ignorance of 1) Art Buchwald, 2) Karl Wallenda of The Great Wallendas and 3) Cheryl Tiegs. Granted, a knowledge of this disparate trio does not automatically admit the bearer to the League of Renaissance Men, but the episode does suggest that Nicklaus may not be quite as omniscient about pop culture as he is on wire-service gridiron polls. He can take a joke about himself, though, and sometimes he will take a drink. Oddly, while he never smokes on the course or at home anymore, he will go on a chain-smoking binge at a business meeting or on a fishing trip—and then stop as quickly as he started.

There is, then, a curious blend of the unsophisticated and the mature in Nicklaus; he accounts for it in some measure by invoking his experience in golf. "A kid grows up a lot faster on the golf course; golf teaches you how to behave," he says earnestly. "You start playing with older people, so that a kid who plays golf is different from a lot of these athletes in other sports because he hasn't had his own way. He hasn't been spoiled. He's had to get along with older people, and if he won't play by their rules, he can't play at all. Jiminy Christmas, I've gone through it all, and I still have to keep my place."

But if Nicklaus grouses occasionally at all that is expected of him, he obviously finds comfort in the stability and tradition of his sport. A Teutonic sense of order pervades the man. In another time and place, Nicklaus would have been a farmer, attached to his two anchors, the good land he worked and loved, and the good woman with the large family back at the hearth. Now for him the Masters and the U.S. Open, followed by the British Open and the PGA, are like the march of the seasons of the field; and the home is a place to hie back to, to renew strength and purpose.

The fact that Nicklaus, so in harmony with his sport, is also so devoted to his home, in fact needs time at home in order to win on the road—that is surely not just a coincidence. Golf remains the most unchanging of our games. The old values and the old biases endure. Tournaments are distinguished by their male officials, attired in crisp blazers and provided with the energized scepters of power, in these days walkie-talkies and carts. Female volunteers are garbed in less formal clothes, are often obliged to wear beauty-pageant-type streamers diagonally across their fronts and are assigned the unrewarding ambulatory and clerical tasks. The wives in golf, more than in any other sport, are recognized by players, press and fans as wives, as worthy support troops.

The most instructive revelation about the Nicklauses and their own strong relationship, and its positive impact upon Jack's career, comes from this exchange, when the name of another golfer was brought up. He is Nicklaus' contemporary and once was presumed to be his likely challenger—or Nicklaus his. But the fellow faded quickly into obscurity.

"Well," says Barbara, "he wasn't married when he was on the tour."

"That's right," says Jack, "he just couldn't get organized." So much for that. As they say, golf is as clean a sport as there is.

Barbara has been ideal in the role of golf wife: ever winsome, ever well groomed, never forgetting a face or a blazer or the name that goes with it. On their honeymoon, he played golf; at one stop, the club was all-male and the bride had to stay in the car. When he was fat, she never brought it up. She heard the boos and the invective aimed at her man when large portions of all the world hated him for slaying the legend of Arnold Palmer, but she never brought it up, waiting for him to. And when he never brought it up, she never brought it up, either.

This is why, although Jack Nicklaus begins his 40th year next month, he and a great many people who know him well have no doubts but that he can keep on winning tournaments into his middle age. The legs go first, don't they? That's what they say. Jack Nicklaus still has all the underpinnings.

Charlie Nicklaus—a druggist, a stout, balding man—joined the Scioto Country Club outside Columbus in order to get exercise to help rehabilitate a broken ankle. He was new to this sort of privilege; his father had been a boilermaker on the Pennsylvania Railroad. It is an article of faith that poor American boys will apply themselves diligently to escape poverty. But for a child, deprivation can be a very relative thing. By the standards of the country club, the druggist's son appeared disadvantaged. So, in one sense, young Jack Nicklaus had the best of both worlds—reasonably comfortable circumstances yet a natural motivation to compete. Jack Grout remembers that of his 50 or so young charges, only the Nicklaus boy would show up to practice in the rain.

