“What makes the PGA special? I’m a professional golfer and I’m a member of the PGA, the Professional Golfers Association of America, and you’re always proud to win the championship of your organization.”
While many players could make that statement, no one gives the words more weight than Jack Nicklaus, who said them on the eve of last year’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, the site of his last PGA title, in 1980. The game’s all-time greatest still sits on top of the golf world with 18 major championships, and five of those are PGAs, won in three different decades, on five different courses, in four different states (doubling up, appropriately, in his home state of Ohio).
It’s been more than 50 years since Nicklaus’s first PGA victory and almost 35 since his last, but still no one has more wins (only Walter Hagen ties him, all five of The Haig’s at match play). Jack made 27 cuts in 37 appearances (tying him for most appearances with Arnold Palmer), and has the second-largest winning margin (seven shots, in 1980), one of the lowest scoring averages over all his rounds (71.37 over 128 rounds, also the most PGA rounds played by anyone), and not only the most second places (four, in 1964, ‘ 65, ’74, and ’83) but also the most top-3, top-5, and top-1o finishes.
An incredible performance in a stellar career. Here is a look back at Jack’s five PGA Championship victories.
1963. Dallas Athletic Club, Dallas, Texas
Playing in the PGA for only the second time, Nicklaus survived 100-degree heat to overtake Australian Bruce Crampton, who started the final round with a three-stroke lead. With his victory, the 23-year-old Nicklaus became the fourth man to win a U.S. Open, Masters, and PGA, joining Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, and Byron Nelson. (Nicklaus would complete the career grand slam in 1966 with his first British Open title.)
1971. PGA National GC, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
With his second PGA title—played for the first and only time in February—Nicklaus became the first golfer to complete a second career grand slam; he would complete a third slam in 1978. He was one stroke off the lead after the first round, then led after each of the three rounds that followed, winning by two strokes over Billy Casper, who birdied the final two holes to edge the 54-year-old Tommy Bolt by one.
1973. Canterbury Golf Club, Cleveland, Ohio
With a four-shot victory over Bruce Crampton, Nicklaus had his 14th major championship, topping the record held by his idol, Bobby Jones, for 43 years. After a one-over-par 72 to open the tournament, Nicklaus followed with two 68s and closed with a 69. He wasn’t much challenged after the third round, with Crampton moving into second when Mason Rudolph double-bogeyed the final hole.
1975. Firestone Country Club, Akron, Ohio
Nicklaus had been linked to Firestone CC since 1958, when he played his first PGA event, the Rubber City Open, at the age of 18. He also won five World Series of Golf titles there between 1962 and 1976. Once again, Bruce Crampton was Jack’s closest pursuer, finishing two strokes back. He held a four-stroke lead over Nicklaus after a second-round 63, with others also in the mix, but closing rounds of 67 and 71 from Jack and a third-round 75 from Crampton did the trick.
1980. Oak Hill Country Club, Rochester, New York
Nicklaus’s fifth PGA Championship not only tied Hagen (in Hagen’s hometown) but set a record for the biggest winning margin—seven strokes, over Andy Bean—since the switch to stroke play in 1958. (The record has since been enlarged to eight, by Rory McIlroy in 2012.) Consistent early-round play put Jack in second after two rounds; a third-round 66 was the day’s low score and gave him a three-stroke cushion. A final-round, one-under-par 69 was more than enough to keep the field at bay.