Bunker Mentality

On This Day: Jack Nicklaus becomes youngest Masters winner

Bunker Mentality

Golf legend Jack Nicklaus became the youngest man to win the The U.S. Masters on this day in 1963 after scooping the title aged 23 years and three months.

The most accomplished player of all time won the first of his record six Green Jackets after finishing one stroke ahead of runner-up Tony Lema with a score of 286 (-2).

A News of the Day newsreel shows the American - who would later become the oldest player to win The Masters - ending the final hole with a three-foot putt for par.

The winner of 18 Majors was then helped into his Green Jacket by the great Arnold Palmer, who had won this most cherished of golf tournaments the previous year.

Nicklaus, who was nicknamed the Golden Bear due to his chubbiness and blonde hair, was spurred to victory at Augusta by shooting 66 (-6) in the second round.

“I always had a love affair with Augusta, and when you have a love affair with something, you usually play pretty well at it,” he told the Daily Mail last year.

Remarkably, he carried on playing well amid one of the heaviest rainfalls in the tournament’s history during the third of four rounds.

“I remember on the 13th fairway, there was so much water that there really wasn’t any place to drop the ball,” he said.

“But they forced us to keep on playing, and finally the rain stopped. We got to the 18th green and I remember looking at the leaderboard.”

He was the only player with an under-par overall tally and had knocked Mike Souchak off top spot after finishing the round with a commendable score of 74 (+2).

“It surprised me but it taught me the value of perseverance,” he added. “Souchak shot 79 that day as he didn’t think they’d ever finish playing.”

But Nicklaus had already shown his mettle the previous year when he won the 1962 U.S. Open – his first professional victory of any kind – in his debut season.

The Ohioan, who was taunted by fans calling him “fatso” throughout the tournament, beat Palmer on the then No 1 golfer’s home turf at Oakmont, Pennsylvania.

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Jack Nicklaus during a ceremony dedicating a plaque in his honour at the 1998 Masters

Nicklaus would go on to win the U.S. Open four times, The Open three times and the PGA Championship five times.

But it was his performances at The Masters that would be best remembered.

In 1965, he won by a then-record margin of nine strokes with a then best-ever score of 271 (-17), prompting tournament founder Bobby Jones to remark: “He plays a game with which I am not familiar.”

A decade later, he won his fifth Green Jacket – finally overtaking Palmer’s four – in what is considered by many to be the best ever Masters championship.

Nicklaus topped the leaders’ table only in the 16th hole of the final round when he snaked in a seemingly impossible 40ft birdie putt to secure a birdie.

But his most remarkable Masters victory would be his last in 1986, when at age 46 he became the oldest player ever to win the tournament.

Caddied by his son Jackie, he charged into top place – and indeed the leaders board - for the first time after shooting an astonishing 30 in the second nine of the final round.

Nicklaus once again showed his mettle after being derided as “washed up” following six years without a majors win.

“I said to myself: ‘I'm not going to quit now, playing the way I'm playing. I've played too well, too long to let a shorter period of bad golf be my last.’”

Seve Ballasteros, who took over as youngest Masters winner in 1980, magnanimously described his two-stroke loss to Nicklaus as “destiny”.

Golf would not see a champion with as much potential until Tiger Woods became the youngest ever Masters winner in 1997 when he was aged 21 years, three months 14 days.

Yet Nicklaus, who is now 74 and has still had time to break other golfing records in the interim, remains the greatest.

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