Skip to main content
Original Issue


A professional golfer's existence is the most complex and improbable of any athlete's, his victories and defeats coming amid an unceasing swirl of activities that are at once both mad and meaningful. Recently Tony Lema wrote a candid story about the climb toward the top in golf. Now, at the request of Sports Illustrated, Jack Nicklaus has kept a three-month journal that warmly illuminates a far different facet of the tour: the unique life of the superchamp


Here it was, the third week of January, and time, I told myself, to be getting back to work. The Florida sun had been nice. The fishing had been fun. The laying aside of the golf clubs, the staying in one place, the absence of reporters, the businessmen not talked to—all this had been a refreshing change of pace, if you could call it a pace at all. But now, after a seven-week rest from golf, I was ready to get back out on the tour, ready and eager. I felt strong. I really wanted to start playing again. Mother and Dad had come down from home—Columbus, Ohio—for a time and were staying with the kids (Jackie, 2½, and Stevie, 1) in Fort Lauderdale, so Barbara, my wife, was able to travel with me. We left Florida for Monterey, Calif. via San Francisco on a National Airlines flight early in the afternoon. I checked our baggage, which included my golf equipment. It alone weighs about 50 pounds. The airlines have a fixed rate on golf bags, however, of only $4. Good thing for golf pros. But I still encountered a slight problem.

Check-in man: You will have to pick up your clubs in San Francisco and re-check them to Monterey.

Me: No, I won't. You can check them all the way. Ask the supervisor.

Supervisor: Sorry, we can't do it.

Me: Yes, you can. Look it up in your manual.

Supervisor (after checking): By gosh, we can. Sorry, my mistake.

So the 1964 golf tour—Jack Nicklaus version—starts with me having an argument with an airline. Then, coming into San Francisco, where it was rainy and cold, I got something else to think about. My hip began to hurt. I could not help thinking that it was in San Francisco that all my hip trouble started last year. I don't believe tour golfers are hypochondriacs, like some people say. But you'd worry, too, if an ache could cost you money. Otherwise our flight to the West Coast was uneventful (who likes an eventful flight?).

We were greeted at the Monterey airport by Mark McCormack, my lawyer-agent. He drove us over to the Del Monte Lodge, where we had reservations. Great rooms. Just behind the 18th green of the Pebble Beach course and right on the ocean.

It was too late to get supper at the Lodge, so we went to a small downtown restaurant to eat. Terrible. I managed about one bite of a fish the manager said was fresh. Could he have misjudged by a month? Or had I gotten used to family meals?

Back to the room—starving—for long confab with Mark about what my various businesses had done in 1963 and the income projection for 1964. Complicated? You said it. Especially for someone just turning 24. Thank goodness for Mark. He handles everything, so I can't mishandle anything.

Tuesday was beautiful and brought not even a twinge of hip trouble—which was beautiful, too. I played a practice round at Pebble Beach with my Crosby amateur partner, Red McCarthy, an insurance man from Chicago. We were with Pros Bobby Nichols and George Knudson. I didn't score well. Had a 75.

I had planned to get some putting lessons here from George Low, but had to postpone them. George is a famous figure on the tour. He is not a competing pro himself, yet he has got to be one of the world's best putters. He'll putt with a sand wedge and do better than most people. Nicklaus needs putting lessons? Yes, he does. But there are too many other things that I must do right now. I could not give George the concentration the lessons would require. Got my game to get in shape.

My golf was not much improved on Wednesday, when I played the Cypress Point course with Arnold Palmer, Mark and Red. Always play a $5 Nassau with Arnold, but he shot a 69 to my 73 and he emptied my wallet. I almost hit into the ocean on the 16th. In fact, both Arnie and I thought my tee shot had gone in, but I finally found it plugged in some sand at the top of the cliff. I told Arnie, "You know I never hit it into the ocean here." We both laughed. It wasn't going to seem so funny the next afternoon.

