What it’s like rewatching a Jack Nicklaus U.S. Open win with … Jack Nicklaus

jack nicklaus at 1980 U.S. Open

Jack Nicklaus en route to his fourth and final U.S. Open win in 1980.


We conclude this week of Bamberger Briefly dispatches with a (virtual) visit with Jack Nicklaus. The lineup, for those keeping score at home: Part I, Bryan Zuriff, Match II Producer. Part II: Superstars Among Us. Part III: Golf and Social Justice. Part IV, Wake Forest Women’s Golf. Next week, Bamberger will be back on the ground, at the Colonial Country Club, as the PGA Tour resumes play.

The golfer I’ve spent the most time with this year, virtually and in person, and the golfer I’ve probably quoted the most, is Jack Nicklaus. As it happens, Jack’s business partner, Howard Milstein, is my ultimate boss, but that’s a coincidence. It’s hard to imagine another sports figure more available to reporters than Jack Nicklaus.

Jack revived his old State of the Bear group press conference in January, shortly after turning 80. I saw him in South Florida, where he lives, in February, to talk about his 1975 Masters win. I quoted Nicklaus in a piece in the next issue of GOLF Magazine, about the 1960 U.S. Open, where, as a 20-year-old amateur, he finished two shots behind the winner, Arnold Palmer. We did a five-part series, via a FaceTime, in April. He talked about golf with Peyton Manning, his long marriage to the former Barbara Bash, how Augusta will play in November, playing golf colorblind and golf-course architects.

Jack’s a golfing polymath. If you’re interested in the game, you’re going to learn something, talking to him.

On Thursday, through the good offices of the USGA (Michael Trostel, USGA historian, presiding), a small group of us taped Nicklaus discussing his fourth U.S. Open win, in 1980, at Baltusrol. Fourth and last, as it turns out, but nobody could say that at the time. The USGA is going release the taped interview on June 15, what would have been the Monday of U.S. Open week, had the U.S. Open not been postponed. (It will air on the USGA’s social channels.)

For more than a half-century now, the U.S. Open has concluded on Father’s Day, the third Sunday in June. June 21, this year. That is, this year, the Sunday of Hilton Head.

Nicklaus was terrific, remembering how he played four straight rounds with Isao Aoki of Japan, and Aoki’s unique pop putting stroke, the toe of his putter pointing almost to the sky.

He talked about how fans swarmed him and Aoki on the last hole, much as they did Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods on the final hole of the Tour Championship at East Lake in 2018.

Nicklaus talked about how he went winless in 1979 and how, in 1980, his lifelong teacher, Jack Grout, helped Nicklaus with his full swing and how his friend and contemporary Phil Rodgers helped him with his pitching game.
All the while, Nicklaus was watching a highlight reel of the ABC broadcast of the 1980 U.S. Open, but now Jack was adding his commentary. He talked about his haircut. (A pageboy. Stylish!) His 3-wood. (Persimmon, of course. Old and tiny). His caddie. (Angelo Argea. A dignified man). The golf course. (Baltusrol ends with two par-5s. Name other course that does that.)

Jack’s son, Michael, and wife Barbara were on hand at Baltusrol. getty

Jack and Barbara have five children and I asked Jack how many were there. Jack wasn’t sure, but he knew their youngest child, Michael, was.

A moment later, Michael showed up in the highlight reel, and we could all see a casual father-and-son hug, in a crowded, chaotic scorer’s tent.

“We went to McDonald’s that night,” Big Jack said. “That’s what Michael wanted to do, so that’s what we did.” The U.S. Open winner and his young son.

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