When Jack Nicklaus looks back almost 50 years to the week he won the first of his record-tying five PGA Championships, the swing of emotions was much like the swing in temperatures. A week after falling short in a bid to win his first British Open—missing a playoff by one shot at Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s—Jack went from 50-degree weather in England to 100-plus degrees at Dallas Athletic Club in Texas. But it was the Golden Bear who was too hot to handle, as he scorched the field on the weekend with rounds of 69-68. Suddenly the disappointment from a week earlier melted away.
At 23 years of age, Jack joined Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, and Gene Sarazen as the only men in golf history to win the PGA, the U.S. Open, and the Masters. The win lifted the spirits of the Golden Bear, even if he had trouble lifting the coveted Wanamaker trophy. On that championship Sunday in 1963, it was so hot that Jack had to hold the trophy with a towel.
“I’m serious,” Jack recalls, “you could have fried an egg on that trophy.”
The Golden Bear recently took questions from the media on the upcoming PGA Championship at Oak Hill in Rochester, NY, recalling memories from his fifth and final PGA in 1980 at Oak Hill, but also reflecting on the Golden Anniversary of his first:
“They used to have the British Open and the PGA back-to-back, which was really kind of silly, but that’s what they had,” Jack said of 1963. “I think that’s probably why (Ben) Hogan did not play in the fourth major because he couldn’t get back to play in it. It was before the time of jets.
“So I was fortunate to be able to get back. We came from where I lost by a shot at Lytham—I sort of felt like I gave that one away by bogeying the last two holes—and going from a 50- or 55-degree championship to 100- and even 110-degree temperatures. It was a big change. I think a lot of the guys got back, and I think they were probably pretty tired from the British Open and I think they were pretty tired from the weather, which just absolutely beat them down. I guess I was a young guy that handled those conditions pretty well.
“I remember we had a fair amount of rain, and I don’t think we had a lot of wind, but we had some really hot, hot weather. It’s the hottest I’ve played a major in. I’ve played golf in hotter weather, but not a major. I just sort of managed my game pretty well, played a good last round and won the championship.
“You know, it was a golf course that was chosen for the PGA Championship and you say, well, the conditions in August are not something that’s supposed to suit your game. The golf course may suit a lot of guys’ games, but that’s not what the game is. The game is to change yourself to fit the golf course and that’s why you play different courses every week. Obviously I was able to do that that week, and as were several other guys that were close. I guess I was lucky and prevailed.
“What makes the PGA special is it’s the championship of the organization that I belong to. I’m a professional golfer and I’m a member of the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) of America, and you’re always proud to win the championship of your organization.
“At the time, I was disappointed that I had not won the British the week before, and my head was (focused on) just trying to win the golf tournament. That’s what I was trying to do and I was fortunate to do that.
“I never really thought about what I had accomplished by winning all three major American championships at age 23. I was a young 23-year-old just trying to win tournaments. I suppose if I go back and reflect upon it, to have done that at 23 years old is a pretty special achievement.”
One little known fact about that week in Dallas is that in addition to winning his first PGA Championship, Jack also won a driving contest. He crushed a drive of 341 yards, 17 inches with a persimmon driver and wound golf ball. For his victory, Jack received a money clip that cherishes to this day. Below the PGA logo it says “Driving Distance Winner.”
The Golden Bear went on to win four more PGA Championships, with victories in 1971 (PGA National GC, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.); 1973 (Canterbury GC, Cleveland, Ohio); 1975 (Firestone CC, Akron, Ohio); and 1980 (Oak Hill).