Revisiting Jack's win at the 1963 PGA Championship

By Jason SobelAugust 5, 2013, 5:11 pm

Fifty years ago this summer, Jack Nicklaus almost didn't win 18 majors.

That magic number, the historically significant one which also reeks of irony and coincidence and a pinch of perfection considering its relevance in the game, wouldn’t have happened if on 18 separate occasions a few bounces didn’t go his way or a few putts hadn’t precipitously dropped into a few side pockets. Record books would have been irrevocably altered had he failed to win just one of these, and that includes the one that took place a half-century ago. Seventeen would just sound … unfinished.

Never mind that he was only 23 at the time. Never mind that he was nearly a quarter-century from winning the last of those titles. Never mind that his career was filled with close calls on each side of the ledger, his runner-up results even exceeding his victory total.

Never mind that he barely even realized his 1963 PGA Championship win gave him a major at each of the three U.S. venues, joining an elite club which had previously only consisted of Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson.

“I was too stupid to think about that at the time,” Nicklaus says now, thinking back to that tournament. “[I] was just trying to win the golf tournament.”

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The chubby, cherubic Ohio boy wasn’t chasing history that week at Dallas Athletic Club. If anything, he was running from it. One week earlier, Nicklaus bogeyed the final two holes to finish in third place at the Open Championship, one stroke out of a playoff between Bob Charles and Phil Rodgers.

Still feeling the sting, he traveled stateside to find July temperatures in Texas staggeringly different than those at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

“Going from a 50-degree championship or a 55-degree championship to a 100- or 110-degree temperature, it was a big change,” he recalls. “I think a lot of the guys … the weather just absolutely beat them down.”

How hot was it? An account of the event from Sports Illustrated titled, “Hottest Man in a Furnace,” posed a litany of ways. Three players withdrew simply because they couldn’t stand the heat. Gary Player, forever outfitted in his ubiquitous black, instead wore white. Dow Finsterwald offered up a dramatic mental image: “There have been lots of times when my shirt was soaked through, but today I sweated my pants through. I can’t remember ever doing that before.”

Nicklaus remembers the week for another reason, too. Prior to the opening round, the tournament held a long-drive contest for the competitors. (One can only imagine this was canceled in subsequent years due to too much frivolity for the players and overexcitement for the fans.) He won with a mammoth drive of 341 yards and received a money clip that was engraved, “DRIVING DISTANCE WINNER.”

He remembers this because the money clip has stayed in his pocket every day for the past 50 years.

Think about that for a minute: For all of the accolades and treasures heaped upon Nicklaus during his career, the one which has remained closest to him, joining him on journeys around the world, along for the ride on experiences fit for a king, is a money clip for winning a long-drive contest.

“That drive was 341 yards, 17 inches. I do remember that, too,” he says proudly. “That was an 11-degree wood driver, 32 ¾-inch Dynamic Edge shaft. Everybody used the same golf ball, so nobody had a preference on what golf ball was hit.”

Blame the humidity, a collective Open Championship hangover or simply the vagaries of the game, but once the tournament started, its leaderboard featured an eclectic amalgam of performers ranging from superstars (Nicklaus) to near-superstars (Finsterwald) to international stalwarts (Bruce Crampton) to long-forgotten up-and-comers (Dave Ragan).

On the first day, Nicklaus’ round of 69 was good enough to best any of his touring pro buddies, but left him three strokes behind Dick Hart, a little-known assistant pro from Hinsdale, Ill. In Round 2, Nicklaus struggled to a sun-soaked 73, calling it “the worst scoring in the history of golf.” He remained three strokes behind Crampton after the third round, his prodigious length off the tee recalling long-bombing pros of the modern era.

“Jack was getting tremendous distance,” the Sports Illustrated story stated. “He rarely had to take anything out of his golf bag but his driver, wedge, putter and towel.”

That was hardly the sole account from a half-century ago that sounds significantly similar to current events. At one point during the week, Nicklaus was asked about pace of play and produced an answer that would be talk show fodder for weeks in today’s world.

“I’ve never learned to get comfortable over a putt,” he admitted. “I stand there and stand there and never feel quite right. I can hear somebody in the crowd saying, ‘Why doesn’t he go ahead and hit it?’ I know I’m taking a long time, but I just can’t bring myself to putt fast. I won’t hit a ball until I’m ready.”

