Jack Nicklaus earned a reputation during his legendary career as one of the greatest ball-strikers and purest swingers of the golf club ever. His combination of power, accuracy, and shot-shaping ability allowed him to dominate the sport for decades. From towering long irons to deft wedge play, Nicklaus’ ball-striking carried him to a record 18 Major wins, and arguably the greated career of all time. What gets lost sometimes is that he finished runner up in Majors a ridiculous 19 times, which means that during his peak years, he finished first or second almost 40% of the time!
This is our fouth post paying tribute to Jack Nicklaus, as we’ve previously covered his head swivel and left eye dominance, concept of going to the movies for pre-shot visualizaton, and hs epic duel with Tom Watson in 1977 at Turnberry. In this article we will give Nickalus the treatment he deserves, as we’ll review his full bio, career highlights and legacy. As always, we’ll link you to further reading and show some videos to relive some of Nicklaus’ best moments. We will also recommend a training aid from our partners Tour Aim, that can help ensure perfect alignment during practice.
The main point, however, is to discuss Jack’s ritual of using an intermediate target for alignment. His process involved first determining the target line, selecting a spot on the ground along that line, and aiming the clubface directly at that intermediate target. Finally, he would align his body parallel to the target line, checking his aim by glancing back and forth from the intermediate target to the ultimate target multiple times before starting his swing. Nicklaus believed this process allowed him to consistently and precisely align his clubface and body to the intended target.
Jack Nicklaus Bio
Much has been written by and about Jack, his beginnings, amateur career, Major victoriers and storied PGA Tour career. We have linked our favorites in the Further Reading section. Jack has captured 73 PGA Tour events, which ranks third all-time behind Sam Snead and Tiger Woods. The comparisons between Jack and Tiger have always been there, not just because they are both prolific winners at the amateur and professional level. What really sets them apart is that even though they weren’t the best of their day or the best of all time in a single facet of the game, they are among the best at every facet of the game, especially the mental game.
Jack William Nicklaus was born on January 21, 1940 in Columbus, Ohio to parents Charlie and Helen Nicklaus. His father Charlie was a pharmacist who also enjoyed sports like tennis, football, and golf. Charlie introduced the young Jack to golf at age 10 at Scioto Country Club, where Jack shot a 51 over 9 holes on his first try.
Seeing Jack’s natural talent, Scioto’s club pro Jack Grout took him under his wing and became his coach for the rest of his career. By age 13, Nicklaus had already broken 70 on a course. He won his first Ohio State Junior title at age 12 and went on to win 5 straight from 1952-1956. You have no doubt seen images or heard tales of Grout holding young Jack’s head in place to keep him centered over the ball on the backswing.
As a teenager, Nicklaus continued to rack up amateur titles in Ohio while also qualifying for national events like the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open. He won his first national title at age 17 in the National Jaycees tournament. Nicklaus played collegiate golf at Ohio State University, winning the NCAA Championship in 1961. He also won the U.S. Amateur title in 1959 and 1961.
Jack turned professional in 1961 and won his first major at the 1962 U.S. Open at age 22, defeating Arnold Palmer in an 18-hole playoff. This launched one of the most dominant careers in golf history. The young Jack was not an immediate fan favorite and faced the wrath of Arnie’s Army throughout.
Over the next 25 years, Nicklaus set numerous records that still stand today. He won a record 18 major championships, including 6 Masters titles, the last came in a final round charge in 1986 where he rallied on the back nine on Sunday to win at the age of 46. Nicklaus was named PGA Player of the Year a record 5 times and also won numerous other player of the year awards on the PGA and Champions Tours. He made 154 consecutive major championship cuts from 1957-1998, an astounding mark of consistency.
Even after turning 50, Nicklaus remained competitive. He won 8 senior major titles between 1990-1996. His final win came at the age of 56 at the Tradition in 1996. Nicklaus’ last official PGA Tour event was the 2005 Open Championship at St Andrews, where he missed the cut. Nicklaus retired with 120 professional worldwide victories and over $5.7 million in official career earnings on the PGA Tour. His dominance, longevity and impact on golf led many to call him the greatest golfer of all time. He remains one of the sport’s most respected ambassadors.
Alignment and Intermediate Target
If you follow this site, you know that we are advicating the “Club Focused Instruction” method, where the target and clubhead are the focus, as opposed to different positions and overly complicated concepts. Nicklaus is most definitely a leverage swinger, which worked for him, but it’s his target focus which aligns with the methdology in my opinion. I first learned Nicklaus’ alignment method in “Golf My Way,” years ago. It’s as simple as it is effective, and the key is making it part of your pre-shot routine in practice and play.
Here are Jack’s steps and precise routine for selecting an intermediate target in front of the ball:
- Start by determining the target line, then choose a spot on the ground 1-2 feet in front of the ball on that line. Focus on something distinct – a discoloration, blade or grass, rock or leaf. In practice you can use tape, chalk, etc to mark the spot.
