PGA Championship 2016: Reenacting Jack Nicklaus’ Famous 1-Iron

July 25, 2016
Jack 2.jpg

Can Jack Nicklaus’ miraculous 1-iron at the 1967 U.S. Open at Baltusrol be duplicated by a 1-handicapper using the same Stone Age equipment? Let’s find out…

On the 72nd hole of the 1967 U.S. Open at Baltusrol, Jack Nicklaus blasted perhaps his greatest single shot—a sky-scraping, pin-seeking 1-iron from 238 yards. Uphill. Into the wind. He knocked it to 22 feet (and birdied) using a MacGregor VIP blade and a rock-like MacGregor Tourney ball, Stone Age implements compared to today’s high-tech equipment.

To commemorate the shot, GOLF Magazine investigated. The last time a major was held at Baltusrol, at the 2005 PGA Championship, we asked Baltusrol’s reigning club champion at the time, 39-year-old Rod McCrae III, to try to duplicate it, armed with an exact replica of Nicklaus’ muscleback butter knife and a dozen mealy old balls. A tall order, but good omens abounded: McCrae was a 1 handicap at the time, he once carried his own 1-iron, and he was a 1-year-old when Nicklaus broke the U.S. Open scoring record in 1967. “It’ll be tough, but I have a chance,” McCrae said as he marched toward the rectangular plaque that marks Jack’s spot on the 18th fairway. “I’m hoping seven or eight swings will do the trick.” Give or take a few, he was almost right!

SWING 1: Hitting into a firm breeze—just like Jack did—McCrae knocks a gentle fade 175 yards, some 50 yards short. Gulp. “Wow, the club doesn’t do any work,” he says. “It’s all muscle.”

SWING 2: Crisp contact—180 yards. “I’m just getting warmed up.”

SWINGS 3-10: Seven cuts, seven more lay-ups. “Man, this thing has a sweet spot the size of a dime. How did Jack play with this?”

SWINGS 11-15: Left, right, left, right, and one off the toe. “The vibrations shoot right up your arm, like hitting an aluminum bat off the handle,” says McCrae. Out of old balls, he dips into a box of new V1s.

SWINGS 16-20: The new balls all fall about 20-25 yards short. “Come on, Rod!” He turns to his caddie and makes like Tin Cup. “Another ball, Romeo.”

SWINGS 21-30: McCrae makes good contact, but it’s a flag too far. So he steps 10 paces closer, then smiles. “Maybe we can move up the plaque.”

SWINGS 31-36: The shot demands a low hook, but it’s not easy turning the ball over with a butter knife. “Scary thing is, I’m hitting the ball great,” he says. To give his boss a break, the caddie, a 5 handicap, takes two swipes—and chunks both into a creek.

SWING 37: After (ahem) moving up another 10 yards, McCrae stripes a low, wind-piercing draw that…just…might…fall five feet short. “I’d keep trying,” he says, “but I’m all out of ammo.”

After scarring the earth for 20 minutes, McCrae is duly humbled. “It shows you how great Jack was,” he says. “That he could sit 240 yards from the pin on the last hole of the U.S. Open, look in his bag and say, ‘Yeah, 1-iron sounds like a good idea.'” Still, with a helping breeze, McCrae thinks he could summon the shot. “But it would have to be the perfect swing.”

Until then, let it be known: Even Rod can’t hit a 1-iron.

This story appeared in the August 2005 edition of GOLF Magazine.