He was 10 then. Nicklaus has led a symmetrical sort of life; he was born at the beginning (January 21) of a neat zero-digit year, 1940, and has proceeded thereafter in decennial cycles: he learned golf in 1950, age 10; he married in 1960 and first came to prominence that year, finishing second to Palmer in the U.S. Open, though still an amateur; in 1970, his first year of being svelte, his father died, and the shock helped dislodge him from the only slump of his career; certainly there must be some special surprise in store for us in 1980.

Charlie Nicklaus introduced his only son to all sports, and Jackie became proficient at many, notably basketball; he only bothered with golf from March to September. The boy was precocious, reaching his full height, 5'11", by age 13. He still wonders whether he might have been inclined to concentrate on basketball or football "if I hadn't been a year ahead of myself in school, if I could have had one more year and become a big high school star."

But inherent in the game of golf were qualities that drew the boy to it. Foremost was the simple fact that he could play it by himself, for hours, whole days at a time. "The thing that sets golf apart from other sports is that it takes self-confidence, an ability to rely totally on yourself," he says. Obviously, this faith came to him at an early age. "When I'm through, what I'll really miss is kicking myself to get it done," he says. "I can live without the week of playing the Masters. But the really satisfying time is the three weeks leading up to the Masters when I'm preparing for it."

Golf was right for another reason, too, for, despite his being such a natural athlete, Nicklaus is physically limited in one curious way. "I don't react very well," he says. "In tennis, my best shot is the serve, but I respond terribly when I have to hit a ball back. In basketball, I was a really good shot"—not long ago he sank 80 straight free throws on his home court—"but I was poor at passing and at defense." Even today he delights in the most independent—and stationary—aspect of football: he will go out for an hour or more by himself and place-kick—and he can put the ball through the uprights at up to 40 yards. Given all this, there is simply no question but that golf—the game that most requires concentration, introspection, self-assurance, peace—was Nicklaus' destiny.

Also, he could hit the son of a bitch a country mile.

He scored 51 on the first nine holes he ever played; he qualified for the U.S. Open at 17 and birdied the first hole; he won the U.S. Amateur at 19; and at 22, in 1962, he turned pro. There stood Arnold Palmer, and neither man was ever to be the same.

Palmer was not just a beloved hero. That would have been enough. No, Palmer was the very fountainhead of golf. The game had often been maligned as a pastime for rich old men (the more captious critics refused to acknowledge that it was even a sport), but Palmer, the handsome charger, had given the game glamour, expanded its horizons. He made people proud to be golfers. And so, to beat Palmer was not just to upset the handsome hero: to beat Palmer was to hurt golf. And onto this stage walked a butterball of an athlete. Nicklaus ballooned as high as 225; he would wear a silly little hat and an $8.95 pair of olive green pants: when, God forbid, he opened his mouth, he spoke in a squeaky cartoon voice.

The business about Palmer is very old hat, of course, but it can never be written off. It is still the only rough edge to Nicklaus' life; more than that, it came near to soiling a very clean game. Arnie's fans booed Nicklaus' good shots; they held up signs in the rough that said HIT IT HERE, JACK; and once someone even hurled a beer bottle at him. It must have hurt so much, but to this day he swears he never noticed, never heard a boo. Can you believe that?

Well, he stands at the 11th tee at the Firestone Country Club in Akron last September. He is playing with Hale Irwin. It is a sharp, clear day, and the wind is blowing in gusts. There is a little sign at the tee, hanging from chains on a pole about eight feet high. It states what hole this is and how many yards long. As Nicklaus starts to address the ball, the sign starts to creak on its chains. His caddie looks up menacingly at the sign. Irwin looks up at the sign. Irwin's caddie and the scorekeeper look up at the sign. Everybody in the gallery looks up at the sign. By now you can just about hear the necks creaking, making almost as much noise as the sign. Nicklaus never takes his eye off the ball, gripping his club tighter and tighter as he simultaneously brings the clubhead closer and closer to the ball resting there upon the tee. And then back away, as if he is winding himself up. At the top of his swing...the sign catches an even stronger gust and in the blue-green silence swings now at a regular screech. People grimace, embarrassed that a sign here in Akron is doing this to the great Jack Nicklaus. The clubhead comes down and around in a perfect arc, and the ball flies away, high and handsome.

