June 17, 1962, 60 years ago today: At 22 years old, Jack Nicklaus takes the U.S. Open and spoils the local party with a three-stroke playoff victory over Arnold Palmer at Oakmont. The course was only 40 miles from Palmer’s home in Latrobe, PA. But Nicklaus went all day without three-putting and became the youngest golfer to win a major since Bobby Jones, who was 21 when he captured his first U.S. Open in 1923. The victory was also Nicklaus’ first of any kind on the PGA Tour.
The signs of greatness were already there,as Nicklaus had won the U.S. Amateur championship in 1959 and 1961—and finished second behind Palmer in the 1960 U.S. Open a year and a half before turning pro. After the first Open title, Nicklaus’ career took off. He took his first Masters and PGA Championship crowns in 1963 and his first Open Championship (British Open) title in 1966. He hit ‘em long and straight, regularly topping 300 yards off the tee, and his galleries rivaled those that followed Palmer.
Majors were Nicklaus’ domain. He had a record 24-year run (1960-83) during which he produced at least one top 10 finish in a major every year. With a win at the Open Champiionship in 1978, Nicklaus became the first golfer to capture each of the major championships three times. Perhaps the most familiar record in golf is the 18 career majors won by Nicklaus. It’s a standard that’s not likely to be eclipsed. At his peak, Tiger Woods appeared to be on the fast track to break the mark, but he’s stuck on 15 major wins, and his health issues may prevent him from winning another.
Nicklaus played the final tournament of his career in 2005 in the Open Championship at St. Andrews. One of the enduring images of that tournament is Nicklaus taking one last walk across the famed Swilcan Bridge on the 18th fairway. “I’m very sentimental and the place gets to me every time I go there,” said Nicklaus. “In May I walked around and welled up with hardly anyone watching me. St. Andrews was always where I wanted to finish my major career.”
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)