- Align your body parallel to the target line, then set the clubface aimed directly at the intermediate spot.
- Nicklaus would check his aim by glancing repeatedly between the spot and the target before starting his swing. You can watch him explain it on his YouTube channel.
Tom Watson’s Thoughts
In his book, The Timeless Swing, a book that Jack wrote the foreword to, Tom Watson takes time to describe what he calls “The Nicklaus Method,” stating thet he doesn’t use this method himself, but “I do recommend it as the best way for most other golfers, including beginners and players who tend to spray their shots.” We reviewed Watson’s own “Football Goalpost,” method of aim and alignment, as well as adjustment in the wind, in our post “Winning Ways.”
Watson concluded, “I might add that using this sort of pre-shot routine can keep you from being subconsciously influenced by a tee box or tee markers pointing you off line. If you’re not careful, angled tee boxes and/or markers can cost you accuracy. Even mowing stripes can encourage you to aim in a direction you don’t want to go.”
After retiring from competition, Nicklaus continued impacting the game through his acclaimed course design work, mentorship of young players, and promotion of the sport with events like his Memorial Tournament. Nicklaus Design has over 380 courses open for play across the globe, bringing high-quality golf to new regions and showcasing Nicklaus’s emphasis on strategy, challenge, and natural aesthetics.
In his later years, Nicklaus remains one of golf’s most respected ambassadors through his humility, graciousness and commitment to philanthropy. Alongside his wife Barbara, his Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation has raised over $100 million to help sick kids since 2004. He also co-founded the Nicklaus-Jacklin Award in 2007 to recognize sportsmanship and promote friendship between American and European golfers. Nicklaus has mentored countless young players, passing on advice and encouragement to the next generations. Nicklaus Enterprises even brought back Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf for 10 years in 1994.
While Nicklaus’s unparalleled playing career will always be central to his legacy, his enduring positive impact on golf course architecture and culture cement his status as an icon. Nicklaus has shaped the way golf is played and enjoyed worldwide, all while championing values of respect, generosity and community. Even in retirement, Nicklaus continues growing the game in new ways from the grassroots to the upper echelons.
Further Reading and Listening
The Secret of Golf
by Joe Posnanski
Summary: The Secret of Golf explores the complex relationship between golf legends Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, chronicling their journey from rivals to friends over decades of battling for supremacy in major championships; Posnanski provides an intimate look at the two icons through firsthand interviews and accounts of their most memorable showdowns like the “Duel in the Sun” at the 1977 British Open; The book reveals the secrets of their greatness, with lessons on strategy, mental approach, and insights into their personalities.
Duel in the Sun
by Michael Corcoran
Summary: The 1977 British Open at Turnberry was an epic showdown between golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, with Watson prevailing by one stroke after they battled over the final 36 holes; Michael Corcoran brings this dramatic moment in golf history to life through interviews with participants and evocative details about the Open’s rich tradition and origins; Duel in the Sun recounts Watson rising to defeat Nicklaus and claim his spot at the pinnacle of golf.
Golf My Way
by Jack Nicklaus
Summary: Golf My Way provides a comprehensive overview of Jack Nicklaus’s approach to every aspect of the game, from swing fundamentals to course management to the mental side of golf. Nicklaus explains his unorthodox upright swing in detail, advising golfers to develop a technique matched to their natural abilities rather than copy a rigid model. He shares wisdom on shot selection, practice routines, concentration techniques, and strategically playing to one’s strengths on each golf course. While some advice is outdated, Nicklaus imparts timeless golf insights on work ethic, confidence, and optimizing performance under pressure. Golf My Way offers a fascinating look inside the mind and methods of one of history’s greatest golfers.
by Jack Nicklaus
Summary: In his candid autobiography, golf legend Jack Nicklaus takes listeners through his record-setting career, reflecting on his unmatched major championship victories, approach to competing at the highest level, and the physical and mental challenges he faced. Nicklaus provides an insider perspective on legendary triumphs like the 1986 Masters at age 46 and some painful defeats, portraying his relentless competitiveness and intense desire to practice and improve. Sharing warm recollections about family and fellow golfers, Nicklaus reveals the person behind the intense, focused golfer known for steely determination, showing his devotion as a husband, father, and mentor. From dominating the sport in his prime to remaining a contender into his 40s, Jack Nicklaus: My Story gives an intimate, first-hand account of the life and achievements of one of golf’s greatest champions.
The Timeless Swing
by Tom Watson
Summary: In The Timeless Swing, Tom Watson draws on the knowledge from his extraordinary golf career to provide lessons to help golfers of all skill levels, using time-tested drills, tips, and exercises to cover everything from fundamentals like grip to advanced techniques like swinging in wind. Watson complements the lessons with personal anecdotes, stunning photos, and key concepts like visualizing a football goalpost as the target, making this an indispensable guide to improving your golf game from one of the most respected players in history. With a foreword by Jack Nicklaus, The Timeless Swing aims to help golfers play their best and enjoy the game more.