You know, he never heard that sign.

"What sets Jack apart above all," says Deane Beman, the PGA commissioner and a former golfing contemporary, "is concentration. He has complete control over his emotions, in his game and in his life."

Of course he heard the boos from the fanatics. Of course they hurt. But he never heard when he swung—and what the hell, that was only about 70 times a day.

Maybe the worst of all was at Oakmont, near Palmer's home in Pennsylvania, where the 1962 Open was played. It was not a tournament but a four-day ordination—only the fat kid. who had just turned pro, fouled up everybody's week by tying Palmer over 72 holes. And then he beat him in the playoff. 71-74.

The legend died, right there. It hung around, like Marley's ghost, for many more years, but it was all over that day. Palmer won the British Open later that year, and he won the '64 Masters. He was only 34 then, and he played at the top right through the '60s, but he never won another big one against the fat boy. People talk about the many great years of Nicklaus and Palmer dueling; in fact, that whole era of them both winning championships lasted less than two years.

But make no mistake. If Nicklaus, the golfer, put Palmer away on the course, there is no doubt that the trauma of destroying the legend, of having to overcome the idol of his sport, still inhabits Nicklaus. He will stop and almost obsessively qualify even the most innocent passing reference to Palmer lest it possibly be construed as criticism of his ancient rival. He is at pains to point out their personal differences.

Nicklaus, the golfer, simply cannot comprehend why Palmer hangs on, scuffling each week to make the cut. When Nicklaus can't win at golf, he'll be gone the next day. But Palmer breathes it all in: the cheers, the camaraderie, drinking with the boys, dealing gin rummy, then flying his real-life toy airplane on to the next week's go-round. "Arnold's different from me," Nicklaus says again. "I don't want to tell Arnold what to do," Nicklaus says again. "I won't miss the locker room," Nicklaus says again.

And no matter how badly Nicklaus beat Palmer, he didn't win affection. Esteem, respect, admiration—yes. But affection? It is reminiscent of Willy Loman and his sons talking about their successful cousin Bernard.

Willy: Bernard is not well liked, is he?

Biff: He's liked, but he's not well liked.

It is impossible not to believe that the animus kept Nicklaus fat. He was not fat growing up. His father was a heavy man and Nicklaus was an insatiable eater, and the genes and the appetite finally caught up with him at college, but a man with his discipline, with his incredible powers of concentration could have slimmed down whenever he set his mind to it. In fact, when he finally did decide to lose weight, he called in a tailor from New York, ordering him to measure for clothes still pounds away. "Can you imagine anyone having such confidence in himself?" asks Barbara Nicklaus.

But Nicklaus stayed fat all during the '60s. He knew his appearance fostered more hostility. "If I had looked more like an athlete it wouldn't have been nearly so bad for me," he says. He knew. It was as if he were punishing golf for preferring Palmer's glamour to his skills. Only after Palmer's game had declined, after the hysteria was laid to rest, only then did Nicklaus, the jilted lover, feel secure enough to want to be pretty for himself and his game. Today, down to 180 and less, he is even marginally narcissistic. "There is nothing worse than a reformed slob," his wife says.

Nicklaus' better appearance not only increased his popularity, it also forced his critics to appreciate the full range of his golfing talents. Before, there had been a tendency to write him off as a bully. He not only hit the ball so long, but also so high that it soared over the most time-tested of nature's obstacles. Nicklaus forced the redesign of entire championship courses. Only when he matured and lost 20 yards from his drives did the full, fair recognition begin to come to him. For example, Gene Littler points out, "Jack's the best putter we've had over the past 15 years. He rarely misses from six or eight feet in." Suddenly, now that his drives weren't a furlong past everyone else's, people could notice his exquisite work with irons, his command of strategy, his control of a challenge. And if his short game wasn't as good as the rest of it—although as he points out, he never got a chance to work on his short game because he was always, tediously, on the green—it was suddenly impossible to ignore his complete superiority.

