Of Golden Anniversaries and Green Jackets; Jack Looks Back

On the 50th anniversary of his first Masters victory, Jack Nicklaus reflects on a historic win that set the tone for an unparalleled legacy at Augusta.
Jack Nicklaus with his father, Charlie Nicklaus, at the 1963 Masters

Jack Nicklaus with his father, Charlie Nicklaus, at the 1963 Masters

Q. Jack, can you first provide just some general thoughts about the significance of 1963 and that first Masters Tournament victory—the first of a record six at Augusta National?

JACK: Can I just say, the 1963 Masters to me was a special win. All wins are special. It was my second major after winning the U.S. Open in 1962. But it was a place where I always wanted to win. I always loved Augusta. Bob Jones was my idol. I loved his facility. I loved what he represented in the game of golf. To win his tournament was really very, very special. That week was probably one of the most important weeks of my career, because it established my ability to win at that golf course, so it set up the rest of my career at Augusta. It is something that 50 years later is still very special to me. I’m thankful that after 50 years, there’s still somebody that wants to hear something about it. I appreciate that and I’m happy to talk about it.

Q. Jack, how was your game coming into Augusta in 1963?

JACK: Actually, I was forced to adjust my game coming into the Masters in 1963. Earlier in the year, playing at Harding Park in San Francisco, I injured my left hip on the last approach shot in the pro-am. I received more than 20 cortisone injections over the next 10 weeks. But due to the hip injury, I couldn’t really hit into my left side. During my career, I was known for playing left to right, but the injury really forced me to learn how to play right to left, because it took pressure off my hip. And that was actually a blessing and probably the best thing that happened to me for that Masters, because I got there and I was able to hit right-to-left tee shots around some of the corners where that shape of a shot is beneficial. Obviously it was a good thing for me because I eventually won.

Q. Realizing it’s been 50 years, what do you remember about that week?

JACK: I opened 74-66 and obviously the 66 (Friday’s low round) was a really good round and put me in good position for the weekend. As I recall, Mike Souchak was leading the tournament by one shot. I played with Mike in the third round and it poured down rain. Nobody thought that anybody was going to finish the golf tournament. You thought they would wash the round out. I remember in the 13th fairway there wasn’t any place to drop the ball because it was all standing water. But we were forced to keep on playing; they didn’t call the round.  And finally, the rain stopped. When I got to the 18th and was walking up the fairway, I glanced over to the iconic scoreboard that sits just to the hole’s left. I scanned the leader board and saw a large group of 1s. Being that I am red-green color blind, I wasn’t sure how many were green—representing over par—and how many were red and under par. So I asked my caddie, Willie Peterson, “Willie, how many of those ones are red?” Willie responded with a big smile, “Just you, boss. Just you.”

I really just persevered on Saturday and one thing I’m proud of was my patience, which was pretty good for a 23-year-old. The weather improved and Sunday was sunny. Sam Snead made a big run for a while, which got the galleries excited, but he cooled off and shot a 71 and tied for third with Julius Boros. I birdied 13 and 16. Sixteen was a key because I made a 2 from about 10 or 12 feet and Sam made a bogey. Tony Lema, who was playing in his first Masters, shot a 70 and finished second.

Q. Do you recall anything unique about the post-round celebration?

JACK: 1963, obviously, being my first Masters win, was very special. And I think that I did something in the ’63 Masters that I don’t think I’ve done before or since. I remember, I started walking off the 18th green and Ralph Hutchinson, who was doing the scoring, says, “Jack, keep your ball and give it to Bob Jones at the ceremony.” I said, “Ok, is that traditional?” He said, “Oh yeah, he would love that.” And I’ve never seen anybody do it before or since. So I felt a little silly after I go back and look at it. I’m sure Augusta would like to have that golf ball.

My father and his friends were all there. But it actually was the only Masters and my only major championship victory that Barbara missed. She delivered Steve the Thursday following the win.

Q. 1963 was actually your fifth time playing Augusta National and the Masters. Did you like the course right from the beginning?

