PGA TourTournament Previews

Jack Nicklaus and the Memorial: 40 Years of History

We’re into the meat of the PGA Tour schedule, with consecutive tournaments at legendary PGA Tour locations. Only two weeks removed from The Players and with just two events between us and the second major of the year, this is when things stop getting polite and start getting real.

This week, the Tour heads just outside of Columbus to Dublin, Ohio for the Memorial. Played since 1976 at the Jack Nicklaus masterwork Muirfield Village Golf Club, the Memorial has become a staple on the PGA Tour and one of the best events of the season, major or otherwise.

It’s also the de facto home event of No Laying Up, as three of the four horsemen met each other while attending nearby Miami University. After many years of tournament attendance, NLU podcast impresario Chris Solomon even managed to finagle a Pro-Am caddie job, though his boss seems hell-bent on making this as tough as possible.

You can see a snippet of how that round went down on the No Laying Up Instagram.

Like last weeks’ tournament at Colonial, the Memorial is an invitational, which means a smaller, more diverse field; more chances for interesting storylines to emerge; and (hopefully) more comprehensive and in-depth TV coverage. Let’s take a look at the history of Jack Nicklaus’s pride and joy.

Tournament Roots

Before I go any further, I have to give tons of love to the PGA Tour and their incredible deep dive into Jack Nicklaus, Columbus, and the Memorial. It’s a detailed overview of Jack’s life and his connection to the city of Columbus, and covers everything: his upbringing and tutelage under Jack Grout, his years dominating the PGA Tour, his design career, his planning and hosting of the Memorial, and the myriad ways in which Jack and his wife Barbara have improved the lives of people in and around Columbus and Dublin, Ohio. It’s pretty remarkable. And it also does the job of this piece, so I’ll be brief.

Basically, Jack wanted to bring the Tour to his hometown, a Rust Belt relic that was quickly becoming the forgotten city in sports-crazy Ohio. With nothing but Buckeye football, Columbus was a one-trick pony. During Masters Week 1966, at the tender age of 26, Nicklaus announced his intent to create a professional event near Columbus that mirrored The Masters in its salute to the history and tradition of the game of golf. Fresh off a health scare with his daughter Nan, when she had to be kept in intensive care at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and nearly died after swallowing a blue crayon, Jack and Barbara decided to align their new tournament with the hospital.

Source

In the intervening ten years, Nicklaus found a piece of land in Dublin, Ohio, about 20 miles from downtown Columbus. Pete Dye, who Jack had worked with in designing Harbour Town and who consulted on Muirfield Village, called the Dublin site “the best inland site I’ve ever seen.” With broad valleys ideal for spectator golf, two creeks meandering through the property, and excellent drainage, Nicklaus had found an ideal spot to build his dream course.

Source

After some financial hardships, Muirfield Village was completed in 1974 and named in honor of Scotland’s famed Muirfield, where Jack had played his first Walker Cup. Two years later, the Tour made its inaugural stop here, and has been returning ever since.

The Memorial distinguishes itself from just another run-of-the-mill Tour stop in several ways.

As its name suggests, the tournament pays homage to the great people in golf from years past. Every year, the Memorial’s Captain’s Club (a crew of independent golf literati who don’t actually run the event but “advise Nicklaus on the conduct of the tournament,” whatever that means) gets together and decides on several honorees to feature that year. In 2017, the Memorial will honor Greg Norman, Tony Lema, Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward. Previous winners range from Johnny Miller (2016) and Arnold Palmer (1993) to James Braid (1995) and Glenna Collette Vare (1982). Interestingly, in the 41 iterations of the Memorial, Charles Blair MacDonald is the only honoree to be recognized more for his course architecture than his playing career. Though Jack has become a prolific and well-regarded course designer, it’s clear he still values those who can tame golf courses over those who can lay them out.

The Memorial’s invitational status brings an air of acceptance to the event, as well as a ray of hope for some players lacking status. Winning in Dublin brings a fat stack of cash (to the tune of over $1.5M), along with a 3-year PGA Tour exemption. I’d be interested to see what a player would rather do: win $1.5M in one event, or get three years of full status on the Tour. I’m guessing it’s the latter.

The Memorial reserves spots for a variety of golfers who wouldn’t qualify into a traditional tournament. These include four entries for the money list leaders from each of the four International Federation of PGA Tours (Euro Tour, Japan Tour, PGA Tour of Australasia, Sunshine Tour) and a whopping 14 sponsors exemptions (two for Web.com Tour grads, six for PGA Tour members who didn’t otherwise qualify, and six unrestricted).