"I never thought anyone would ever put Hogan in the shadows, but he did," says Gene Sarazen. "Nicklaus has the remarkable combination of power and finesse, and he is one of the smartest guys ever to walk the fairways. And he has been an extraordinary leader. What more is there to say? Jack Nicklaus is the greatest competitor of them all."

The same front-runners who booed him a few years ago are now falling all over themselves to adore him. No sooner does Nicklaus strike a drive—and before even he himself can tell whether it is short, long, in the rough or behind a tree—most of the gallery is oohing and aahing and saying "Wow!" "Great shot," "Way to go, Jack!" And then somebody like Hale Irwin belts one 20 yards longer, to the right place, and silence rolls around the hills.

The fans even defer to Nicklaus' regular caddie, Angelo Argea, fawning over him, seeking his autograph. When two caddies at Akron had to get through a crowd, a blazerperson said, "Hey, let Angelo and the caddie through." The galleries part when Nicklaus moves to the tee, and if he is polite and smiles at someone in his path, the person is most likely to turn away, abashed before his greatness. When he speaks, people just listen to what he says, never noticing the same high-pitched voice they used to mock and laugh at. This is the way it is when at last you are liked.

Since Palmer faded, there has been a succession of challengers to Nicklaus—Player, Trevino, Weiskopf, Miller, Crenshaw, now Watson, with Nicklaus patiently anticipating that Severiano Ballesteros will be trotted out soon. Each has credentials, each has been hot for a time, but looking back across the '70s, one can see that they were mostly dramatic inventions of a press that had to create rivals in order to sustain interest.

The champion always enjoyed the competition—"This is fun," he observed to Weiskopf and Miller in the cauldron of his '75 Masters victory—but in essence, he was only, as ever, competing against himself. "The toughest thing about success is that you've got to keep on being a success," Irving Berlin once noted, but it is typical of Nicklaus that he sees it the other way round. "Winning breeds more winning," he says. "You learn how to win by winning. As long as I'm prepared, I always expect to win."

The slump, so called, of 1976 and '77 would surely not even have attracted attention except that Nicklaus had reached the same age when the legendary Palmer couldn't win the majors anymore. Ergo, neither could Nicklaus. In fact, in 1977 he was tied for the lead in three of the big four with only two holes to play. But early in 1978 he brought the winter tour to its knees, finishing second, first, second, first in four straight tournaments. And in July, at St. Andrews, he won his 17th major championship, which is four more than anyone else has ever won. Even though Nicklaus feels his record will be broken one day, very few agree.

It is Nicklaus' own judgment that he played the 1978 British Open, tee to green, as well as he played any major championship in all his life. His rival at the end was one Simon Owen, a New Zealander of no previous consequence. This detracted somewhat from the drama, but having had two straight previous second places in the British Open and three times been a runner-up in a major tournament since winning the 1975 PGA, it could hardly be said that Nicklaus reached the 16th tee, a stroke back, immune to thoughts of failure. Owen had just chipped in from 25 yards out and was enjoying an unconscious, Fleckful kind of afternoon.

An athlete looks funny putting. Nobody ever said that any golfer looked good putting. Hushed and hunched, it is all a man can do not to appear silly. Nicklaus looks no better at it than anyone else. But even all this he understands. It is a verity in the game that the putting touch is the first casualty of middle age. "There is no logical reason for that," he says. "But putting is the least manly thing in golf, and therefore, when a player gets older and he does not win as much, he blames it on his putting. He does not want to admit that his power may be leaving him."

Ah, but then the drive. Here is the golfer, here is Nicklaus, rampant. At the 16th at St. Andrews, the Corner of the Dyke, par-4, 382 yards, he took out his three-wood and teed up the ball. Simon Owen, one stroke ahead, watched him. People are usually let down when they first encounter Nicklaus, for he is not nearly as large as they had imagined. But he is genuinely awesome upon the tee. Often as not he will clench and unclench his gloved hand, giving it the threatening appearance of a claw. He never speaks, perhaps with the unconscious knowledge that to reveal his choirboy voice at this stage would spoil the act. Instead, he stands silently behind the ball, his piercing blue eyes scrutinizing it as surely as if it were a bold adversary. Then, Nicklaus raises his head and looks out carefully over the fairway, in every way the captain scanning the sea. The courses he builds are criticized for being too tough, too unyielding, too much in his own image, but they are also marked by one other thing: each hole must either go downhill or give that appearance, so that a man can properly survey his domain.