Nicklaus blamed his tardiness on the greens – astonishingly enough – to a lack of confidence, even going so far as to suggest an inferiority complex compared with the short games of his stiffest competition.

“They may tell you I am, but I don’t think I’m as good a putter as Arnold [Palmer] or Gary [Player],” Nicklaus said at the time. “They’re fantastic. I’m not all that bad, but I could be a lot better.”

On Sunday, he was. Nicklaus eagled the par-5 opening hole and by the time Sunday’s back nine was in full swing, the tournament had become a three-man race. Crampton lost his lead on the 12th hole, then made a mess of things on 14, essentially eliminating himself from contention.

That left Nicklaus and Ragan. Tied late in the contest, Nicklaus drilled a 30-foot birdie putt on 15 followed minutes later by a fluffed chip and two-putt bogey by Ragan on 17. Those nearly concurrent events led to a two-stroke triumph for Jack.

Ragan won three PGA Tour titles and was a member of that year’s Ryder Cup team, but never did claim a major. If he’s spent the past 50 years enduring fitful nights of sleep while wondering what might have been, though, he doesn’t let on.

Reached at Inverness Country Club in Birmingham, Ala., where he still gives lessons, the 77-year-old is asked about lingering memories from the 1963 PGA Championship.

“Where did we play that one?” he asks, exhuming the notion that such a narrow defeat may have been festering in the inner compartments of his mind for all this time.

When reminded, Ragan recalls with impressive clarity the events which transpired down the stretch.

“I enjoyed every minute of it,” he says. “I really thought I was going to win. On the last hole, I missed a short birdie putt. A few minutes later, [Nicklaus] hooked it into the rough on 18. He decided to lay up, pitched out and then knocked it on the back of the green. It hit and spun immediately back to about 10 feet above the hole.

“I thought, ‘Maybe he’ll be nervous and knock it by and miss the next one.’ Ah, shoot. He drilled that baby right in the heart.”

Even so, Ragan holds no ill will toward the man who prevented him from major championship glory, a man he still refers to as “a good friend.”

“One day I was talking to him,” Ragan recalls. “He says, ‘Hey you remember Dallas? The tournament there?’ And I just said, ‘Oh, vaguely…’”

As for Nicklaus, it may have just been one of 18 – not as important as the first one; not as significant as the last one – but his set would forever feel incomplete without a trophy from that year’s tournament.

“The golf course may suit a lot of guys' games, but that's not what the game is,” he says now in reference to that week. “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, as were several other guys that were close.

“I guess I was lucky and prevailed.”

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Stock Watch: LPGA raises some Q-uestions

By Ryan LavnerOctober 23, 2018, 11:42 am

Each week on, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.


Brooks (+9%): Golf’s new king looks built to last, with a powerful game, a rock-solid stroke and a chip on his shoulder the size of his South Florida mansion. As long as Koepka stays healthy, the game’s preeminent big-game hunter will continue to eat.

Danielle Kang (+7%): Two weeks ago her mind was so cluttered that she needed four minutes to pull the trigger on a shot. Battling chip and full-swing yips, she kept the demons at bay to earn an LPGA title even more satisfying than her major breakthrough.

Paul Azinger (+5%): Tabbed to replace the inimitable Johnny Miller in the NBC booth, Azinger was the best and the most logical choice for the job. He’s a sharp observer of the game who won’t be afraid to let it rip, when necessary.

Sergio Garcia (+4%): Whenever the Ryder Cup inevitably returns to Valderrama, even if he’s 65 years old, Garcia deserves at least some consideration for a captain’s pick. His record there is stupid-good: 14 appearances, three wins, seven top-3s, 13 top-10s.

Gary Woodland (+3%): He’s 37 under par across the first two events of the season, with no wins to show for it. Tough sport!


Ian Poulter (-1%): Playing in the final group with Koepka in Korea, Poulter threw up a 1-under 71 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 22 – and nearly tumbled out of the top 10.

Slow-play penalties (-2%): Good thing the PGA Tour Champions rules officials finally cracked down on slow play at the senior level – by picking on Corey Pavin and not notorious slowpoke Bernhard Langer, who just so happens to be No. 2 in the points standings.

