Too hot to handle: Jack recalls first PGA Championship victory and winning the 1963 Long Drive Competition

Too hot to handle: Jack Nicklaus grips his first of a record-tying five PGA Championship trophies with a towel on a scorching hot summer day in Dallas.

We had just finished the British Open, which I felt like I gave away the week before. The Open was played at Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s, and battling down the stretch for a playoff spot with eventual winner Bob Charles and runner-up Phil Rodgers, I made mistakes 23 year olds tend to make to bogey the last two holes and fall short by a shot. The PGA Championship overlapped, to a large degree, with the British Open. In those days, they didn’t have the jets to go back, so we got back and went straight to Dallas. I went from 55° temperatures to a 110° at Dallas Athletic Club —talk about a big change! A lot of guys had a hard time with it, and I didn’t seem to, except I know that I absolutely soaked my clothes with sweat every day.

I think that the experience I had at the British Open helped me a lot with the PGA Championship. I knew how dumb I had been, so I played far more intelligently coming down the stretch. I remember in the final round and at the 17th hole at Dallas Athletic Club, I hit it in the rough off the tee. It was a hole that sort of went down a hill, across water, to an elevated green, and I hit it in the rough. Instead of being stupid, I just pitched it out and took my medicine. I was fortunate at that point to pass Bruce Crampton, who entered the day with a three-shot lead but faded with a 74, and I think runner-up Dave Ragan—who was six under on the weekend—was on my tail at the time. I hit it up on the green, and I can’t remember whether I made the putt or didn’t make the putt, but I kept my lead, finished with a 68, and eventually won the tournament by two shots. Whereas, had it been the week before, I probably would have tried to hit it out of the rough, over the water, probably put it in the water, and I would have lost the PGA Championship, too.

I remember when I tried to pick up the trophy, which had been baking in the sultry Dallas heat, I couldn’t pick it up. I had to use a towel. I mean, it was so hot, you could have cooked your breakfast on that trophy. I touched it first and said, “Whoops! No, I can’t do that.”

It was my first PGA Championship title, and at 23 and just over a year into my professional career, I was honored to join idols and icons like Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen as winners of the Masters, U.S. Open, and PGA Championship.

That week, I took away a little bonus victory, as I also won the Long Drive Competition. I only recall us having it for two years. There might have been others, but the only two I entered were in 1963 and ’64, and I won both of them. In 1963, I won with a drive of 341 yards, 17 inches, while using an old Persimmon-headed driver that was 42 3/4 inches with 11 degrees of loft. Everybody used a wound Titleist golf ball, which they provided each player off the tee so that everyone was hitting the same ball.

I thought it was exciting—I thought it was fun to do. You would go out, warm up, you played your last practice round.  It was a great gallery favorite.  The people came out and they watched it.  You went out and saw big, long drives—things you probably wouldn’t do in the tournament—and I think it created some excitement. To this day, 54 years later, I use the money clip I won in that contest. I’m very proud of it, and it’s also a fun conversation piece.

Anyway, coming back, it was a great change. But you learn from your mistakes—that’s how you learn to play golf. You learn from your successes, and you also learn from your failures. When you put the two together, it’s how you win tournaments.