After playing 16 we noticed some sea lions out on the rocks opposite the 17th fairway. Arnie figured they were a four-iron away, and he hit a shot toward them. Too much club. He is a big man for birdies, but he's not much on sea lions. I used a five-iron and dropped the ball among them. All of a sudden one of them jumped out of the pile going, "Hooo, hooo, hooo," just like a foghorn. It gave the gallery a big laugh, and broke us up, too. You need a couple of laughs after playing the 16th at Cypress Point.

When the round was over I met a representative of Universal Pictures. Universal is planning to do two 20-minute teaching films. This would present quite a challenge and opportunity, since this type of film instruction has not been done since Bob Jones tried it so successfully in 1930. We had planned to work with mirrors, use complicated optical devices, and go into the subject in depth. Now I am told that the script has been reorganized. Unfortunately, you can't do this sort of thing rapidly. We should postpone the filming until a new script has been worked out. This means a change in plans. We had been scheduled to do the shooting during the Lucky International, the tournament at San Francisco. Now that it is postponed, I figure that I will go up there and play, though I do not exactly look forward to it. Last year there my hip hurt. I three-putted 13 greens in the first 36 holes, and I missed the cut.

Thursday was the first day of real action at the Crosby. My starting time was 10:42 at Cypress Point. I was with McCarthy, Bobby Nichols and his amateur partner, Actor Bob Sterling. I was one under coming to the 16th, the hole where I never hit it into the water. So I pulled out a one-iron, going for the green, and put it right down on the beach. Yaat! The ball rolled into a tiny cove in the cliff and I actually had a shot. Hit it fat, though, and put it up into an unplayable lie in some ice plant at the top of the cliff. Dropped out, chipped on and two-putted for a triple-bogey 6. I finished with a three-over-par 75. Beautiful start for 1964, Jack. Beautiful!

Dinner at Neil de Vaughn's restaurant on Cannery Row, Monterey, with Mark and Nancy McCormack, Winnie and Arnold, and Barbara. The food was delicious—cheese fondue, cracked crab, turtle soup, baitfish and a big, miscellaneous collection of seafood. But the result was a great case of collective insomnia—Arnold, Mark and myself. I was up four times during the night to prowl around and hope I could get back to sleep.

On top of that I had a 7:46 starting time Friday morning at Monterey Peninsula. I was up before 6—I felt like I had never been down—ate breakfast in the Lodge at 6:15 and was soon ready to start warming up. Only one hitch. I had to wait 15 minutes until it got light enough to see. Then, at the far end of Monterey's practice tee, two huge buck deer came bounding out of the woods. What beautiful animals! It wasn't long before every player at the practice range was hitting shots toward them, not that these moving targets were in the slightest danger.

I knew before I teed off that after my first-round 75 I was going to have to come in with a good score. Monterey is the easiest of the three courses the Crosby is played on, however, so I figured I had a chance. I should do less figuring. My shot off the first tee hit a tree and bounced straight back. I hit an iron toward the green after this minor disaster, and it hit the same tree and kicked into the forest. From there I had to chip out onto the fairway and finally made a double-bogey 6. It eventually took a three-under-par 34 on the back side to bring me in at 70. It seemed like the slowest round of golf I had ever played. We were third off the tee and finished an hour behind the foursome in front of us. Playing time was 4:50, pretty bad for that course.

I got back to the Lodge and called Arnie. He said we ought to go for a plane ride. Arnie has his plane on the tour with him, and I thought it would be a good idea. I went over to his room, but we played bridge instead. For the first rubber Arnie and I were teamed against Allen Humphrey, an oilman from Dallas, and Bob Drum, who used to cover golf for The Pittsburgh Press but now has his own public relations business. On the second hand Arnold opens one no trump, and there I am looking at a hand that has 19 points in it, including two aces which, if you don't happen to be a bridge player, means we had plenty and then some. I responded three spades, he went to four no trump, asking for aces. I showed two, he said six spades and I took it to seven spades because I had a void. After the first couple of tricks I didn't have to play it out, we just laid it down. I heard someone say once that Arnold and I play bridge the way we play golf: go for the pin. In this case we were lucky, but going for the pin can have its disadvantages in bridge. Does golf have its equivalent of going down doubled, redoubled and vulnerable? I guess it does. Hitting the same tree twice, for instance? After two rubbers I quit and went out to the practice range for a long workout. Started to hit the ball very, very well.