LPGA Q Series (-4%): The LPGA’s new version of Q-School gets underway this week, and the women’s college golf coaches are not happy about it: The top 5 players from last season’s individual rankings (Jennifer Kupcho, Maria Fassi, Patty Tavatanakit, Lilia Vu, Lauren Stephenson) automatically earned a spot in the final stage, guaranteeing at least some Symetra status and likely a full LPGA card, if they finish inside the top 45. The LPGA is cherry-picking the best from the college ranks, even if they’re not yet ready to make the jump.

World No. 1 parity (-5%): This was just the second time since the world rankings debuted that four players reached No. 1. That trend doesn’t seem like it’ll end in 2019, either – especially with Tiger Woods once again eyeing the top spot.

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What's in the Bag: CJ Cup winner Koepka

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 23, 2018, 12:50 am

Brooks Koepka closed strong to win the CJ Cup in South Korea, and he also took over the No. 1 ranking. Here's a look inside his bag.

Driver: TaylorMade M3 (9.5 degrees)

Fairway Woods: TaylorMade M2 Tour HL (16.5 degrees)

Irons: Nike Vapor Fly Pro (3); Mizuno JPX-900 Tour (4-PW)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 Raw (52, 56 degrees), SM7 Raw TVD (60 degrees)

Putter: Scotty Cameron T10 Select Newport 2 prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

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HOFer Stephenson: Robbie wants to play me in movie

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 4:20 pm

Margot Robbie has already starred in one sports-related biopic, and if she gets her way a second opportunity might not be far behind.

Robbie earned an Academy Award nomination for her work last year as former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in the movie, I Tonya. She also has a desire to assume the role of her fellow Aussie, Jan Stephenson, in a movie where she would trade in her skates for a set of golf clubs.

That's at least according to Stephenson, who floated out the idea during an interview with Golf Australia's Inside the Ropes podcast shortly after being announced as part of the next class of World Golf Hall of Fame inductees.

"We've talked about doing a movie. Margot Robbie wants to play me," Stephenson said.

There certainly would be a resemblance between the two Australian blondes, as Robbie has become one of Hollywood's leading ladies while Stephenson was on the cutting edge of sex appeal during her playing career. In addition to several magazine covers, Stephenson also racked up 16 LPGA wins between 1976-87 including three majors.

Robbie, 28, has also had starring roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street.

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Monday Scramble: Who's No. 1 ... in the long run?

By Ryan LavnerOctober 22, 2018, 4:00 pm

Brooks Koepka becomes golf’s new king, Sergio Garcia enjoys the Ryder Cup bump, Danielle Kang overcomes the demons, Michelle Wie goes under the knife and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

Brooks Koepka added an exclamation point to his breakout year.

His red-hot finish at the CJ Cup not only earned him a third title in 2018, but with the victory he leapfrogged Dustin Johnson to become the top-ranked player in the world for the first time.

That top spot could become a revolving door over the next few months, with Johnson, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose all vying for No. 1, but it’s a fitting coda to Koepka’s stellar year that included two more majors and Player of the Year honors.

For a player whose team searches long and hard for slights, there’s no questioning now his place in the game.

1. DJ won three events this season, but he wasn’t able to create much separation between him and the rest of the world’s best players.

Koepka’s rise to No. 1 made him the fourth player to reach the top spot this year, and the third in the past month.

Who has the greatest potential to get to No. 1 and stay there? Johnson is the best bet in the short term, but he’s also 34. Koepka will be a threat in the majors as long as he stays healthy. So the belief here is that it’ll be Justin Thomas, who is 25, without weakness and, best of all, hungry for more success.  

2. Koepka had an eventful final round at the CJ Cup. Staked to a four-shot lead in the final round, his advantage was trimmed to one after a sloppy start, then he poured it on late with an inward 29. He punctuated his historic victory with an eagle on the 72nd hole, smirking as it tumbled into the cup.

It was his fifth career Tour title – but only his second non-major. Weird.

3. How appropriate that golf’s most underappreciated talent – at least in his estimation – became world No. 1 in a limited-field event that finished at 2 a.m. on the East Coast. Somehow he’ll spin this into being overlooked, again.

4. Sergio Garcia carried all of that Ryder Cup momentum into the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where he earned the hat trick by capturing his third consecutive title there.

