Golf World

Jack Nicklaus: In His Own Words

Jun 7, 2010

To celebrate Jack Nicklaus turning 70 this year, Golf World asked contributor Brett Avery to research the Hall of Famer's thoughts over the decades and compile the best of them. Using newspaper and magazine articles, interview transcripts, as well as books written by the golfer, Avery presents the man in full, an individual whose mark on the game far exceeds his 18 major professional titles.
It was pretty awful. I shot 61 for nine holes at Scioto. My second nine I shot 50, but then I went up to 71 before I started improving.
[From an Aug. 1, 1954, cover story in the Columbus Citizen Sunday Magazine, headlined "Move Over Snead -- Make Room For Jackie," written by Kaye Kessler and describing his first round at age 10. The story notes the 14-year-old "bundle of nerveless energy," who has amassed 16 trophies and medals, will board a plane that day to compete in the seventh U.S. Junior Amateur, at Los Angeles CC]

When people ask me about my goals in golf, I answer with a question. What does everybody in golf set as a goal? The answer, of course, is Bobby Jones. I don't see how anybody can handle himself as well as Bobby Jones has. He knew when to quit. If he hadn't quit when he did, some of the luster might have been lost, but as it turned out, nothing can ever be taken away from him. He's fantastic. He is the greatest golfer who ever lived and probably ever will live and he's one of the greatest persons. That's my goal. Bobby Jones. It's the only goal.
[Golf magazine, 1959]

I went right home after missing the cut [in his first Masters, in 1959]. I didn't want to hang around if I wasn't playing. That's hard. It's sort of like attending a wedding where your girlfriend is marrying some other guy.
[Jack Nicklaus with Herbert Warren Wind. The Greatest Game of All: My Life In Golf. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1969]

One of the fastest and finest lessons I learned that summer of 1959 in my encounters with the pros was to quit trying to play "hero" shots from severe trouble situations... Frequently, all that did was compound small errors into large disasters. Playing with the pros, I learned that the best of them had progressed far beyond this kind of immaturity.
[Jack Nicklaus with Ken Bowden. My Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997]

I learned I gotta hit the ball better.
[Columbus Dispatch, 1960, asked after the 1960 U.S. Open what he learned being paired with Ben Hogan for the final, 36-hole finish]

Some people say it's OK to lose if your opponent has a hot round. Phooey on that. I hate to lose -- period. If a guy is going to shoot a 10 under par, I am going to shoot an 11 under par.
[Sports Illustrated, 1960]

For a long time even girls came second.
[My Story, on his love of sports as a youth]

We picked July 23, 1960, for our wedding day for what I thought was an excellent reason: it was the Saturday of the PGA Championship, for which, as an amateur, I was, of course, ineligible.
[My Story]

I'm probably the only bottom-heavy golfer in the country.
[Saturday Evening Post, 1961]

For two years [as an amateur], I was expected to win every tournament I entered. If I didn't, I was a bum. I liked being top man. You've got to have the confidence that you can win; you've got to expect to win. If you don't, you have no business being there. As an amateur, I had it. I was on top. Now I've just got to work my way up the ladder again.
[Time, 1962]

I don't mind the odd visit to play in British tournaments. But if I had to play on your courses all season, it would drive me crazy. Golf is quite difficult enough without having to compete with rock-hard greens, and all kinds of humps and bumps in front of them.
[Golf Illustrated (U.K.), 1962]

Being in the money doesn't mean anything unless you're starving to death.
[Dallas Times-Herald, 1962, during U.S. Open week]

Arnie Palmer is a better putter than I am mainly because he's had 10 years longer to work on it.
[Time, 1962]

I want to be the best golfer the world has ever seen.
[Time, 1962]

Writers have told me more than once that I'm a better interview in defeat than in victory, which is a compliment I am extremely proud of.
[My Story]

I hit the ball well finishing second at the Thunderbird the week before the (1962 U.S.) Open and I didn't think my game needed any work. The only thing I had to decide was how to play Oakmont. On Monday, I charged the course. On Tuesday, I played it defensively. I scored better charging, so I decided that's how I'd play it.
[Newsweek, 1962]

I am asked questions about my hands almost as often as I'm asked to sign autographs. I have stubby hands with short fingers. I wear a man's small golf glove. Actually, my wife, Barbara, has stronger hands than mine from doing the dishes. That's why I always have to pass a tight jar lid over to her.
[Jack Nicklaus with Ken Bowden. Golf My Way. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974]

Fatigue affects a player's game in a funny way. Very often it will not show up at all in his full shots. Unless he is very, very tired he will be able to hit these just as solidly as ever. What it strikes first are the delicate shots on and around the green that require so much concentration. A tired player cannot concentrate, he completely loses his sense of "feel."
[Sports Illustrated, 1963]

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