SportsCentury: This bear was golden

The Green Master
By Larry Schwartz
Special to

"He always said, 'I never played for the money. I always played for the title.' He wanted the trophies. He wanted to be in the history books," says writer Dan Jenkins about Jack Nicklaus on ESPN's SportsCentury show (Friday, December 3, 8 p.m. ET).

Nicklaus, the winner of a record 18 professional majors (including six Masters), was voted No. 9 among North American athletes of the 20th century by SportsCentury's distinguished 48-person panel.

Signature event
April 13, 1986 -- Nicklaus read the story about his chances for the Masters. He couldn't miss it. A friend had clipped the article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and pasted it on the refrigerator of the Augusta home where the Nicklaus family stayed for the tournament. "Nicklaus is done," the story said.

"I kept thinking all week, 'Through, washed up, huh?' " Nicklaus said. "I sizzled for a while."

But not like how he sizzled on the back nine in the final round at Augusta National. Down by four strokes, he played like the Golden Bear of another era. With awesome drives, excellent iron shots and unerring putting, he charged past the field with an eagle on 15 and birdies on 16 and 17.

His brilliant 30 on the back nine gave him a 65 for the day and 279 for the tournament. It enabled him to win his sixth Masters green jacket by one stroke over Tom Kite (who missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole) and Greg Norman (who bogeyed 18).

At 46, Nicklaus was the oldest winner of the Masters.

Odds 'n ends

  • Besides winning 18 Grand Slam tournaments, Nicklaus had 19 runner-up finishes, including seven at the British Open.

  • Beside his 70 Tour victories, he has 14 international victories and 10 on the Senior Tour.

  • Two of his most memorable defeats were to Tom Watson, whose birdies on the 71st holes at the 1977 British Open at Turnberry and at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach enabled him to break ties and win the tournaments. At the British Open, Nicklaus shot 65-66 the final two rounds and lost when Watson finished 65-65. At the U.S. Open, Watson's unlikely chip shot from heavy rough stunned Nicklaus.

  • After much goading by his father, Jack went out for the track team as a youngster. By the end of the seventh grade, he excelled at both the 100 and 220. Soon after turning 13, he ran the 100 yards in 11 seconds flat.

  • In between winning two U.S. Amateurs while at Ohio State, Nicklaus also won the Big Ten title (by 14 strokes) and the NCAA championship as a junior in 1961. After the school denied him permission to play in a tournament in Australia as a U.S. amateur, he dropped out of school in his senior year to join the PGA Tour.

  • In 1972, he received a Doctor of Athletic Arts from Ohio State.

  • From 1971-73, he had 45 Top-10 finishes in 55 events (81.8%), including 19 victories and seven seconds.

  • At 34, Nicklaus was one of the 13 original inductees into the PGA World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.

  • In 1975, Nicklaus won perhaps the most exciting Masters ever played. A 40-foot birdie putt on 16 put him into a tie for the lead and when Tom Weiskopf three-putted the hole, Nicklaus had the lead alone. He won it by a stroke over Weiskopf and Johnny Miller, both of whom missed birdie putts on 18.

  • In 1979, Nicklaus had the worst year of his career, falling from fourth in earnings to 71st ($59,434), and not winning any of the 12 tournaments he entered. It would be the only year from 1962-84 that he wouldn't finish in the top 16 in money.

  • Nicklaus rebounded in 1980 to win his record-tying fourth U.S. Open and record-tying fifth PGA Championship. Willie Anderson, Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan also won four U.S. Opens and Walter Hagen captured five PGA titles.

  • Nicklaus compiled a 17-8-3 record as a member of six Ryder Cup teams. He was the Ryder captain twice - the U.S. won in 1983 and lost in 1987.

  • In the final match at the 1969 Ryder Cup, Nicklaus putted out for a par on the 18th hole and then picked up Tony Jacklin's marker, conceding the two-foot putt. "I don't think you would have missed that putt," Nicklaus told Jacklin, "but in these circumstances, I would never give you the opportunity." The match was halved and for the first time in its 42-year history, the Ryder Cup ended in a deadlock.

  • Nicklaus finished first in scoring eight times and second six times on the PGA Tour.

  • He shares with Arnold Palmer the record for most consecutive years with at least one tour victory at 17 (1962-78).

  • He was the first tour player to reach $2 million (Dec. 1, 1973), $3 million (May 2, 1977), $4 million (Feb. 6, 1983) and $5 million (Aug. 20, 1989).

  • His tour playoff record was 13-10.

  • In 1985, his Golden Bear International was $175 million in debt. By February 1988, it nearly evened its debt and today it's a thriving moneymaker.

  • In 1990, after turning 50, Nicklaus won his first Senior Tour event, the Tradition. He also captured his second tournament, winning the Senior Players Championship with a record score.

  • He was named Golf World's Golf Course Architect of the Year in 1993.

  • Nicklaus caused a furor in 1994 when he replied to a reporter's question about why there was a lack of black golfers by saying, "Blacks have different muscles that react in different ways." Nicklaus, who has opposed racially segregated clubs, said that he wished he had not strayed from his point, "that kids, black and white, gravitate to different sports because of their environment."

  • On July 23, 1960, after his sophomore year at Ohio State, he married the former Barbara Bash. Nicklaus played a round of golf before the wedding. They have five children.