On Saturday I played Pebble Beach, a course I have usually done well on. I figured my game was in shape and I was ready to go. Then I went out and hit the ball as badly as I ever have. In fact, it was just about the worst round I have played since turning pro. If I hadn't putted well the 77 I finally got might have been an 85. If I hadn't hit some fantastic recovery shots I might not have broken 100. It made me sick.

Care for an example? On the second hole, a par-5 with a wide trap cutting across the fairway about 50 yards short of the green, I hit a good drive down the right side. I was debating using a three-wood to float the ball into the green, but then I remembered the first golf tip I ever did for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED—one that, strangely enough, discussed this very hole. The tip advised using a long iron when there is trouble behind the green, and trying to skip the ball in rather than take the chance of flying the ball over the green with a wood. So I pulled out the one-iron and snap-hooked the ball into the trap about 150 yards in front of me. It took a 15-foot putt to finally give me a 5. That's the way the round went. Understandably, I missed the cut. After I finished the round I went back to the room and watched Nichols and Jacky Cupit give Phil Rodgers and myself a 4-and-3 licking on the filmed CBS Golf Classic. That is the miracle of television. You can see yourself play lousy golf in California and New Jersey the same day.

Later on I went up to Arnold's room to play some bridge, and he showed me the wedge he had used while taking a 9 on the 17th hole. It had a chunk out of it the size of a man's fingertip. Golf shouldn't be played on rocks.

"I kept waiting for the ball to stop," Arnold said. "But it never did. It just kept going out to sea and coming back again with every wave."

I was feeling pretty depressed, but we joined a party of 16 for dinner at the Lodge that included the Palmers, Mark McCormack, Bob Newhart and his wife and Gordon and Sheila MacRae. Talked fishing with MacRae. Right now fishing sounds like a lot more fun than golf.

Both Arnie and I felt like skipping San Francisco entirely and heading directly for Palm Springs and a week of practice, but we finally decided not to. Since I was out of action, Barbara and I decided to fly to Chicago first thing Sunday morning. We are building a new house in Columbus, and we had made arrangements to meet our interior decorator at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago and start buying some new furniture. Barbara felt I should come along, not because she likes my taste but because then I couldn't complain later about what we bought. I'll figure out some way, however.

Barbara and I flew to Chicago, checking into the Hotel Continental around 7 p.m., and had dinner in our room late Sunday night. The first week back on the tour was over. If we have as bad luck with our furniture as I've had with my golf, our new house is going to be a pretty big mess.


Miles this week: 4,600
Winnings this week: 0


The weather in Chicago was beautiful. Compared to Pebble Beach, it was like summertime, and if Barbara and I were not going to have such a busy two days it would have been ideal weather to get in some golf. Our decorator, Mrs. Aileen Irvin, was not due in the hotel until later in the day, but there was plenty to do beforehand. I went to the offices of Brunswick-MacGregor to bring myself up to date on some final changes I wanted to see made on the MacGregor clubs that are carrying my name. Barb and I also looked at some Brunswick snooker tables. Practically every house that has a game room these days has a pool table. Ours is going to have snooker. It's a more challenging game, much tougher to become good at than pool. We picked out a table and then went back to the hotel to wait for Mrs. Irvin. Starting at 12:30 p.m. we called the desk every half hour to find out if she'd checked in. No, they assured us each time, not yet. We finally got through to her at 3 p.m. She'd been waiting in her room since 1 p.m., wondering where we were and why we hadn't called. Imagine coming 2,000 miles just to sit in a hotel room for an afternoon. I was pretty hot.

