2005: The end of a Golden era

The man who dominated major golf championships like no other is about to say what should be an emotional goodbye. His farewell to majors comes at the place golf first said hello, at St. Andrews, the birthplace. When you define excellence in Grand Slam events, why not make a historical exit on the grandest of stages?

“I thought it was appropriate,” said Jack Nicklaus. “I thought that would be a pretty good place to stop.”

Nicklaus, 65, won two of his British Open titles at the Old Course at St. Andrews, in 1970 and ’78. This time his goal is a bit more modest. He’d simply like to wave on the Swilken Bridge at No. 18 Sunday instead of Friday.

“For me to make the cut, to play reasonably well,” he said of his hope. “I mean, the golf course is not too long for me to play. If I can play golf, I can play St. Andrews. Realistically I could do fairly well. I’m going there in the hope of being able to compete.”

Nicklaus has played 162 professional majors, starting at the 1958 U.S. Open. His record 18 victories and 19 seconds came in his first 104 major starts. Since 1998, though, he has made the cut in only one of nine majors – at the 2000 Masters, where he tied for 54th.

Nicklaus said he felt the game passing him by in his early 50s. Since 1986, the year he won the Masters at age 46, he has had three top 10s in majors. So he’s realistic.

“I haven’t been competitive for 10 years,” he said. “I’m not going to wake up tomorrow and play competitive golf.”

But he might wake up tomorrow and think about St. Andrews. His memories of the Auld Grey Toon run deep.

He first learned of St. Andrews through his study of Bobby Jones.

“My guy,” Nicklaus called Jones. “Jones played at St. Andrews, tore up his card and walked off the golf course. He had sort of a love-hate relationship with St. Andrews, but he always said your career is never complete as a great golfer unless you can win there.”

Nicklaus’ father played the Old Course in 1959 while Jack was in Scotland for the Walker Cup matches at Muirfield. Dad’s report wasn’t good.

“He told me what a horrible place it was,” Nicklaus recalled. “All his friends, they three-putted 14, 15 greens because the course wasn’t in tournament shape. It was just not very good. But that’s the way St. Andrews is. It’s a public facility. It’s a lot better now. At least they have an irrigation system.”

Nicklaus, though, had a far better impression than his father when he finished second at the ’64 Open there.

“I said, ‘Man, this place is great,’ ” he said. “I loved it because I was not expecting anything and I got so much more. And it was so different than anything I had ever played. It had stood the test of time with golfers for more than 100 years. I thought that was kind of neat.”

Nicklaus, too, is keen on the way the Scots have treated him. And he knows the last might be best.

“They have always accepted me,” he said. “It’s been fun, a great experience every time I’ve gone there. I receive a nice reception at St. Andrews, whether it’s 1964 or 2005. As I finish up, it’ll probably be a little bit more than it was in 1964, but that’s OK.”

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