Sports

US Open countdown: At 40, ‘Golden Bear’ Nicklaus still has some bite left; wins 16th major title

80th U.S. Open | June 12-15, 1980

Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, N.J.

Leaderboard

Jack Nicklaus, United States 63 - 71 - 70 - 68 272
Isao Aoki, Japan 68 - 68 - 68 - 70 274
Keith Fergus, United States 66 - 70 - 70 - 70 276
Lon Hinkle, United States 66 - 70 - 69 - 71 276
Tom Watson, United States 71 - 68 - 67 - 70 276

The whispers around golf began: At 40, was Jack Nicklaus so far past his prime that he was finished as a major championship contender?

Hardly.

“The Golden Bear” sizzled early, tying a U.S. Open record by firing a 63. And in a two-man battle with Isao Aoki down the stretch, Nicklaus emerged to win his fourth and final U.S. Open – and 16th professional major title.

Nicklaus did it in record fashion, setting a tournament scoring mark at 272 — erasing his previous record of 275, also set at Baltusrol in 1967. The former Ohio State All-American also tied Willie Anderson, Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan for most U.S. Open victories with four.

It was hardly a stretch to think Nicklaus might be on the downside of his illustrious career. He had gone nearly two years without winning, including the full 1979 PGA Tour slate.

Even after his opening 63, Nicklaus went into the final round tied with Aoki, who had posted three consecutive rounds in the 60s.

Nicklaus gained a two-shot advantage at the third hole, where he made birdie — after Aoki left the second-hole green with a bogey.

That lead held all the way to the par-5 17th green, where the gallery had gathered to see if Nicklaus could finish it off.

On that green, he stared down one of the most famous clutch putts in national open history — a 22-footer for birdie. Aoki, a 51-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, had a much short one for that same result.

It was on the same green in 1967, where the gallery amassed to see if its hero — Arnold Palmer — could chase Nicklaus down for the U.S. Open title, which he did not. Playing together, Palmer lost by four shots that day.

But on this day 13 years later, folks wanted Nicklaus to win. And set in his famous crouch, he sent the ball on its way. All watched as the long putt never lost its line, dropping into the bottom of the cup for birdie.

On the finishing hole, patrons busted through the ropes near the green to promenade amid Nicklaus. They patted him on the back, which Nicklaus did not seem to mind as he closed out another major title.

Both players finished with birdie.

And the scoreboard at the back of the green proclaimed, “Jack is Back.”

Indeed, he was. A few months later, Nicklaus also won the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club East Course.

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