We rushed over to the Merchandise Mart. Our house will be a one-story ranch. I guess you might call it California Traditional. Floor space will be more than 5,000 square feet. That takes a lot of furniture. We went through the showrooms looking at stuff and making notes, then came back to the hotel.

There was a message to call Bill Graffis. He is with Kenyon & Eckhardt, the advertising agency that handles Whirlpool, a company I do promotion work for. I attended their sales meeting in New Orleans last December and will play an exhibition later this year with winners of their sales contest. Graffis took us all to dinner at The Tavern Club. An art exhibit for a charity was being held. There were about 30 paintings on the walls, and we saw a couple we liked, one of them a desert scene of cactus and mountains. We were disappointed to learn that it had already been sold. Luckily, the artist was also having dinner at The Tavern Club. His name is Alexander Maley; he is the chairman of a chemical company, Pelron Corp., and paints as a hobby. Could he duplicate the painting? No, but he could do something else. One of his, a floral scene, was unsold, and he took it down off the wall and handed it to me. "You've admired my painting and I've always admired your golf," he said. "So please accept this as a gift from me." I did accept, with pleasure.

Tuesday, January 21, my 24th birthday. It was spent walking and spending. We began a day-long survey of the Merchandise Mart at 9 a.m. As we went through the showrooms we either ordered on the spot or Mrs. Irvin made a note to order through the catalog. We met Bill Graffis for lunch at the Well of the Sea in the Sherman House, just as a small birthday celebration, so to speak. One company at the Mart had not let us in the showroom because it was open only to dealers, but Graffis called up a Mart executive and he sent a pass right over. By the end of the day we had ordered for two bedrooms, all the rugs, the kitchen floor, the living room, dining room and family room. Bad case of museum feet, but we rushed back to the hotel, packed, checked out and hurried to the airport. Barb got a 6:50 flight to Columbus, and I took a 6:45 to San Francisco.

It was raining again as the plane came into San Francisco. I had a reservation at the Fairmont Hotel but decided that I didn't care to pay $31 a day and swung by the Jack Tar Hotel to see if any rooms were available there. Gardner Dickinson, Jack Burke and Lionel Hebert were in the lobby when I came in around 10 o'clock, and they said the hotel had saved rooms for the golfers. They were right. Got a small room with twin beds for $10 a night. Already I was $21 a day ahead of the game.

The next day I played in the pretournament pro-am with an old friend, Johnny Swanson, a former 14-letter athlete at the University of San Francisco who now owns two bowling alleys in the city. I had met Swanson when I played in the U.S. Amateur here in 1958. He has always been very helpful and generous to me and to friends of mine who have come out here.

As we teed off I couldn't help but recall how many three-putt greens I had here last year. I three-putted the first green, and thought, "Oh, no. Here we go again." On the fourth hole, a par-5, I topped my second shot, then pushed my third to the right of the green and made a bogey. I heard two spectators talking. "Let's pick up Arnie and watch a real golfer," one said. "Yeah, this guy isn't showing me nothing," said the other. I wasn't showing me much, either. On the fifth tee Swanson, trying to be nice, asked: "Say, pro, do you always move your head a couple of feet when you swing?" Actually, it was a good question. I had been swaying forward during my swing a lot, but it was not my only problem by any means.

On the 7th hole both John and I hit our approaches to about eight feet from the hole. "I'll do you or don't you for lunch," John said. I made my putt and he missed. "If you make a 2 on the next hole I'll buy you a filet," John said. I hit a two-iron six feet from the hole. "All you pros are the same," said John. "You can only play when you're hungry." Then I missed the putt. I had a hamburger for lunch.

I didn't sleep well that night, but had to get up early because my first-round tee-off time was 8:04 a.m. I met Ray Floyd and Phil Rodgers in the lobby, and we went across the street for breakfast, then drove out to the course in the Lincoln Continental that Lincoln-Mercury supplied to me and some of the other golfers. Cold enough for three sweaters and a pair of rain pants. I played a lousy round. Hitting the ball better than I had at Pebble Beach, but not thinking quite as well. Shot a 74 that should have been a 70 or 71, which would have given me at least a shot at the lead. So I went to the practice tee for a two-hour session. My alignment was a mess. I had the club face aiming to the right, my body and feet aimed to the left. My divot was going to the left of the target, the ball to the right. Awful. Finally got myself lined up and hitting well, and got back the 30 yards I had lost in distance.

