Jack Nicklaus says that the U.S. Open, set to begin next Thursday at Oakmont in Western Pennsylvania, always ranked first in importance for him among the majors.
“The U.S. Open was always No. 1 for me,” the Golden Bear told Golf Digest. “I’m an American, and it’s the championship of my country. Of the majors, the British Open was No. 2 because it entailed the rest of the world. The PGA was No. 3 because I’m a professional, and to be the best of what I do for a living, that stands for a lot.”
The ordering left a strange omission out of the win, place, or show slots.
“That leaves the Masters in an interesting position,” Nicklaus explained. “It always was my favorite tournament to play. Bob Jones was my hero, and I’ve had too many great experiences there to count. But it isn’t a championship exactly, so on that count it doesn’t surpass the other three. I’ll say this: If you conducted a poll among players now on tour, they’d rate the Masters the No. 1 tournament in golf.”
Most pros likely disagree. But no pro knows the majors like Nicklaus. He remains four wins ahead of Tiger Woods, and, despite his record appearing in jeopardy a decade ago, Nicklaus looks safely ensconced in the top spot for the foreseeable future.
Nicklaus did better in the tournaments he more lightly regards than the ones he puts on a higher pedestal. The 18-time major winner won four U.S. Opens (versus six titles at Augusta and five at the PGA Championship) beginning in 1962 and ending in 1980.
The first of those U.S. Open titles, like this year’s tournament, came at Oakmont. Nicklaus ranks the course, along with Winged Foot, as the most difficult in the United States. The Ohioan, who calls Oakmont “perfect for me,” says he first encountered the course two weeks before winning his first U.S. Open. He explains, “I arrived there feeling it was my tournament to win.”