How Nicklaus’ legend grew at Baltusrol

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The giants of golf need stages big enough to accommodate the outsized deeds that define them.

For Jack Nicklaus, those stages were Augusta National, where he won six Masters titles; the Old Course at St. Andrews, where he won two British Opens; and a less-heralded course about 20 miles west of lower Manhattan.

Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield Township, New Jersey, has its own history. Its two courses were designed by A.W. Tillinghast just two years after Tillinghast was present at the 1916 founding of the Professional Golfers Association.

Bobby Jones played on Tillinghast’s course. So did Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer and, later, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.

The present greats of the game — including Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth — are scheduled to appear at Baltusrol for the PGA Championship, which starts Thursday. They will try to make their own golf history on a course where it’s still possible to hear echoes of past legends.

It took a U.S. Open record for Nicklaus to outduel Palmer in 1967 and another record to top Aoki in 1980. A quarter-century later, during the 2005 PGA Championship, Phil Mickelson was the golfer with a chance to put the tournament away on Baltusrol’s 18th hole. Before his second shot, Mickelson reached out with his 4-wood and tapped a plaque that commemorates the spot of Nicklaus’ famous 1-iron in 1967.

Mickelson won, and the long line of Baltusrol history — of golf history — remained unbroken.

“From my perspective and on my list, sure, Baltusrol is on a level with Augusta National and St. Andrews,” Nicklaus said.

A giant needs a worthy stage, and for Nicklaus, Baltusrol was just that.

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