To give those terms some flesh and blood context, here are the sponsor’s exemptions for this year’s event:

That list is stacked with intrigue. Grayson “Twitter Fingers” Murray. K-Pop and the Goose looking to dust off some early 2000s vibes. Paddy! Hunter “Witness Protection” Mahan! Hot Carl! What a group.

Over the years, the Memorial and Muirfield Village have given central Ohio an enormous boost, both financially and culturally. The tournament has raised $27 million for charities across central Ohio, generates an estimated $37 million every year for the local economy, and has given over $16 million to Nationwide Children’s Hospital since its inception.

The event and the course have also essentially given birth to the city of Dublin. Look at Muirfield Village on a map and you’d be hard-pressed to imagine this area as a barren woodland just forty years ago.

One more fun bit of trivia: Muirfield Village is the only course to have hosted a Ryder Cup, President’s Cup, and Solheim Cup.

Past Winners

Jack has won his own event twice, tied with Tom Watson, Greg Norman, and Hale Irwin for third most Memorial wins all time. Kenny Perry comes second with three wins, and of course, Tiger takes the cake with five. In the past few years, the event has prioritized accuracy over length, with the last four titles belonging to Willie (Dirt) McGirt, David Lingmerth, Hideki Matsuyama, and Matt Kuchar.

Notable Moments and Finishes

Recent Playoffs for First-Timers

The Memorial has come down to a playoff the last three years, and each has been won by a player chasing his inaugural Tour victory. In a battle of two longtime pros looking for their first win, Willie (Dirt) McGirt took down Jon Curran in 2016. It was the 165th Tour start for the 37-year-old McGirt, and gave him the kind of job security that had eluded him for years. The previous year, Lingmerth bested Justin Rose, and before that, Matsuyama beat Kevin Na.

Tiger Tanks

After making the cut in 2015, Tiger Woods mashed the eject button harder than I used to in middle school when I got caught playing Backyard Baseball on the family computer instead of doing homework. Watch at your own risk.

Friday nights in Columbus may have gotten a bit wild for Tiger in the recent past–his back-nine 44 on Saturday at the 2013 Memorial (when he was the defending champion) was the worst 9-hole score of his career to that point.

Tying Jack

In happier news, Tiger’s back-nine birdie barrage on Sunday in 2012 brought him his 73rd PGA Tour win, tying him with Jack Nicklaus for second all time.

Threepeat

In 2001, Tiger Woods (expect anything different) did something that no one had done in 21 years, and won a PGA Tour event three years running. His threepeat spanned two millennia and included a righteous fist-pump in ’01, visible at 3:10 above.

Bunker Buckets

Left short-sided in a steep greenside bunker on the 72nd hole in 1993, Paul Azinger took out his beach shovel and scooped a miraculous effort that just cleared the lip and trundled down the slope and into the hole for a closing birdie, and a one-shot win. Highlights start at 2:04 above.

Topping the Champ 

In 1991, a young Kenny Perry (with a dreadfully well-matched shirt stripe and pant situation) got his first PGA Tour victory with a playoff W over reigning U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin. Highlights start at 1:20 above.

Home Course Advantage

In 1977, Jack Nicklaus took the title in his second spin at the Memorial, but bad weather forced the tournament to a Monday finish. Nicklaus held on for the win, one that he called the most rewarding victory he’d had to that point in his career. Seven years later, he held on in a playoff over Andy Bean to become the event’s first two-time winner. It would be his second to last PGA Tour win, with the last one coming two years later in Augusta.

Odds and Ends

  • Seriously, read this. It’s great.
  • Though he was a bit before my time, I’m diving into multiple Frank Deford pieces after hearing about his passing. This short one, on the occasion of his leaving Sports Illustrated, is worth your time.
  • There’s a lot of Tiger talk in this piece, because the man has dominated professional golf for the past two decades. On the DUI front, there isn’t much to say beyond hoping he doesn’t make this a habit. It’s a good time to dust off Wright Thompson’s seminal Tiger Woods profile from last year.
  • The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel just finished their six-part Erin Hills deep dive, and it was tremendous. Part 6 is here, and all the links to the others are at the bottom. It’s like a 30 for 30 in written form, with drama, intrigue, bankruptcy, and murder. Really.
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