Jack Nicklaus, just two years removed from dominating amateur golf as a student at The Ohio State University, bested a star-studded field of the game’s greatest professionals to capture his first Masters Tournament title on this day in history, April 7, 1963.
The victory sparked an enduring love affair between the gallery at Augusta National in Georgia, America’s most celebrated golf course, and the sport’s most celebrated player.
The 23-year-old phenom was handed the green jacket for the first time at the 1963 Masters by defending champion Arnold Palmer after Nicklaus’ two-under performance and one-stroke win over Tony Lema.
The field that day also included all-time sport luminaries Sam Snead and Gary Player.
The exchange of the trophy blazer between golf legends was part of a five-year streak in which only Nicklaus or Palmer donned the green jacket (1962-1966) at Augusta.
“In his prime, the Golden Bear was the one everyone chased,” Golf Digest declared in 2020, in a celebration of Nicklaus’s 80th birthday.
“Drop that golfer into today’s game, and it would be the case still.”
“The Golden Bear was the one everyone chased. Drop that golfer into today’s game, and it would be the case still.”
Nicklaus is widely regarded today as the greatest golfer of all time, routinely topping lists of the best players in history.
He dominated amateur golf by winning the U.S. Amateur Championship twice (1959, 1961) and the NCAA title once (1961) before turning pro in 1962.
He immediately proved himself among the sport’s elite, overcoming a two-shot deficit when entering the final round before edging Palmer by one shot in a playoff to capture the 1962 U.S. Open.
It was the first of his record 18 major titles. Nicklaus also holds records with 73 PGA Tour wins and an incredible 56 top-five finishes in majors, among many other best-ever achievements.
The Masters at Augusta National proved the tournament at which the Golden Bear’s fearsome brilliance shined brightest.
Nicklaus became the first players to win consecutive Masters titles in 1965 and 1966. He also won at Augusta in 1972 and 1975, before donning a final green jacket at the grand old age of 46.
“Never in the history of the Masters did the ground shake, cheers reverberate and emotions explode as they did for Jack Nicklaus in 1986.”
Several sources cite that Nicklaus victory at Augusta in 1986, his record sixth Masters title, as the greatest moment in the history of the storied tournament.
Nicklaus sunk a spectacular 18-foot putt on the 17th hole of the final round, amid a delirious reaction from the gallery, then held on at 18 to win by one stroke.
The sight of Nicklaus leaning forward intently, following his putt across the green with focused eyes, then raising his club triumphantly over his head as the ball dropped in the hole is one of the most famous images in the annals of golf.
“Never in the history of the Masters did the ground shake, cheers reverberate and emotions explode as they did for Jack Nicklaus in 1986,” enthused U.K. golf outlet Links Magazine.
In addition to his dominance atop the leader board in golf’s biggest events, the Golden Bear finished second in major tournaments an incredible 19 times.
“It has been and will continue to be the utmost honor to have won your great tournament and to be forever called a Masters champion.” — Jack Nicklaus
Nicklaus, now 83, is still revered at Augusta National.
He’s been an honorary starter at The Masters each year since 2010, teeing off yesterday with fellow golf legends Gary Player and Tom Watson.
He returned the affection with a so-called “love letter to the Masters” in 2019 — 60 years after he first competed at Augusta as an amateur in 1959.
“Thank you for a lifetime of memories. Thank you providing the perfect background for 60 years and six opportunities to feel the overwhelming satisfaction of slipping on the green jacket,” Nicklaus wrote.
“The Masters at Augusta National proved the tournament at which the Golden Bear’s fearsome brilliance shined brightest.”
“It has been and will continue to be the utmost honor to have won your great tournament and to be forever called a Masters champion.”
“Nicklaus’ presence at Augusta National is much more than ceremonial,” Golfweek wrote in 2019.
“He is the game’s ranking living legend — with those 18 majors — and continues to be an influential and respected golf presence.”