After all, he wondered, would it have a negative impact on the tournament’s future? Would people think he has an unfair advantage, being all too familiar with the intricacies and nuances that he designed?
Perhaps just hosting the tournament would be enough. Did he even need to play?
Family, friends and associates convinced him otherwise. So Nicklaus entered the field when the tournament made its debut in 1976. He tied for eighth.
The next year, he was two strokes off the lead after 36 holes, then holed a bunker shot on his final hole in the third round to climb within one. He then took over the lead on Sunday, but rain delayed play long enough to force a Monday finish. Nicklaus woke up that morning nervous, wanting so much to win, but he finished the job in front of 2,000 fans on a workday. Had the tournament been completed Sunday, it would’ve been 30,000.
It didn’t diminish the accomplishment. With his duties outside the ropes that week, Nicklaus called it the hardest tournament for him to ever win.
“I felt like it was probably the most rewarding win that I’d ever had up to that time,” he said.
Seven years later, he did it again, winning the 1984 Memorial when Andy Bean missed a 3-foot par putt on the third playoff hole. That made Nicklaus the first two-time winner in tournament history and it ended a two-year drought on the PGA TOUR.
Ultimately, he would have to wait two more years for his next and final TOUR victory. But the wait was worth it — the 1986 Masters.