Nichols' career found fame at the PGA, a home at Firestone

Chris Condon/PGA TOUR
Bobby Nichols (pictured in 2007) won the 1964 PGA Championship at Columbus (Ohio) Country Club.
August 09, 2012
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

The PGA Championship was first played at Firestone Country Club in 1960, and over the past 52 years the celebrated Akron club has produced a kaleidoscope of golf images.

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'WHERE ARE THEY NOW?'

This week, another PGA Championship winner will be crowned on the Ocean Course, the Pete Dye-design on Kiawah Island.

There is a man linked to both of those championships. Bobby Nichols can tell you -- in first-person terms - about Firestone and also about winning the PGA Championship.

Bobby Nichols was the PGA Professional at Firestone from 1967 to 1980. In 1964, he won the PGA Championship at Columbus (Ohio) Country Club with a 271 total, which remained the record for the championship for 30 years before Nick Price shot 269 at Southern Hills in Tulsa in 1994.

Nichols produced several other momentous events in his career, which included 11 victories on the PGA TOUR and another on the Champions Tour at the 1989 Southwestern Bell Open. He played on the Champions Tour from 1986 to 2002.

Nichols has lived in Southwest Florida, in the Ft. Myers area, since leaving Akron. He devotes much of his time to charitable events through the Bobby Nichols Fiddlesticks Charity Pro-Am at Fiddlesticks Country Club.

"I'm as busy as I want to be," Nichols said recently. "I do some charity pro-ams. We have one here at the club that's been very successful. We've raised $5 million in 10 years and have over 3,000 kids in Florida we've helped out. It's gratifying to see those kids and know that we've been able to help."

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Nichols also spends considerable time with the Wounded Warrior Project, for men and women injured in wars. He calls it "the most rewarding thing I've ever done ... It's really humbling.

"To see these kids and the things they have accomplished is absolutely amazing," he said. "They are so dedicated, the outlook is so positive."

The major championship victory in 1964 was the defining moment of Nichols' career. At Columbus Country Club, he outdistanced both Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, who tied for second, three shots behind.

There were two other significant triumphs in a professional tournament career that spanned more than four decades for Nichols, 76, a Kentucky native.

Six weeks after he won the PGA Championship, Nichols won the Carling World Open. At the time, it offered the biggest purse in the history of tournament golf. The Carling World Open at Oakland Hills Country Club, on the famed South Course -- The Monster -- was the first $200,000 tournament in professional golf. First prize was $35,000.

At Oakland Hills, Nichols shot 278 to beat Palmer by a stroke.

"I believe that was the best golf I've played in a tournament," Nichols said. "At the time, 278 was a record there. I was very proud of that. I also played with Mr. Hogan there.

"What was kind of neat about it, too, is that for the first time outside of the Ryder Cup, we had international players representing almost every country. That hadn't been done prior to that. It was the first time we were playing for that kind of money and it was exciting, with flags representing of all the different countries flying. A very nice show. It was unique."

Big-game Bobby Nichols was just getting started.

"Then I was fortunate enough, in 1970, to win the Dow Jones Open in New Jersey, the first $300,000 tournament on TOUR," said Nichols, who shot 12-under 276 at Upper Montclair Country Club for a 1-shot victory over Labron Harris Jr.

After that victory, Nichols received a letter from Bobby Jones.

"I immediately opened it up and it said that an article in the Charlotte Observer showed a picture of me winning the tournament, hands in the air," Nichols said. "The caption said Bobby Jones. There was a nice note from Bobby Jones. It said, 'Dear Bobby, Congratulations on your win. Sorry for the misidentification. But you have the check.' That was tremendous."

Between 1962 and 1975, Nichols finished top 10 in major championships nine times. He tied for third at the 1962 U.S. Open, narrowly missing a Nicklaus-Palmer playoff won by Nicklaus. Nichols was runner-up in the 1967 Masters when Gay Brewer birdied the 13th, 14th and 15th holes to win by a shot. Nichols also finished fourth at the 1968 U.S. Open at Oak Hill and tied for fourth at the 1975 Masters, the memorable year in which Nicklaus won a shoot-out against Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller.

Champions Tour Insider Vartan Kupelian is a freelance contributor for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR. He can be reached at [golfstix@aol.com]