JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jack Nicklaus was a 22-year-old rookie, golf’s next big star still without a win as a pro. Arnold Palmer, the Masters Tournament champion and first golfer to transcend his sport, was at the peak of his popularity and playing before a home crowd at Oakmont for the U.S. Open.
“You can’t write that script,” award-winning producer Ross Greenburg said.
That epic 1962 U.S. Open, a pivotal moment in one of golf’s most celebrated rivalries, is what the USGA delivered Greenburg to create a one-hour documentary. This is the 50-year anniversary of Nicklaus’ playoff win over Palmer for the first of his record 18 major titles.
Jack’s First Major will be the first USGA film shown on network television, broadcast by NBC Sports on June 17 before its final-round coverage of the U.S. Open.
The film will make its international debut a week earlier on British-based Sky Sports.
“I was a 22-year-old kid with blinders on,” Nicklaus said. “People ask me about Arnold’s backyard, Arnold’s gallery. I never heard it. All I was doing was playing golf and trying to win a golf tournament. I looked back and said, ‘Wow! Look what happened.’ It’s amazing that was my first win. Arnold treated me great. He couldn’t have been nicer. He’s always been that way with me.”
Greenburg already has spent two hours with Palmer and Nicklaus. The real treat comes in May when the King and the Golden Bear return to Oakmont.
The hole locations will be where they were that Sunday afternoon for the 18-hole playoff, when Nicklaus built an early lead, withstood a charge by Palmer in the middle of the round and wound up with 71 for a three-shot victory.
“It literally was a creation of what went on to be the best rivalry in golf we’ve ever seen, or one of the best,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “We went to NBC and said, ‘What do you think of our concept?’ NBC loved the idea. That got us to thinking. Why wouldn’t we promote some of this wonderful history? People love the game. And this is a great way to educate people.”
In collaboration with the USGA Museum, Greenburg shows footage of Nicklaus as the prodigy who won the 1959 U.S. Amateur and nearly won the U.S. Open a year later at Cherry Hills until he shot 39 on the back and Palmer charged home with 65 to beat him and Ben Hogan.
There are interviews with Dow Finsterwald, Gary Player and Billy Maxwell, who played the final two rounds of regulation on Saturday with Nicklaus.
Greenburg also spoke with Nicklaus and Palmer. It was supposed to be a one-hour interview. Both gave him two hours of their time.
“The rich tradition of these championships really speaks to building the brand that is the USGA,” Greenburg said. “At the end of the day, this championship is measured through its past. Every year is a building block to what the U.S. Open stands for, and there’s no better way to celebrate the U.S. Open.”