Far Hills, NJ—Jack Nicklaus, the 18-time major champion, was honored as only the fifth golfer to have a room named for him at the United States Golf Association’s headquarters located in the bucolic suburbs of New Jersey.
On a day meant to commemorate his career in golf, the 75-year-old Nicklaus put things into total perspective regarding what he values most. “Golf is a game–family is my life.”
Earlier this year the Golden Bear was honored in being a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal–only the seventh athlete to be honored. The USGA’s new room–for arguably the game’s greatest champion–joins with the likes of Bob Jones, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Mickey Wright.
In 2012, the USGA announced all future winners of the Men’s Open would receive the Jack Nicklaus Gold Medal.
The 1,200-squre-foot exhibit space contains 82 artifacts, many on loan from the Jack Nicklaus Museum in Columbus, OH. The USGA Museum is the oldest sports hall of its kind, having opened in 1935. Six themes are highlighted within the room; competitive spirit, integrity, self-belief, commitment, perseverance and vision. There are nine short films and 27 “Ask Jack” vignettes highlighting Nicklaus’ four U.S. Open victories and the themes discussed above.
Two works of art were commissioned for the room: a painting by Harold Riley titled, “A Study of Jack Nicklaus”, depicting Nicklaus at Pebble Beach in 1972 when he won the Open that year. And a sculpture by Zenos Frudakis titled, “Jack is Back,” showing Nicklaus celebrating a birdie putt on the 71st hole of the 1980 U.S. Open at Baltusrol–the final time Jack won the championship.
Among the notable artifacts: a MacGregor Tommy Armour 3-wood. Nicklaus used the club from 1958 through 1995, winning all of his 18 professional majors and both U.S. Amateur titles–in 1959 and 1961–using it. The famed MacGregor VIP 1-iron which Nicklaus used on the 18th hole of the final round at the 1967 U.S. Open at Baltursol where he not only won the event but broke the previous four-round record set by Ben Hogan. And, the classic near hole-out at the 71st hole at the 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach’s most demanding par-3 17th.
During a presentation to an assembled group of roughly 300, Nicklaus jokingly thanked his late mother and wife Barbara in keeping all of his memorabilia since starting in golf 65 years ago. “I’m thrilled that Barbara and my Mom kept everything. They were pack rats.”
The Nicklaus record in golf is unsurpassed and it has served as motivating force in the golf career of Tiger Woods–who as a youngster placed the total of 18 majors at the top of his bed to remind him of the total number of majors won by the man from Ohio.
Nicklaus made it a point during the event to point out that golf is a game against yourself. “I prided myself on doing my utmost to be prepared — you can’t always win and nothing comes easy.”
During his youth Nicklaus played all of the major sports and his relationship with his father Charlie played a major role. “My dad introduced me to all sports–but he never pushed me,” said Nicklaus. “But he always stressed to me that whatever you do you give it your best at all times. It’s something I always tried to do.”
Long time rivals, friends and fellow golf superstars Arnold Palmer and Gary Player saluted the accomplishment of their chief rival. “Jack had ‘it’,” said 9-time major winner Player. Palmer, a 7-time major champion, focused on the wherewithal of Nicklaus to keep his mind totally focused. “Jack was served in being able to shut the outside world out–it proved to be a great asset to his game.”
For Nicklaus the thrill of being in the hunt was always a first and foremost. “All I ever wanted to do was play competitive golf against the best players in the world.”
Asked at the event what his father would think of his son’s total accomplishments and the honoring of him with a special room his response was succinct and ever on point–”There’s a big smile on his face today.”
Only four men have won the Men’s Open four times–Willie Anderson, Bob Jones, Ben Hogan and Nicklaus. Jack is the last living member.
Beyond his sheer golfing expertise, Nicklaus paid special thanks to his wife Barbara–the pair will celebrate their 55th year of marriage this July. At this year’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, just outside of Seattle, the USGA will honor Mrs. Nicklaus with the Bob Jones Award–the Association’s highest honor–and with it Jack and Barbara will be the first couple to be so honored.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.