Regardless of who wins the 112th US Open this evening in prime time – whether it be frontrunner Jim Furyk, the seventeen year old amateur Beau Hossler or Tiger Woods charging back from five down to win his 15th major championship – the winner will receive the Gold Medal all United States National Champions receive. But this year’s medal will be different, having a name attached to it for the first time in its century-old history.
On Wednesday morning at 9:30am, the day before the 2012 US Open got under way, the United States Golf Association announced that it was dedicating the much sought after medal for the first time since it was originally awarded the Open champion Horace Rawlins in 1895.
The new namesake? Former Ohio State Buckeye Jack Nicklaus.
The medal has been redesigned for the honor, now showing a silhouette of Nicklaus in his famed follow through pose, and what better name to have on the most important award in American golf than that of the of record-holding, four-time US Open champion?
Jack’s first major championship of the eighteen crowns he now holds was the 1962 US Open, which also marked his first win as a professional. He later won Opens again in 1967, 1972 and 1980. All told Jack played in 44 straight US Opens from 1957 to 2000, a record that still stands today.
When asked on Wednesday what the US Open meant to him and his career, Jack shined a quick, direct light on its importance.
“While every major championship is meaningful and memorable, I have always considered the U.S. Open the most important major championship to me. The U.S. Open represents our national championship, and because I am an American there is a special connection to that major. The dedication of this medal, and to be associated with this great championship going forward, is among the most special recognitions I have ever received.”
Nicklaus is most known for his PGA Tour success, be he wasn’t exactly a slouch while attending Ohio State from 1957-61. While in Scarlet and Gray, Jack won two US Amateurs (’59, ’61) and an NCAA Championship (’61), becoming the first player to ever win both titles in the same year.
As an amateur playing in the 1960 US Open, the Ohio State junior finished just two shots behind champion Arnold Palmer who had to fire a final round 65 to overtake Jack for the medal. With most amateurs, that would be an amazing single-event occurrence before turning pro, but not for Jack. He tied for 13th in the 1960 Masters Tournament, tied for fourth in the 1961 US Open and tied for seventh in the 1961 Masters.
Oh, and his playing partner for the final 36 hole stretch that landed him behind only Palmer in the ’60 US Open? The great Ben Hogan. Can you imagine?
When all was said and done Jack had become one of the most recognizable Buckeye athletes of all time and the greatest golfer in the history of the sport, only now challenged by Tiger Woods whose struggles over the last three years have been well documented. Will Tiger ever match the feats of Jack, sitting four major championships short as he enters today’s final round five shots behind the leader? That’s yet to be seen. But one thing we know for sure – Jack’s name and image is on the medal Tiger will be fighting for this afternoon, and for that Buckeye Nation should be extremely proud.