The Golden Bear turns 75

Sneak Preview of USGA's Jack Nicklaus Documentary

College Contributor Network

Jack Nicklaus, a man synonymous with excellence in the game of golf turns 75 today, and though his time on the PGA Tour has expired, his legacy of excellence continues on and off the course.

Jack William Nicklaus was born Jan. 21,1940 in Upper Arlington, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. It's from his alma mater, Upper Arlington High School, that he got his famous nickname. The high school's nickname and mascot was, the Golden Bears. Nicklaus came from a family of athletic successes, his father Charlie played football for Ohio State University, before going professional. But from a young age, the younger Nicklaus showed an aptitude for golf. He shot his first nine holes at the age of 10, at the Scioto Country Club. Nicklaus shot a 51. What would follow would be one of the most prolific careers in any sport's history.

In 1957 at the age of 17, Nicklaus competed in his first U.S. Open, the first of his 44 consecutive U.S. Open appearances. Nicklaus followed in his father's footsteps, becoming an Ohio State Buckeye, majoring in pre-pharmacy. In his time at Ohio State, Nicklaus won an NCAA National Title in 1961 as well as two U.S. Amateur titles (1959, 1961).

In 1961, he became the first golfer to win both an individual national title and U.S. Amateur title. Golfers that later achieved that staggering feat include Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Golf Digest named Nicklaus the world's top amateur golfer in 1959, 1960 and 1961. Nicklaus quit school in November of his senior year to fully commit to his golf career. Though he graduated just a few courses short of graduation, in 1972 Ohio State gave Nicklaus an honorary doctorate.

It didn't take long after Nicklaus became a professional in late 1961 to start racking up pro accolades. Nicklaus' first professional win came in the 1962 U.S. Open, over Arnold Palmer. This victory over Palmer would spark a rivalry that fueled interest in the sport, and fueled both golfers to many more victories.

To this day, Nicklaus has won 18 Major Championships, 118 professional tournament victories worldwide, six green jackets, four U.S. Open Championships, three Open Championships, five PGA Championships and an unheard of three career grand slams.

After a long career of dominating the pro circuit, in 1990 Nicklaus joined the senior tournament, now called the Champions Tour. Nicklaus has won every Champions Tour major, except the Senior British Open. The Senior British Open wasn't created until 2003, Nicklaus was 63.

Aside from a full trophy case, Nicklaus was the leading money winner of the PGA Tour eight years between 1964 and 1976. Aside from putting that money towards raising five children and 22 grandchildren, Nicklaus has been involved extensively in many philanthropic efforts which have come to trademark his legacy after his playing days.

Nicklaus and his wife Barbara are the head of the Nicklaus Children's Healthcare Foundation, which to date has raised over $31 million since its founding in 2004. The foundation supports numerous pediatric healthcare facilities in Southern Florida, as well as nationally. Nicklaus has also been involved with the First Tee program, whose mission statement is "to impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf." Nicklaus has even spoken in front of the U.S. Congress three times in advocacy for the First Tee.

Not only is Nicklaus still impacting the golf world through philanthropy, but he's still actively engaged in the PGA through his course-designing business. Nicklaus Design has more than 390 courses active worldwide. Nicklaus was named Golf World's "Architect of the Year" in 1993 and was Golf Digest's "World's Leading Active Designer" in 1999, just to name a few of his accolades for architecture. Nicklaus has been involved in the design and architecture of 290 courses open for play all over the world, including Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, which held the 1996 PGA Championship and 2000, the Ryder Cup in 2008, the Senior PGA Championship in 2004 and 2011, and most recently the 2014 PGA Championship.

Behind Valhalla's 18th green, in front of the clubhouse stands a statue of Nicklaus and Valhalla founder Dwight Gahm looking ahead. Perhaps this is Nicklaus' greatest legacy. Despite excellence at every juncture in his career and his life, Nicklaus has never become complacent. The Golden Bear has always pushed himself to greatness in all that he pursued.

Annie Moore is a junior at the University of Louisville majoring in Communications with a Sport Administration minor. She believes Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Follow her on Twitter: @AnyMoreSports
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