There was a small gallery watching some players practice, and after I'd smashed out four good ones a lady called out: "Jack, do you always play with a closed stance?" Me? A closed stance? My right foot back behind the left? Never.

"Madam," I said, "I don't know whether I do or not. That's why I'm out here. To find out."

I went back to the Jack Tar and stopped off at a party the hotel manager was giving for the players staying there. I'm not much of a drinker. Maybe a small one before supper when I'm due to play late the next day. So I usually just have a Coke at parties like these.

After dinner Ray, Phil and I went to see a hockey game. First hockey game I'd ever been to. It was between the San Francisco Seals and the Los Angeles Blades. A lot of action. The players seemed to be big old bald guys, rough and tough. They really went at each other, and there was as much fighting as hockey. We had fun. Phil would get excited about an ant race, so he got pretty worked up about the game.

It was rainy and cold again on Friday, but at least I was not scheduled to play until quite late. Called my secretary, Colleen Drue, in Columbus and dictated about 10 letters before going to the course. Is this the only sport where athletes need full-time secretaries? Played a little better, but took 37 putts and wound up with a 72. That night a group of us were invited to have dinner at a press party in the Press Club downtown. Tony Lema, Jack Burke, George Bayer, Julius Boros, Palmer and I were to receive what the San Francisco sportswriters call Black Cat awards. It is a little wooden carving of a cat set in a metal base. Anyone holding one of these while talking to the press may not be quoted. That kind of thing could be useful to have. Maybe I should carry it to all press conferences.

Routine but pleasant evening. Lema and Burke could not make it and Arnold had to leave early, but the rest of us chatted with the writers and had roast beef for dinner. During the meal I asked Hal Wood of the United Press why the six of us had been chosen for the award. He said they just liked to give out awards.

The next day I broke 70 for the first time this year either in a practice round or a regular tournament. A 66. I made up my mind to get my putts to the hole and not leave any short. I was hitting the ball well, though hooking it a bit more than I care to. I can control it on the course, but it is something I definitely want to get rid of. After lunch I went to the practice range for another long session. Seems like a funny thing to do after shooting a 66, but I've got to get my game going. One noticeable difficulty was that I seemed to be hooding the club as I started the backswing. In other words, the back of my left hand was staying underneath the right too long. Thus the clubhead was swinging too far inside as my body turned. The hook was the result. The idea is to take the club straight back while the body turns. The club swings back more or less in one direction while the body turns in another.

I called Barbara in Columbus, and we talked about some of the things she is buying for the house. I arranged to meet her and the kids when their plane gets into Palm Springs, Calif. Monday afternoon. Had dinner with Ray Floyd, and then we drove out to the University of San Francisco gym to watch a Warrior-Laker basketball game. It was raining and I could not find a parking place anywhere. Finally I just pulled the car to the curb in front of one of those funny little garage driveways that San Francisco seems to have millions of. It worked for about 30 minutes. Just as the second quarter started, the loudspeaker announced: "Will the owner of a black Lincoln Continental, license plate No. BAJ 734, please report to the policeman at the main door."

Just my luck. A police officer met me and said, "You might be saving yourself $20."

"Yes, but there are 1,000 other cars parked in front of driveways."

"Well, we only got a complaint on yours. A lady called in and said she knew her rights. Are you here at the university?"

"No. I'm playing in the golf tournament."

"Just for the record, what's your name?"

"Jack Nicklaus, but where can I park the car?"

"Hey, I've heard of you. Come with me and I'll fix it up." So we drove to the front of the arena, he removed a no-parking sign from directly in front of the main door and I parked there.

