When Jack Nicklaus came to Oak Hill Country Club’s East Course in 1980 for the 62nd playing of the PGA Championship, he had already reclaimed his spot on a pedestal atop the golf world.
After failing to capture a single PGA Tour win during the 1979 season, marking the first time that had happened since he joined the Tour in 1962, there were whispers that the game had passed the Golden Bear by. Many were looking to a corps of younger players that included Fuzzy Zoeller and Seve Ballesteros, both of whom captured majors during the ‘79 campaign, to dominate the game’s mantle.
But Nicklaus ended any premature talk about his demise when he posted an impressive victory at Baltusrol in the U.S. Open during the spring of 1980. And after securing his first major of a new decade, Nicklaus came to Oak Hill, a course he had long appreciated, with a chance to secure a fifth PGA Championship and a 17th major.
But to understand the origins of his passion and desire to win the Wanamaker Trophy, one needs to step back 30 years earlier, when the 1950 PGA Championship was held at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, where the Nicklaus family had a membership.
With the help of his teacher, Scioto’s head professional Jack Grout, a 10-year-old Nicklaus gained access to the locker room to meet many of the stars of the game, including acquiring autographs from Hall of Famer Sam Snead, eventual champion Chandler Harper, who had been assigned to father Charlie Nicklaus’s locker, and most memorably Lloyd Mangrum.
“I can still see that slim, dark figure sitting at a table with a fan of cards in one hand and a glass of hooch in the other and a cigarette dangling from his lips, and recall how intimidated I was when he turned to me and gave me that famous tough look of his and snarled, ‘Whaddya want, kid?’ ” Nicklaus wrote in My Story, his 1997 autobiography. “But he signed my autograph book, and I remember being extremely proud of my courage in standing up to such a fearsome character.”
Nicklaus often has credited that experience with shaping his desire to be a professional golfer when he grew up.
By the time he came to Oak Hill, courage and Nicklaus were synonymous. Perhaps the most intriguing piece of perspective in what was a truly dominant performance during the 1980 event was Nicklaus’ inaccuracy off the tee. After looking sharp…
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