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Why does Jack Nicklaus have such an affinity for Oklahoma?

Why does Jack Nicklaus have such an affinity for Oklahoma?

NORMAN, Oklahoma — There was Jack Nicklaus, The Golden Bear, winner of 18 major championships, sitting inside the event center of OU’s Jimmie Austin Golf Club on a sweltering Saturday afternoon.

Nicklaus, dubious as it sounds, was in town for the Compliance Solutions Championship — a Korn Ferry Tour event Nicklaus had been invited to by the corporate sponsor’s CEO.

To Nicklaus’ right was a view of the ninth fairway at Jimmie Austin. Nicklaus, not one for frivolities, was asked about the Norman course.

“It’s got grass and trees on it,” he said. “That’s all I know.”

But when asked to share old stories about his few Oklahoma connections, the 84-year-old legend emptied his memory bank with one regaling tale after another.

Like in 1953 when at age 13 Nicklaus qualified for a United States Golf Association (USGA) junior tournament at Tulsa’s iconic Southern Hills Country Club.

Nicklaus arrived on the first tee 30 seconds before his 7 a.m. tee time.

“Young man,” Joe Dey, then the executive director of the USGA, told Nicklaus, “30 seconds later and you’d be on the second tee one down.”

Nicklaus was never late after that.

“The lesson happened right here in Oklahoma,” Nicklaus said.

Six years later, in the championship match of the 1959 U.S. Amateur in Colorado Springs, Nicklaus defeated Oklahoman Charlie Coe with a putt that Nicklaus called “the most important of his life.”

On the 36th hole of the match, both Nicklaus and Coe hit the fairway with their drives. Coe hit his second shot to the fringe behind the hole while Nicklaus’ approach landed eight feet short of the cup.

Coe hit a lag putt. Nicklaus drained his eight-footer.

“That was my biggest push forward to be able to compete and know that I could compete,” said Nicklaus, who holds the record with 18 majors and 19 runner-up finishes.

Coe was the two-time defending U.S. Amateur champion. He never turned pro, but Coe was one of the best golfers of his generation.

OU’s practice facility at Jimmie Austin Golf Club is named after Coe.

“I got to know Charlie,” Nicklaus said. “We played a lot of golf during that period of time.”

Nicklaus will never forget Coe’s diet.

“For breakfast, Charlie would have about four cigarettes and three cokes,” Nicklaus said.

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He also remembered one of Coe’s range sessions at Augusta National in 1961, when Coe tied Arnold Palmer for second in…


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