Evolution of Jack Nicklaus’s drivers

1 of 8 James Drake/SI
When Jack Nicklaus burst onto the scene in the early 1960's, his fans and opponents were awed by his distance off the tee. He was one of the few players who could routinely drive the ball more than 300 yards with low-tech persimmon equipment. Here we highlight the tools of the Golden Bear's trade, and illuminate how far technology has brought the big stick in the past half-century.
2 of 8 Schecter Lee
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MacGregor Jack Nicklaus CustomUsed by Jack: 1966-1974Manufactured: 1966Majors won: 1966 and '72 Masters; '67 and '72 U.S. Open; '71 and '73 PGA Championship.Technology: The persimmon head is finished with five coats of acrylate epoxy for protection. A four-way roll face — toe to heel, crown to sole — creates "gear effect" so off-center shots won't curve as far offline.History: MacGregor made this exact duplicate of the 1960 MacGregor Tommy Armour SS1W after Nicklaus cracked the original in the 1966 match with Player in South Africa.
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MacGregor Tommy Armour 945WUsed by Jack: 1976-1990Manufactured: 1954-1955Majors won: 1978 British Open; '80 U.S. Open and PGA Championship; '86 Masters.Technology: The 945W (with mahogany glaze finish) features MacGregor's signature red-and-white "fibre" Eye-OMatic face insert. The company used the distinctive multi-color insert in 1952-1957.History: Nicklaus played MacGregor's Tommy Armour 693 driver [not pictured] in 1975 during Major triumphs at The Masters and the PGA Championship.
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MacGregor Jack Nicklaus Muirfield 20thUsed by Jack: 1990-1991Manufactured: 1989Majors won: 1990 Senior Players; '91 Tradition, U.S. Senior Open and Senior PGA.Technology: Small-headed stainless steel woods were more forgiving (and easier to mass-produce) than wooden clubs. This led to 44" graphite shafts.History: The modern metal wood (Taylor Made Pittsburgh Persimmon) debuted in 1979. By 1988, wood woods were virtually extinct. In 1991, Callaway unveiled Big Bertha, the first thin-walled, oversize (190 cc) stainless steel driver.
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Nicklaus Air Bear TitaniumUsed by Jack: 1996Manufactured: 1996Majors won: 1996 Tradition (Nicklaus's 100th professional win).Technology: Early titanium drivers were larger and more forgiving than their steel predecessors. Bigger, lighter heads made 45" graphite shafts the norm.History: In 1995, Callaway's Great Big Bertha Titanium (250 cc) and TaylorMade's Ti Bubble (one year later) redefined drivers with heads made from lightweight titanium, paving the way for today's 460 cc clubs. Previously, it was too difficult (and expensive) to produce cast titanium heads.
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Nicklaus Airmax DPT 360Used by Jack: 2003-2004Manufactured: 2003Majors won: NoneTechnology: "Rigid" clubfaces become a thing of the past as manufacturers use strong, light materials to craft a flexible face (like a trampoline) for maximum power. This prompts the USGA to impose a "spring-like" effect test.History: In 2000, the TaylorMade 300 Series was born. The company predicted that its "too large" 360 cc head would be the least popular model. In fact, the 360 Ti doubled sales of its two siblings and this consumer acceptance signaled the birth of 300 cc+ clubheads.
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Nicklaus Airmax DPT 460Used by Jack: 2005-presentManufactured: 2005Majors won: NoneTechnology: Drivers today are more forgiving, with significantly more draw-bias. More efficient clubfaces ensure that mis-hits will perform almost as well as center strikes.History: Titanium drivers reached the 460 cc size limit five years ago. Variations now include geometric head shapes, removable weights or changeable shaft systems. A handful of clubs offer adjustable face angles, lie angles and loft to achieve the optimal ball flight.