SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Jack Nicklaus will always be linked with his four U.S. Open titles – not just in the record book, but on the gold medal given to the winner.
Starting this year, the U.S. Open champion will receive the “Jack Nicklaus Medal.'' The medal has been awarded to the winner every year since the U.S. Open began in 1895. It previously did not have a name. The winner also gets a silver trophy, which doesn't have a name.
The USGA also announced it is adding 1,000 square feet to its museum for the Jack Nicklaus Room to celebrate a career that includes two U.S. Amateur titles, the four U.S. Opens and two U.S. Senior Opens. Nicklaus joins Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Mickey Wright as players with their own room at the USGA Museum at its headquarters in Far Hills, N.J.
“Kind of neat, isn't it?'' Nicklaus said. “Take an old guy and honor him. I think that's pretty nice. It's pretty humbling and meaningful.''
Nicklaus set the benchmark in professional golf with his 18 majors. He is best known for his six green jackets from the Masters, and he won five PGA Championships. Often overlooked is the history he has with the USGA and its championships – from the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur, the Walker Cup he played in Scotland, and even the U.S. Junior Amateur that he never won.
“One of the core missions of the USGA is to preserve the history of the great game,'' USGA President Glen Nager said. “And in our instance, although it's an ongoing story, there was a missing chapter in the USGA chronicling of that history, which was honoring the greatest golfer of all time. … There was no greater honor we could think to give him and recognize the contributions that he's made to the game and to history than to name the medal that we give the winner every year.
Nicklaus played his first USGA event at age 13 in the 1953 U.S. Junior Amateur at Southern Hills. He recalls sauntering onto the tee about 30 seconds before his name was announced for his 7 a.m. tee time. He saw USGA executive director Joe Dey, who told him, “Young man, 30 seconds later and you'll be starting on the second tee, 1 down.''
“That was my introduction to USGA golf,'' Nicklaus said. “I promise you, I was never late for a starting time.''
What appealed to him was a test like no other he faced in the 71 times he played in USGA events.
“I always felt it was the complete and proper examination for the level of tournament that they were playing,'' he said. “We played the juniors, we expected the fairways to be a little bit narrower, and the rough to be modest, the greens to be fast, but not ridiculously firm. And then as we moved to the Amateur, it graduated up a little bit, a little narrower, and a little bit more rough.
“As we got to the Open, obviously, we end up with a complete examination.''
Nicklaus won his first pro title at Oakmont in the 1962 U.S. Open when he took down Palmer in his backyard. Adding to the celebration of Nicklaus this week, the USGA has produced its first documentary, “Jack's First Major,'' which will be shown Sunday before the final round on NBC Sports.
Nicklaus has his own museum in Columbus, Ohio, and will be sharing and giving some of the artifacts to the USGA.
The expansion projection is expected to begin next summer and be ready in the spring of 2015. The room will look at his U.S. Open wins in 1962, 1967, 1972 and 1980, along with his two U.S. Amateur titles and other USGA events.