Why Tiger and Jack made winning majors look really easy

Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods at the Payne's Valley Cup event in September.

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Jack Nicklaus won his first major at the 1962 U.S. Open. Tiger Woods won his first at the 1997 Masters. Nicklaus would go on to win 18 majors, the most in history. Woods has gone on to win 15, the second most. They wanted to repeat the feeling. Clearly.

Maybe more so than anything else. Maybe more so than anyone else.

“No one handled pressure better than Jack and Tiger,” longtime instructor Butch Harmon said recently on an Instagram Live video with his son and fellow instructor, Claude Harmon III. “They were the best at it because they loved it. They absolutely loved it. They lived for it. They loved being the guy. They want to be the quarterback at the end of the game that’s got to march 70 yards in 45 seconds and get it done. They want to be the Michael Jordan and just give me the ball with a second left and I’ll make the damn shot from no matter where. 

“They don’t know how they’ll do it, but they know they’re going to do it because they have this tremendous belief in their own ability. And the more they did it, the more they believed. And Nicklaus’ case, yes, he won 18 majors – Claude, he had 19 seconds. Eighteen majors and 19 seconds. You look at Tiger Woods – he’s got 15 majors. He made 142 cuts in a row. A guy makes 10 or 12 now – ‘Oh, he’s on a great cut streak.’ (He) was on a cut streak for five years. You kidding me, it was phenomenal. These two guys set themselves so far above everyone else, and that’s why they were so good.”

Of course, Nicklaus and Woods had to get there. Then stay there. When a course required a shot, they required it, too. 

“I think it’s in your DNA. It’s in your personality. Both of them were really hard workers,” Harmon said. “They worked tremendously hard on their golf games. They knew their capabilities. They knew what they could do and what they couldn’t do. What they weren’t good at they worked hard and became good at.”

It’s perhaps worked no better than at Augusta National, where each player has had their most major success. Nicklaus has won the Masters a record six times. Woods five times. 

At the Masters, Harmon said, “they were both very long, both were fabulous putters, and both of them are maybe the two smartest guys that have ever played golf.”

“They had the two qualities that you need there,” he said. “Long off the tee, which makes the par-5s shorter. And they could really putt, which makes those greens for them accessible from everywhere. And then the third one is they were the most intelligent golfers that have ever lived. They really knew how to get themselves around a golf course.”  

Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at nick.piastowski@golf.com.