But when asked to rank the four majors, Nicklaus says unequivocally, “I have the U.S. Open as the No. 1 tournament.”
Nicklaus admits that his ranking is not without prejudice – it is, after all, a subjective offering. The U.S. Open tops the list because he’s American. The Open is second; though, he says, “for the rest of the world, the British Open is probably the No. 1 tournament.”
So, the Masters is third?
No, that goes to the PGA Championship.
“The Masters falls fourth because it’s not meant to be ahead of those others,” Nicklaus says.
“The Masters Tournament is not a championship. You can’t rank a tournament ahead of championships.”
That, in no way, is intended to be a slight to Augusta National.
“You know I made my whole [professional] life toward winning the Masters and winning the first major championship [each year],” he says.
“Most people would put the Masters No. 1 and that’s OK. I’d put the Masters No. 1 as far to play in and enjoy doing that kind of stuff. But as far as importance of the game, and being American, the U.S. Open is No. 1.”
Nicklaus won four U.S. Open titles, three Opens and five PGA Championships. Ten players have won more claret jugs than Nicklaus. Only Walter Hagen has matched Jack’s Wanamaker total. And only Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones and Willie Anderson have as many U.S. Open victories.
“You look at the breadth of what Jack Nicklaus did at the U.S. Open. He finished runner-up four times. Finished 11 times in the top five, 18 times in the top 10,” says USGA executive director Mike Davis.
“And maybe the most astounding thing, he played in 44 consecutive U.S. Opens from the time he was 17 in 1957 until he was 60 years old in 2000. And it’s not as if the U.S. Open is an invitational. You have to earn your way in.
“We can legitimately say he is the greatest U.S. Open player ever.”