Far Hills, N.J. - Jack Nicklaus won 73 times on the PGA Tour, including 18 major championships. He played in six Ryder Cups and two Walker Cups, with his teams going undefeated. So in Nicklaus’ opinion, what were what he called his “four best rounds ever?” There is certainly a lot to choose from. Was it the 1965 Masters when he won by nine strokes? Or maybe the 1967 U.S. Open when he closed with a 65 to defeat Arnold Palmer by four shots? How about his final major victory at the Masters in 1986 at the age of 46?
Surprisingly, shockingly, no.
It was in 1960, two years before Nicklaus’ first major title, at the World Amateur Team Championship (WATC) at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. Nicklaus towered above the international competition, shooting rounds of 66-67-68-68 to hold the lowest individual score by 13 strokes. Nicklaus’ total of 269 was 18 strokes better than Ben Hogan’s winning total in the 1950 U.S. Open, also at Merion. Nicklaus would later say that it was one of the rare occurrences when everything felt right. He told Herbert Warren Wind, “Every time I stepped to the ball I knew I was going to hit a good golf shot.”
Though an amateur, Nicklaus was hardly an unknown at the time, having just finished runner-up to Arnold Palmer in the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club three months before. He had also won the 1959 U.S. Amateur and would add another Havemeyer Trophy to his collection in 1961 before turning professional later that year.
The WATC was still in its infancy stage at that time, and a strong performance by the United States of America on its home soil helped validate and foster enthusiasm for the biennial competition. In 1958, Australia defeated the USA in a playoff to win the inaugural event at St. Andrews. But the American squad exacted revenge in 1960, winning by a record margin of 42 strokes. The team of Nickaus, Deane Beman, Robert Gardner and William Hyndman dominated the championship from the start, leading by nine strokes after the first day, 20 shots after day two, and 38 strokes after the third day. Apart from the players on the USA team, no player broke par in any round.
Two days after its victory at Merion, the USA World Amateur Team, together with the Australian team, met with President Eisenhower at the White House.
Michael Trostel is the curator/historian for the USGA Museum. E-mail him with questions or comments at MTrostel@usga.org.