Yet he’s never forgotten what it was like to hit the most famous shots of his illustrious career.
“You can still feel the shot, the way it came off your hands, 30 or 40 years later,” he said Monday at a charity luncheon affiliated with the Memorial Tournament, which he founded and hosts. “I still have that same feeling. I haven’t matched it lately. I do know that feeling, though. And it’s kind of fun to know what it feels like in golf.”
The years have not dimmed the sweet spot he hit on the 1-iron that he drilled through the wind and off the pin at No. 17 to take the 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, or the 5-iron with
a slight draw at No. 16 that helped him win the 1986 Masters Tournament at age 46.
Nicklaus, who helped raise $275,000 at the luncheon for Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, appeared Monday with Steve Stricker and Andy North.
Even though he no longer plays much golf – he said his five children and 22 grandchildren lead busy lives and don’t usually have time – Nicklaus said he hasn’t forgotten his signature shots.
Funny, he said, how many of them were 1-irons. There was the shot at Pebble Beach that helped him hold off Bruce Crampton. Another 1-iron at Augusta National, with Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller pressuring him, led to his Masters victory in 1975.
Stricker remains impressed by the 5-iron Nicklaus carved into the back-left pin placement on Sunday at the 1986 Masters.
“I still can’t get over that shot,” Stricker said. “I know you’ve hit a ton of great shots over the years, but that’s not an easy pin, first of all. One little flick over there and you’re in the water.”
Bubba Watson’s hooked wedge shot from the trees right of the 10th fairway in a playoff at this year’s Masters ranks with the greatest shots of all time, Nicklaus said. In trouble off the tee, Watson had to hit an incredible shot to just stay alive in his two-man showdown with Louis Oosthuizen.
The dramatic shot landed on the green and spun within range of an easy two-putt par that gave him his first major-championship victory.
“When you’re playing a hook, it usually takes off,” Nicklaus said. “But that ball danced like it had a lot of backspin on it. I saw that ball hit the green and I said, ‘Wow.’ That was something. Not only did he play the shot, but he played the shot and ended up with control at the end of the shot – which I thought was the amazing part. That will go down as one of the great shots ever played in the game.”