These next three blogs on golf, are going to be about, who I consider the best three golfers of all time. They are going to be in alphabetical order, so just because I am leading off with Jack, does not mean I think he is the best. Doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s the best, either. Most people feel there is only a top 2, but I do feel there is a third golfer, who deserves to be in the conversation, when talking about the greatest golfer of all time. I am going to mention each golfer’s record, but I am going to emphasize more, of what made these three unique that made them so great. After these three I do not think anybody else is really close, but in future blogs I will discuss some of the other greats, who fall outside of the top 3. Nicklaus’s record in major championships is second to none. He won 2 U.S. amateur championships, and then won 18 professional majors. He also finished 2ond an amazing 19 times. It is not inconceivable to think, that a lip out here, or a bad bounce there, and he might have won 25 to 30 major championships. Despite all those 2ond place finishes, there is still not a major, that anyone thinks that Jack Nicklaus gave away. He simply got outplayed. The only time I ever heard any criticism of Jack’s play in a major, where he contended, was in the 1972 British Open. Lee Trevino beat him by one shot with a lucky chip in, for par at the par 5, 17th hole. Many in the press, said that Jack played too conservative in the first 3 rounds, and if he would have been more aggressive early, he would have won the third leg of the grand slam, that year. Jack won 73 tournaments on the PGA tour, which is third all time. But here is what set Jack Nicklaus apart from everybody else.
There were two things. First, he was the master of what I called the killer putt. This was a putt late in the final round of a tournament that just knocked the wind out of his opponents. One of his most famous, was the putt he made up the hill at the 16th hole in the final round of the 1975 Masters which enabled him to edge out Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller, for the green jacket. Second, was the Nicklaus brain. I not taking about mental toughness, or the ability to stay calm and focused under pressure. I am talking about his golf swing brain. This is what Nicklaus had to say about his golf swing and what he is thinking when he is playing tournament golf.
“You know, every shot I play, I think of exactly what I want to do with the swing. I never just let it happen. Ever. Never. Even today, I can think of four or five things during a swing and do all of them. And I probably use to be able to do more. Most people say to think of one or maybe one and a half, but I’ve always been able to think of several things to do during the swing. And I do those things.”
This, in the day of having one swing thought, or no swing thoughts, here is one of the greatest players of all time, thinking about four or five things to do during the swing, and maybe even more, in his prime. One of Nicklaus’s most famous shots, was his one iron on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach in the fourth round of the U.S. Open. In a very strong headwind, he hit a laser like one iron that hit the green, took one big hop, hit the pin and dropped right by the hole, for a kick in birdie, to seal his 3rd U.S. Open title. This is what he said about this shot and swing. “I remember I took it back a little inside and shut. I felt that happening but I couldn’t stop, so I adjusted the swing by holding on a little throughout it and hit the ball dead flush. My timing was terrific that week. I was able to adjust within the swing.” That is one great brain, obviously made for golf. In my view, that made Nicklaus totally unique, and one of the all time greats, in the game of golf.