JACK: I played in my first Masters (in 1959) when I was 19. I loved everything about it. The course suited me, especially when I became comfortable hitting the ball from right-to-left. I always thought I could do better there. I had four second-place finishes and a lot of (21) top-10s. I just loved everything about the tournament. I still get the same feeling driving down Magnolia Lane that I did in 1959. Of course, Bob Jones was a big part of it. He won the 1926 U.S. Open at Scioto [Where Nicklaus learned to play under the teaching of the club’s professional, Jack Grout] and he was my father’s hero and became mine, too. I met him when I was 15 at the 1955 U.S. Amateur and in the 1959 Masters my father and I were invited to his cottage. It became an annual tradition for us. He was such an idol of mine, yet I never saw him hit a shot.

Q. People talk about the learning curve involved with Augusta. How did you play in 1959?

JACK: I actually played well from tee to green. I hit 31 greens in the first two rounds, but had eight 3-putt greens and I missed the cut. Arnold [Palmer] hit 19 greens and he was leading the golf tournament. I figured then that I better learn how to play these greens.

You have to adjust to the conditions. If the greens are dry and fast, they’ll putt one way. It they are wet, they will putt differently–certainly much slower.

Q. How much prestige did the Masters have in those days?

JACK: I think it was almost about the same then as it is now. I look at three major championships, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA being championships of their associations or organizations, and the Masters being a little bit of a horse of a different color. But it was just as coveted in 1963 as it is today. It’s very, very special. Part of it is the venue. Unlike the other majors, the Masters is played on the same golf course every year. And I think the Masters Tournament officials have probably done more to grow their event than anybody else, and much of that is because of it being at one location all the time. It’s like Wimbledon is to tennis. And the course sets up for drama on the final nine on Sunday. No. 12 gives you the chance of a 2 or a 5, and Holes 13 and 15 give you chances for birdies or even eagles.

Q. The win in 1963 gave you four majors (two U.S. Amateurs and the 1962 U.S. Open). Did you begin thinking about Bob Jones’ record?

JACK: I can honestly say that until 1970, I never really thought about the record. But after I won the British Open in 1970, I walked into the press room and Bob Green (long-time Associated Press golf writer) mentioned that it was my 10th major and I was just three short of Bob Jones’ record. I had never thought about it before but then it became my goal.

Q. Obviously, all your wins at Augusta are special. Could you talk a little bit about each one?

JACK: Well, 1963 was special because it was my second professional major (after the 1962 U.S. Open) and it established my ability to win in the majors, which was always my goal. It was also special because my father and Bob Jones were there. In 1965, I was able to set the scoring record. I shot 64 in the third round and it was the easiest 64 I ever shot. It seemed like I had wedges or short irons for approaches into all the par 4s and had short putts for birdies. In ’66, it was a different golf course and I won shooting 17 shots higher than the year before. But it was special in that I became the first player to win back-to-back. In ’72, I was in the prime of my career. I won at Augusta and then the U.S. Open, and then lost by a stroke to Lee Trevino at the British Open. Of course, 1975 was special because Johnny Miller, Tom Weiskopf and I were so close coming down the final stretch. That was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a major. And then in 1986, to win the Masters at age 46—at an age when no one, including myself, thought I could or should win—and to do so with my son Jack on the bag was very special. The 1986 Masters was also the first time since my first Masters in 1959 that both my mother and sister came to the tournament, and I have no idea why. But that was special, too.

Q. You were one of the first players to come into a major the week before to get to know the course. How did that come about?

JACK: When I was an amateur, I went in early, and then when I turned pro in 1962, I instead went to Greensboro the week before and didn’t play well at the Masters. Then in 1963, I decided not to go to Greensboro and won the Masters. I went to Greensboro in 1964 and didn’t win; I finished second. I didn’t go to Greensboro in 1965 and I won. I didn’t go to Greensboro in 1966 and I won. It was absolutely nothing against Greensboro. I just figured at that point that going to a golf course early, practicing and preparing on a golf course—particularly the greens—you’re going to play on in a major, is essential if you really want to win and be consistent in the major championships.