Thursday, May 28, 2015

Jack Nicklaus

Fifty years ago in 1965 Jack Nicklaus won five tournaments on the PGA Tour, more than any professional golfer in that season. He was the leading money winner on the PGA Tour with earnings of $140,752. The 1965 season consisted of 40 official money events starting on January 11 with the Los Angeles Open and ending on November 28 with the Cajun Classic. 

Nicklaus’ five victories came at The Masters where he won $20,000; the Memphis Open which had a winner’s share of $9,000, the Thunderbird Classic where he pocketed $20,000; the Philadelphia Golf Classic where he won $24,300 and the Portland Open which gave the Golden Bear a check for $6,600 after he won. 

Besides the $20k that Nicklaus won at The Masters, the winners of the other 1965 major championships received the following. U.S. Open Champion Gary Player won $26,000. British Open winner Peter Thompson got the equivalent of paltry $4,600 in American currency and Dave Marr received a $25,000 check for winning the PGA Championship. Tony Lema received the biggest winner’s paycheck in 1965- $35,000 at the Carling World Open.  

The Top Ten money winners on the PGA Tour in 1965 were:

1. Jack Nicklaus $140,752
2. Tony Lema $101,816
3. Billy Casper $99,931 
4. Doug Sanders $72,182 
5. Gary Player $69,964 
6. Bruce Devlin $67,657 
7. Dave Marr $63,375  
8. Al Geiberger $59,699 
9. Gene Littler $58,898 
10. Arnold Palmer $57,770

Nicklaus played in 20 tournaments that season. He did not miss a cut and had 17 Top-10 finishes. In addition to his five victories, Nicklaus was runner-up five times in 1965. His Masters’ victory was by nine shots and his 72-hole score of 17 under par were both records at the time. 

Amazingly, Nicklaus finished as runner-up in the Player of the Year Award to the gregarious Marr. Over the years Nicklaus has transformed his image. At an early age he was the overweight, abrasive kid that overthrew “The King” Arnold Palmer from golf’s throne. But, how could Jack not be the Player of the Year in ’65? 

Dan Jenkins was covering golf for Sports Illustrated at the time. His recollections were interesting.

“I didn’t realize that. I’ve always that it was a PGA vote and for its champion. Your organization did that quite often. I was very much around then and do not recall Jack being hated by us writing slaves. We still favored Arnold. He was taking the game to a new level of popularity, but we recognized that Jack was younger and longer and unstoppable. Wish I could be more help at this stage of my development,” said the 85-year old Jenkins. 

Next week Nicklaus will host the PGA Tour at The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield GC in Dublin, Ohio. This is a course that Jack built and owns. Fifty years after he was the most dominating player in the game Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara, will serve as gracious hosts to most of the world’s top players. Barbara will personally supply her own chocolate chip cookies and homemade milk shakes to any player that is obliged to consume them. For most of the world’s best players it will be like spending a week with your favorite grandparents.

This will be the 40th edition of Jack’s Memorial Tournament. The purse will be $6.2 million. Defending Champion Hideki Matsuyama won $1.116 million in 2014. 10th place paid $167,400- more than Nicklaus won in 1965. 

Several years ago I was in a meeting with Nicklaus and Ian Baker-Finch. The subject of career earnings came up and Jack told Baker-Finch and me that the biggest winning paychecks he ever had were $150,000 when he won The Tradition in 1995 and ’96. 

Golf has changed a lot in the last 50 years. The PGA TOUR is now run by the players and not the PGA of America. The players took over in 1968 and the TOUR is better for that. But, it’s refreshing to see the most dominant player of the modern era still involved as Nicklaus is. The Memorial is more than one of the top TOUR events. It’s a celebration of Jack’s great career.  

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