While the rest of the world’s best gathered in Korea or rested for global golf’s finishing kick, Garcia won the weather-delayed event by four shots over Shane Lowry. Garcia’s foundation hosts the tournament, and he extended his crazy-good record there: In 14 career appearances at Valderrama, he has three wins, seven top-3s, nine top-5s and 13 top-10s.

Garcia, who went 3-1 at the recent Ryder Cup, became the first player since Ernie Els (2004) to win the same European Tour event three years in a row.

5. Gary Woodland probably doesn’t want 2018 to end.

He was the runner-up at the CJ Cup, his second consecutive top-5 to start the season. He made 11(!) birdies in the final round and now is a combined 37 under par for the first two starts of the new season.

6. This definitely wasn’t the Ryder Cup.

Four shots back, and the closest pursuer to Koepka, Ian Poulter had a chance to put pressure on the leader in the final round. Instead, he was left in the dust, mustering only three birdies and getting waxed by seven shots (64-71) on the last day. Poulter tumbled all the way into a tie for 10th.

7. It hasn’t been the easiest road for Danielle Kang since she won the 2017 Women’s PGA.

The 26-year-old said she’s dealt with anxiety for months and has battled both putting and full-swing yips. Her problems were so deep that a week ago, she stood over the ball for four minutes and couldn’t pull the trigger.

No wonder she said that she was “pretty stunned” to hold off a bevy of challengers to win her second career title at the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

“I’m finally at a place where I’m peaceful and happy with my game, with my life,” she said.

8. In the middle of the seven-way tie for second in China was Ariya Jutanugarn, who will return to No. 1 in the world for the second time this season.

9. Also in that logjam was another former top-ranked player, Lydia Ko, who had tumbled all the way to 17th. Ko hasn’t been able to build off of her slump-busting victory earlier this summer, but she now has six consecutive top-16 finishes and at least seems more comfortable in her new position.

“Sometimes you get too carried away about the awards and rankings,” she said. “It just becomes so much. I think it’s more important to keep putting myself there and … shooting in the 60s, and that way I think it builds the confidence and the rankings kind of sort itself out.”

Here's how Tiger Woods explained his pitiful performance at the Ryder Cup: “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf.”

Of course, he looked just fine a week earlier at East Lake, where he snapped a five-year winless drought with one of the most memorable weeks of his legendary career. His training wasn’t a topic of conversation there.

It's reasonable to expect that the emotional victory took a lot of out of him, but if he was so gassed, why did he sit only one team session and go 36 on Saturday? By Sunday night, Woods looked like he was running on empty, so either he wasn't upfront with captain Jim Furyk about his energy levels, or Furyk ran him out there anyway.

This week's award winners ...  

Can’t Catch a Break: Michelle Wie. The star-crossed talent announced that she’ll miss the rest of the season to undergo surgery to repair a troublesome hand injury. Maybe one of these years she’ll be able to play a full schedule, without physical setbacks.  

Grab the Mic: Paul Azinger. Taking Johnny Miller’s seat in the booth, Azinger will call all four days of action at every Golf Channel/NBC event, beginning at the WGC-Mexico Championship. He was the most logical (and best) choice to follow the inimitable Miller.

Take That, Dawdler: Corey Pavin. It was Pavin – and not the notoriously slow Bernhard Langer – who earned the first slow-play penalty on the PGA Tour Champions in what seemed like ages. The one-shot penalty dropped him to 15th in the event.

Long Time Coming: Jason Day. His tie for fifth at the CJ Cup was his best finish worldwide since … The Players? Really. Wow.

The Tumble Continues: Jordan Spieth. In the latest world rankings, Spieth is officially out of the top 10 for the first time since November 2014. A reminder that he finished last year at No. 2.

Clutch Performances: Andalucia Masters. Both Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Richie Ramsay both moved inside the top 116 in the Race to Dubai standings, securing their European Tour cards for next season. Gonzo tied for fifth in the regular-season finale, while Ramsay was joint 11th.

That’s Messed Up: CJ Cup purse. As colleague Will Gray noted, the purse for the 78-man event was $9.5 million – or $400K more than the first 15 events of the Tour schedule combined. The difference between the haves and have-nots has never been larger.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. The defending champion never could get started in Korea, closing with his low round of the week, a 4-under 68, just to salvage a tie for 36th. Sigh.