St. Andrews is distinct from any other course in the world, of course, an unbecoming instrument of the winds that sweep off the North Sea. "Just to see it, it's ugly," Nicklaus says. "The buildings are all ugly—even the old clubhouse—all so gray and stark. There are no trees. But put it all together, it is one of the most gorgeous sites in the world. You see, it is pretty because of what I feel for it."

St. Andrews had restored Nicklaus once before, in 1970, the first major he won after his father died. Now, on the 16th at St. Andrews in 1978, he put the three-wood exactly where he wanted to, 260 yards out, to the left of the Principal's Nose bunkers, and then he strode the fairway. The second shot, 120 yards, a nine-iron, fell barely six feet from the pin. Intimidated, Owen flew his iron over the green, and he bogeyed. Nicklaus drummed home his six-footer, dead on. He makes the six-footers; manhood comes in many-sized packages. And thus in one hole: one down to one up.

"If you look at the PGA figures, you'll see that the guy with the best average is usually less than a stroke under the guy back in 30th place," Nicklaus says. "So you're talking about a fifth of a stroke a day between winning and 30th, and, Jiminy Christmas, you can't tell me there's that much difference in our swings. The difference is something else. I was fortunate in a lot of ways. I was fortunate to have a good father, who helped me get into this. I was fortunate to have a pretty good head. A lot of it's her"—a nod to Barbara—"a gal who's been understanding. There's all that. I know I've won with something besides the shots, but I don't know for sure what that something is."

He parred the 17th, the famous Road Hole, and Owen, obviously pressing now, took another bogey, so that Nicklaus, the old has-been, came to the last hole safe, two up on the field at St. Andrews. A three-wood off the tee and then a seven-iron left him sure upon the green, only 35 feet away; he was a lock now. He gave his caddie the iron, and then, under the lowering sky of a midsummer Scottish day, with 30,000 fans of golf cheering for him, he marched up the fairway. The roars of St. Andrews fell upon him well before he reached the green and, in response, the tears filled up his eyes and began to roll down his face. He had triumphed again, and he smiled as he drew closer. And more: he could look through the mist of his crying and see once again how clean it was all around.

ILLUSTRATIONCover key: Nicklaus' major souvenirs from two decades of campaigning include trophies from 1) the British Open, 2) the U.S. Open, 3) the Masters, 4) the U.S. Amateur and 5) the PGA.
Nicklaus exults at Baltusrol in 1967 after winning his second U.S. Open. His score of 275 broke a record held by Hogan for 19 years.
PHOTO[See caption above.]
A glum Nicklaus finished tied for 23rd in the 1964 Open at Congressional.
PHOTO[See caption above.]
In 1965 Jack won the second of five Masters, with a record 271.
PHOTO[See caption above.]
He won a playoff to win at Augusta again in 1966, the only player ever to take back-to-back Masters.
PHOTOMassed Nicklauses in front of clubhouse at Jack's home course, Muirfield Village: Steve, 15; Barbara; Michael, 5; Nan, 13; Jack; Gary, 9; and Jackie, 17.



He won the U.S. Amateur twice (1959 and '61) and finished second in the U.S. Open (1960) before turning professional. Since then, he has won the Masters five times (1963, '65, '66, 72 and 75); the U.S. Open three times (1962, '67 and 72), the British Open three times (1966, 70 and 78) and the PGA four times (1963, 71, 73 and 75). Counting the two amateur titles, that is 17 major championships. Jones had 13. No one else is close. Hagen had 11, Hogan and Player nine, Palmer eight. Aside from majors, Nicklaus has won 54 tour events. His winnings are $3.4 million, a record. No one else has won even $2 million.