Jack Nicklaus is considered by most to be the greatest player of all time. Winner of twenty majors (he always counted his two US Amateur wins as majors, as most of his era did), he won three Opens, two on The Old Course of St. Andrews, the home of golf. In an interview before his final round in 1978, Jack told Jim McCay of ABC that St. Andrews was his favorite place to play. Along with the intriguing strategy, the ever-changing weather – a vital part of the strategic challenge, the infinite bumps and hollows, and the sublime fescue of The Old Course, Nicklaus also cited the charm of the town, the presence of world-renowned St. Andrews University, the looming Royal & Ancient Clubhouse at the foot of the links, and the warm and knowledgeable citizens of the city, as parts of the total experience that shaped his fondness for St. Andrews.
In 1970 Nicklaus beat Doug Sanders in a playoff after the dandy Sanders missed a two and a half footer on 18 for the win. It was here that Jack dramatically removed his sweater on the 18th tee and drove the ball through the green some 350 yards away … with a driver made of persimmon and a wound ball. At the conclusion of the playoff Jack uncharacteristically and joyously flung his putter into the air … and almost took his own head off.
In 1978 Jack had not won a major in over two years and many were asking if, at thirty-eight years old, he was over the hill. Tied at the turn with the unknown Simon Owen of New Zealand, Jack put on an exhibition of course management and links knowledge that was exceptional. Nowhere was his calculated strategy more in evidence than in Nicklaus’s sterling play over the final four holes. It was Jack’s seventeenth major, and he would go on to win three more for an even twenty.
In 2005 Jack appeared in his final Open, played at St. Andrews. Prior to the start of the tournament the Royal Bank of Scotland issued a limited edition £5 note. On one side is Nicklaus’s Golden Bear insignia, along with his winning Open scores, and on the reverse are images of Jack holding the Claret Jug and playing during the 1978 Open. At the close of his second round – his last – Jack hit a long drive up the left side of eighteen, the way you’re supposed to play the hole. After posing for a picture on the Swilcan Bridge, the adoring cheers of the crowd raining down on him, Nicklaus was in tears walking up the hallowed fairway. He hit a classic bump and run through the Valley of Sin and onto the green – again, the way you’re supposed to – leaving himself thirteen feet above the hole. Fittingly, Jack Nicklaus, in front of his family, a myriad of fellow pros who were there to witness the historic scene, and thousands of spectators, drained the birdie putt.
The greatest player on the greatest course. It can’t get better than that.