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On This Date in Sports June 17, 1962: Jack's First Major

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Jack Nicklaus defeats Arnold Palmer in an 18-hole playoff to win the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh. Palmer seeking his second U.S. Open championship in three years, was the overwhelming favorite playing at his home course. Nicklaus shot a two-under 69 in the final round to force a tie with Palmer an -1. It would be the first of a record 18 major golf championships for Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus was a star on the rise, winning two U.S. Amateur titles before turning professional late in 1961. 

Jack Nicklaus was born in Columbus, Ohio, on January 21, 1940. Nicklaus, the son of a pharmacist, grew up in nearby Upper Arlington. Jack Nicklaus began playing golf with his father at Scioto County Club. He showed a remarkable ability early, winning his first Ohio State Junior title at 12. A year later, he set the club record at Scioto. In 1957, Nicklaus won the International Jaycee Junior Golf Tournament, earning an invitation to the 1958 U.S. Open.


As he began competing in the U.S. Opens, Jack Nicklaus started attending The Ohio State University. He was studying to be a pharmacist like his father. While at Ohio State, Nicklaus became the top college golfer, helping the Buckeyes compete in National Championships. In 1959 Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Amateur championship; he would do it again in 1961 before joining the pro tour. In between, he battled Arnold Palmer in the final round of the 1960 U.S. Open before finishing second. 

It was the era of Arnold Palmer, who was the undisputed king of golf as the 1960s began. He was the top player in the world and the most popular. He had won four major titles over the past three seasons, including the U.S. Open in 1960. Palmer had just won the Masters for the second time in three years and sought to do the same at the U.S. Open played at his home course in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. 

The first round belonged to Gene Littler, who shot a 69 to lead at two-under-par. Arnold Palmer was two strokes back after a par-71, while Jack Nicklaus was one over after a 72. Palmer and Nicklaus were paired together in the first two rounds. On Friday, Arnold Palmer made his move, shooting a 68 to take the lead at -3, while Jack Nicklaus shot a 70 and sat at even par. 

The final two rounds were held on Saturday. In the third round, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer struggled as the course was beating the top golfers in the world. Despite a 73, Palmer held a share of the lead with Bobby Nichols at -1. Jack Nicklaus stood two strokes back after a 72. Nicklaus found his stroke in the fourth round despite opening the round with a bogey. While Palmer had two early birdies to stretch the lead to five strokes, Jack began to crawl his way back with birdies on holes 7, 9, and 11. Arnold Palmer lost strokes on the 9th and 13th and found himself in a tie with Nicklaus after 13 holes. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer finished the round at one-under-par 283, forcing a playoff on Sunday. 


Arnold Palmer found early trouble with a bogey on the first playoff hole. Jack Nicklaus had a steady start and took a two-hole lead on the fourth hole with a birdie. The lead doubled on the sixth hole as Nicklaus had a birdie while Palmer had a second bogey. Both golfers had a bogey on the eighth hole, as Palmer got a birdie on the ninth hole to cut the deficit to three. Jack Nicklaus was one under par at the turn, while Arnold Palmer was two over. Palmer had closed the gap to one stroke with birdies on 11 and 12 before a bogey on 13, all but decided the contest. Nicklaus had a steady back nine before a bogey on the 18th hole, as Arnold Palmer had a double bogey to finish with a three-over-par 74. With an even-par 71, Jack Nicklaus won the first of a record 18 major titles.