Jack Nicklaus was born in Columbus, Ohio and grew up in the suburb of Upper Arlington….who is of German descent and the son of Helen (Schoener) and Charlie Nicklaus, a pharmacist who ran several businesses named Nicklaus Drug Store…..as Charlie was a skilled all-round athlete who had played football for the Ohio State Buckeyes….and had gone on to play semi-professional football under an assumed name for the Portsmouth Spartans….who later became the NFL’s Detroit Lions. Charlie had also been a scratch golfer and local tennis champion in his youth.
Jack attended Upper Arlington High School…..whose nickname and mascot are coincidentally the Golden Bears…..since he later became known as The Golden Bear….for in his senior year, Nicklaus was an honorable mention All-Ohio selection in basketball as a shooting guard….who during his youth also competed successfully in football, baseball, tennis, and track and field.
Nicklaus took up golf at the age of 10, scoring a 51 at Scioto Country Club for his first nine holes ever played….as father Charlie had joined Scioto that same year while returning to golf to help heal a volleyball injury. Jack was coached at Scioto by club pro Jack Grout….who was a Texas-developed contemporary of golf greats Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan….as Grout had played quite successfully on the PGA Tour….and would become Nicklaus’ lifelong golf instructor.
Nicklaus won the first of five straight Ohio State Junior titles at the age of 12….when at 13, he broke 70 at Scioto Country Club for the first time….while becoming that year’s youngest qualifier into the U.S. Junior Amateur….where he survived three match-play rounds. He had earned a handicap of +3 at age 13….and won the Tri-State High School Championship (Ohio/Kentucky/Indiana) at the age of 14 with a round of 68 ….and also recorded his first hole-in-one in tournament play the same year. At 15, Nicklaus shot a 66 at Scioto Country Club….which was the amateur course record….which qualified him for his first U.S. Amateur. He then won the Ohio Open in 1956 at age 16, highlighted by a phenomenal third round of 64, competing against professionals. In all, Nicklaus won 27 events in the Ohio area from age 10 to age 17.
In 1957, Nicklaus won the International Jaycee Junior Golf Tournament, having lost the previous year in a playoff….and also competed in his first of 44 consecutive U.S. Opens that year….but missed the cut. In 1958 at age 18, he competed in his first PGA Tour event, the Rubber City Open, at Akron, Ohio, tying for 12th place after being just one out of the lead at the 36-hole mark….and made the cut in the U.S. Open, tying for 41st place….as Nicklaus also won two Trans-Mississippi Amateurs in 1958 at Prairie Dunes Country Club and 1959 at Woodhill Country Club, with final match victories of 9 & 8 and 3 & 2, respectively. Also in 1959, Nicklaus won the North and South Amateur at Pinehurst, North Carolina and competed in three additional PGA Tour events, with his best finish being another 12th place showing at the Buick Open.
While attending Ohio State University, he won the U.S. Amateur twice in 1959 and 1961….and an NCAA Championship in 1961. In the 1959 U.S. Amateur, Nicklaus defeated two-time winner and defending champion Charles Coe 1-up in the final 36-hole match when he birdied the 18th hole. This was significant not only because of Coe’s proven ability as a player….but also because Nicklaus became the then-youngest champion in the modern era, second only to Robert A. Gardner, who won in 1909. In 1961, Nicklaus became the first player to win the individual title at the NCAA Championship and the U.S. Amateur in the same year…..of which he was followed by Phil Mickelson in 1990, Tiger Woods in 1996, Ryan Moore in 2004 and Bryson DeChambeau in 2015. Nicklaus also won the NCAA Big Ten Conference Championship that year with a 72-hole aggregate of 283….while earlier claiming the Western Amateur in New Orleans. In his second and last U.S. Amateur win in 1961, Nicklaus convincingly defeated Dudley Wysong 8 & 6 at Pebble Beach in the 36-hole championship match. For the week, Nicklaus was 20 strokes under par, including 34 birdies and two eagles.
At the 1960 U.S. Open, twenty-year-old Nicklaus shot a two-under par 282….while finishing in second place two strokes behind winner Arnold Palmer….as this score remained the lowest ever by an amateur in the U.S. Open until Viktor Hovland beat the record in 2019…..when Nicklaus played the final 36 holes with Ben Hogan….who later remarked that he had just played 36 holes with a kid who should have won by 10 shots. During the final 36 holes, Nicklaus was two-under-par; he had shot every round of the tournament at or below par and was the only entrant to do so. Nicklaus had led by two shots with six holes to play. In 1960, Nicklaus also tied for 13th in the Masters Tournament…..then he tied for fourth in the 1961 U.S. Open, three shots behind champion Gene Littler, having played the final 54 holes one under par. Each of these three major championship finishes designated Nicklaus as low amateur. However, Nicklaus’ one-under-par 287 tied for seventh in the 1961 Masters Tournament….and was second that year only to Charles Coe’s low amateur placing….when he tied for second with Arnold Palmer at seven-under par 281, one shot behind champion Gary Player.