At half time I was asked to do a radio interview. During the course of it I explained a tip that Arnold Palmer had given me the year before in New Orleans. After a long layoff, he said, it is often better to chip with your putter instead of a lofted club. A bad putt is usually at least as good as a good chip, because you can almost always get the ball within six feet of the hole with a putter. Not always with something else, however. This started me thinking about how funny golf is in that respect—meaning, how we all like to help each other out. It is as if we wanted the whole breed to improve, not just ourselves. For instance, if I see something wrong with another player's game, and I think he won't jump down my throat for saying something about it, I will always point it out. Likewise, I appreciate others pointing things out to me. Very often you will give a golfer a tip that saves him the stroke that just beats you out of a tournament. This happens quite a bit, but even then you feel a certain amount of pride that it was you who helped him to win. Golf is a gentleman's game, all right. Maybe that is why it has gained so much popularity, why so much money can now be put up for tournaments.

I played another good round the next day, a 68, and tied for 12th. Arnold invited me to fly down with him to Palm Springs in his plane, an Aero Commander 560F that has seats for the pilot and copilot up front, four seats just behind the pilot's cabin and a bar. Very nice. I had played early. Arnold had played late, being among the leaders, and I drove by his gallery on the 17th hole as I was leaving the course. All of a sudden, there was Winnie Palmer tapping at the window of my car.

"Are you going to fly down with us?" she asked.

"Yes, but that's tomorrow."

"No. We are going to leave right after Arnold's finished. He thinks the weather might close down."

Big rush. Changed shoes, tipped the locker-room boy and paid my caddie. Left the course at 4:15, made it back to the hotel in 12 minutes and left my car keys to be picked up by Lincoln-Mercury at the front desk. Took a shower and packed up everything, just hurling it into the suitcase. Winnie called at 4:50. How much baggage do you have, she wanted to know. About 145 pounds, I figured. Can you send it down to Palm Springs air freight? Certainly. But what a problem baggage is. On a trip like this you've got to allow for cold and hot weather. Since I had also planned on doing the golf films, I was carrying three suits, two sports coats, 12 pairs of slacks, one pair of street shoes, 12 golf shirts, eight turtleneck jerseys, six sweaters and 10 dress shirts. All this, plus socks, underwear and a heavily stuffed golf bag. Swanson said he would take care of my baggage for me.

Rush, rush, rush. Got to the airport at 5:20, just 65 minutes after I had left the course. No wonder I had to send my stuff air freight. Arnold's plane looked as if he had brought his whole house. The thing was jam-packed, and Winnie claimed that only one of the bags was hers.

A great trip. I had not had anything to eat since 9 o'clock in the morning, and after a bourbon and Coke from Arnold's bar I was feeling something more than exhilarated. Arnold had stopped smoking five days before and so had Winnie, and I could not resist the chance to needle them. I lit up a cigarette and blew smoke all over the place. I stopped smoking 13 months ago, but find I can smoke two or three from time to time without getting the craving again.

We flew into Palm Desert, just outside Palm Springs, and went over to the Erawan Garden Hotel where the Palmers were staying. I called the Palm Springs airport; they hadn't ever heard anything about my baggage, and Western Airlines—which had it—was closed for the night. Better call back in the morning. Sometimes I think half of being a tour golfer is keeping up with your baggage. I had dinner with Arnold and Winnie. Winnie and I did the twist while Arnold sat at the table wishing he had a cigarette. Barb and I have never twisted. Arnold doesn't twist. Neither, for that matter, do Winnie and I.

After dinner Arnold and I made up a game for the next day with Don Cherry and Frank Stranahan, and I headed for Ocotillo Lodge in Palm Springs, where Barb and I would be staying. It had been a long Sunday.


Miles this week: 2,350
Miles to date: 6,950
Winnings this week: $1,200
Winnings to date: $1,200



Nicklaus finds his golf clubs, then finds his golf game and finally finds himself washing diapers in a Phoenix Laundromat half an hour after his first 1964 win.