Legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus had a vision for a golf tournament held where he was born in Columbus, and when he realized that vision it became a tour competition as legendary as him. The Memorial Tournament has 42 years of history behind it and has seen some amazing plays over the years, so we want to learn more about it.

Meta: We look back at the history of Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament and see what amazing things have happened during this competition.

There was once a time when tickets to the Memorial Tournament were the hardest in the world of sport to get, and although some of this popularity has faded, it’s still considered an epic event on the golf calendar. Started by golfing legend Jack Nicklaus, the Memorial Tournament has been running since 1976 and is always an event to watch.

The Memorial Tournament takes place each year in Muirfield Village Golf Club, Columbus, and is a course designed by Nicklaus himself. Over the years, there have been some of golf’s greatest players seen here and a number of victories that have both shocked and inspired golfers and spectators.

We’re here to take a look back at how it all got started and how a simple vision from Nicklaus created one of the biggest events on the golf calendar with a prize purse worth millions. The Memorial Tournament may not have the huge pull that it did in the 90s during its heyday, but it’s still one of the leading competitions on the PGA Tour.

The Vision of Jack Nicklaus

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Jack Nicklaus wasn’t just happy being one of the golf’s greatest players, as he also had the vision to hold his very own tournament. From the beginning of his career, he had always wanted the Muirfield Village Golf Club to be a host to a tournament, and so he set about securing dates from the PGA Tour and planning a course that would be suitable.

The name of his competition, The Memorial Tournament, was due to the fact that each year, it would pay tribute to an exemplary golfer, either living or deceased. The tournament was a chance to honor their achievements and also see what the new talent in golf had to offer. Each year, they would choose someone to center the theme on, with Nicklaus himself being the center of focus in 2000.

Nicklaus made his plans known at during Masters Week in 1966 and wanted to create a tournament like it that had deep roots to the history of golf. In addition, he wanted it to be a way to give back to charity and make donations to organizations in need around the Ohio area. Since its beginning, the main beneficiary has been the Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

The very first Memorial Tournament took place in 1976 and was held on a golf course designed by Nicklaus that ran through Muirfield Village. A 72 par course that was set at 7,072 yards, this was considered quite unique for something designed around that time, which further helped to make it stand out.

The Invitational Status of the Tournament

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One major difference that the Memorial Tournament had over others was its invitational status. Being a part of the PGA Tour meant it was only one of five other events that were given this status, and as such there were only 120 players on the field.

In June 2014, a resolution was made by the PGA Tour officials that the winner of the Memorial Tournament would receive a three-year exemption. This made then one year more compared to other events on the Tour calendar, just as you’d find with events like the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Tour Championship.

Player’s Criteria

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To be selected for play at the Memorial Tournament, you had to meet certain criteria. This was not dissimilar to other PGA Tour events, however, final say rested in the hands of the organizers. These are just a few of the criteria that might make it possible to be considered for the event.

  • Any memorial winner from the last five years or any player who won prior to 1997.
  • Any winners of The Players Championship or other major championships in the last five years.
  • Players listed within the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking.
  • Top 70 players on the FedEx Cup points list from the previous season.
  • Recipient of the College Player of the Year award from the previous year before the tournament.
  • Prior year winners of British Amateur and US Amateur.
  • Any playing members of the last European Ryder Cup team, US Ryder Cup team, International Presidents Cup team, and US Presidents Cup Team.

Historic Moments at the Memorial Tournament

Since its very first game in 1976, the Memorial Tournament has seen icons in golf appear and take legendary shots. From Tiger Woods to Greg Norman, there have been plenty of historic moments that have taken place at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

  • In 2016, William McGirt finally earned his first win after 165 starts and spending years on mini-tours.
  • The 2015 Tournament saw Tiger Woods shoot his worst ever round of his professional career. It was also that last PGA Tour event that Kenny Perry would ever play.
  • Jack Nicklaus became the first ever player to win consecutively when he beat Andy Bean in the 1984 tournament.
  • Tom Lehman made a tournament record in 1984 getting 268 (-20) for 72 holes, earning him a victory over Greg Norman.
  • In 2014, Hideki Matsuyama won a playoff against Kevin Na making him the first Japanese winner of a PGA tour since 2008.
  • A giant bronze statue of Jack Nicklaus coaching a young child playing golf was erected in the Muirfield Village Golf Couse in 1995. Nicklaus has many other statues of himself across the US and is one of the most popular choices when it comes to sporting legend sculptures.

Fast Facts About the Memorial Tournament

When you’re the host to some of the most prolific players in the sport of golf, you’re bound to get some history built up over the years. Here are some fast facts about the Memorial Tournament, its course, and players.

  • Muirfield Village Golf Club was named after the course where Jack Nicklaus scored his first Open Championship in 1966, located in Scotland.
  • Muirfield Village hasn’t just been home to the Memorial Tournament but a range of other prestigious events like the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup, and US Junior Amateur.
  • The Memorial Tournament has never seen a wire to wire winner in all of its years.
  • Four players have recorded exactly 100 putts at the Memorial Tournament but nobody has ever recorded less than that.
  • Only six players have ever won the Memorial Tournament more than once. Tiger Woods has the most victories with five wins, Kenny Perry has three, and Jack Nicklaus, Hale Irwin, Greg Norman, and Tom Watson each have two wins.

Past Honorees of The Memorial Tournament

It was Nicklaus’ vision to honor an icon in the sport of golf at each tournament, and that tradition has stayed alive. The recipient of the honoree’s award is chosen each year by the Captain’s Club which consists of a group of statesmen who act independently but also advise on which players to invite. Some of the members include Hale Irwin, Peter Alliss, Sir Michael Bonallack, and Hisamitsu Ohnishi.

Judy Rankin has been announced as the 2019 honoree, and the LPGA legend has amassed 26 wins on the PGA Tour. She also has an extensive history as a broadcaster for golf and has proven herself to be a sporting legend. Previous honorees have included:

  • 2017: Greg Norman
  • 2015: Sir Nick Faldo
  • 2010: Severiano Ballesteros
  • 2004: Lee Trevino and Joyce Wethered
  • 1993: Arnold Palmer
  • 1984: Sam Snead
  • 1977: Walter Hagen

A Tournament to Watch

During the 1990s, the Memorial Tournament became a sold out event and was known as the hottest event on the golfing calendar. Although recently sales seem to have dropped for a number of reasons, this prestigious event will surely only gain more popularity back again.

Over the years, the Memorial Tournament has had its fair share of bad weather conditions or troubles with players, but it’s never let the public down. It’s been a great way to showcase current and past golfing professionals and giving them a chance to shine while doing what they know best.

What makes this tournament so special is its ongoing commitment to not only honor special players through the history of golf but also give some money back to the community where it’s held. Being about more than just a sporting event has helped the Memorial Tournament to keep its prestigious status and make it one of the most fascinating games in the world of sport.

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