2016 Memorial Tournament Press Conference with Jack Nicklaus

THE MODERATOR: We’d like to welcome tournament host, Mr. Jack Nicklaus, into the interview room. The golf course looks like it’s in wonderful condition. I understand there’s been no changes since last year. If you could start by making a comment on the golf course and the shape it’s in.

JACK NICKLAUS: The golf course is always in good shape. Paul Latshaw does a reasonable job. He’s right here. The golf course is always in good shape. It’s — you had a very wet spring. You got a little bit probably — I’m hoping that — well, actually, the golf course kept pretty firm even the other day. Just hope you don’t have much rain to soften it up.

The golf course is good. I did not make any changes. Paul made some changes probably, but I didn’t. Probably had a couple bunkers you worked on, did a little bit. Probably put another mile of drainage in the golf course. Never did fix it — we did do bunkers at 17. Bunkers, what, at 13?

PAUL LATSHAW: Yes, we did 13.

JACK NICKLAUS: 13, basically just from a drainage standpoint, and we just keep doing a few each year, trying to get them so, when and if it does rain during the tournament or any time during the year, that you’re not rebuilding a bunker every night before every round. They should handle that well now, but that’s basically it.

THE MODERATOR: We’re in for an exciting week. We’ve got a terrific field, as usual, top three players in the world, of course, and they’re all coming off victories. That must be exciting for you to see that. Plus obviously the elevated status of the tournament, a much larger purse and exemption status, et cetera. So that’s got to be a good thing for the tournament too.

JACK NICKLAUS: Well, we worked at it for quite a while to elevate a few things in the tournament. We’ve been working with the Tour for about five years to try to get some things done. We felt like it was a two-way street. If we were going to give some things, then we had to have some things come from the Tour.

So the Tour took a while to get it done, and when we did, we raised our purse. We were pretty stubborn with our purse for a while because we felt, if we weren’t going to get what we wanted, we could do the other side. I think that was fair. We decided to go up and the Tour and Nationwide and our people here close, we stepped up and we upped the purse up to 8.5, which is a pretty big jump. I can’t imagine any other tournament’s made that big a jump in a long time.

It should be good. The players will be happy with that, and I think that we’re happy with it. We’re happy with some of the elevated things and more exemptions, a year more exemption, I think that’s nice, and the expanded television coverage and some of the specials that are being done and some of the ways that some of the post — pre and postgame coverage.

So we’re pleased with that. We’re pleased that we’re all one happy family doing what we want to do. Not to say we weren’t a happy family. But things are good. The field is good. The top three players in the world are all coming off of wins the last time they played, and it’s good depth all the way down. We’ve always had a good field here, and we have an excellent field again.

THE MODERATOR: And if you could just comment on the good that this event does for the community. It’s the 41st playing of the event. For a long time, you’ve obviously supported great charities in the community with the help of Nationwide. If you could just speak to that.

JACK NICKLAUS: Well, from day one, I think you’ve all heard my story about my daughter and how we felt Children’s Hospital saved her life when she was less than a year old. I won’t go through all of the details of that. And Barbara and I always said, if there’s one place we think we could help, we’d like to help kids. So from day one of the Memorial Tournament, it’s benefited Children’s Hospital. It used to be Columbus Children’s, now it’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

And Nationwide, it was part of Nationwide’s reason for wanting to be part of our tournament sponsor too because we’ve sponsored — we sent the proceeds to their hospital. So they felt like the synergy was good. So that part’s been good. So we’ve done that.

We think this year will probably be pretty good for us. I think we’ll be well over $2 million to charities this year, which is pretty good. In a smaller town, you might say, from the smaller markets, but we do well. We support not only the hospital but we support other varieties of charities in town too.

Q. Jack, every few years there’s a big three, a big four they talk about, but it seems like there is a legitimate big three right now with Jordan, Rory, and Jason. You were the first big three, I think. Can you just compare that time —

JACK NICKLAUS: Snead, Hogan, and Nelson wasn’t too bad.

Q. That’s true. You were the number two. Do you see that as the legit comparison?

JACK NICKLAUS: I think that Jordan, we were talking about it this morning, he says, I think we’ve got a little bit of time to go before that’s there yet. I think, when we were sort of declared our big three, as it was put, that was probably about mid-‘ 60s. I’d won three or four. Arnold had won seven, I guess. Gary had won — he’d won probably about four or five by that time. But we were probably the three better players.

But right behind us, there was Casper, and there was Trevino, and Watson came along. So it was maybe in some ways a little unfair to the others because we did — we got more publicity than they did. You guys wanted to write about it a little bit more that way.

And I certainly look a little bit that way here today even though those three are exceptionally good. You’ve got Rickie Fowler right there right behind it. Rickie’s what, four? And who’s five in the world?

THE MODERATOR: Bubba Watson.

JACK NICKLAUS: Bubba is there. You’ve got Matsuyama, and you’ve got just a host of good young players who really would not take much to jump right into that same consideration.

And I think that was Jordan’s point this morning. His point was that, basically, Jason’s won, what, one major? And all of a sudden, he’s part of a big three? Jordan won, what, three?

Q. Two.

JACK NICKLAUS: Just two, that’s right. He didn’t — okay. Two, and Rory’s won four. So I think it’s great that you do that because you do make a big three, because I think it creates interest within the press, creates interest with the fans. It gives you something to write about and talk about, which I think is good.

But don’t be too surprised if somebody else doesn’t jump into there too. That’s my point. I think we have more good players today than we’ve ever had in the game of golf. And I think that’s saying a lot because we had a lot of good players when I played. I think you had a bit of a lag in there for a while, that Tiger was just so much better than everybody else that he really didn’t put anybody in with him. Phil was probably sort of — he wasn’t that distant a second, but he was still second. Now you’ve got a lot of guys that are really all pretty good and all sit in the same pack.

Plus you’ve got — and I think Tiger will be back. I think Tiger would have liked to have played this week. He’s just not ready. But you still got Phil and guys like that who I don’t think are by any means done with their golf game.

Q. As a quick follow, just to press the point, do you see any of yourself in any of these three guys in terms of their game?

JACK NICKLAUS: I don’t know. I don’t really watch that close. I see they all hit it long. They all hit — all good iron players. They all have better short games than I had. I was a good putter. They’re good putters.

But everybody approaches the game differently. I think Jason approaches the game from pretty much putting the ball up in the air. Rory just hits — for a little guy, hits an enormous distance and basically overpowers the golf course. Jordan, I don’t necessarily think overpowers the golf course, but what a short game. He wasn’t too bad the last nine holes last week, was he? So you get those kinds of situations. Everybody plays a little bit differently.

And frankly, when I won, there were weeks that I had a good short game and I won with my short game. There were weeks when I won with my long game. Do I see some of myself in these guys? Yeah. But do I see them having to do what I did too, was play different ways to win. You don’t always win the same way.

Q. Jack, Ernie Els started his career trying to emulate you on the course, and he’s evolved to championing a cause that, like you with the Children’s Hospital, is near and dear to his heart. When you look at Ernie, what do you see?

JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I see a guy who is — he grew up part as a tennis player somewhat because he was a good tennis player, but he also grew up as sort of a fun-loving guy that liked to play that had a lot of talent and started winning golf tournaments. Along the way, he and Liesel had a son who has a — what’s the right word — disorder, I guess you would say, special needs, yeah, and he found that that was the most important thing in his life, which I think is correct.

So he used his platform of where he was in the game of golf while still playing it to help further that cause for kids and for anybody who comes along. I don’t know what the — you probably know more about that than I do as far as what’s the number, but it’s 1 in 100 now, is it?

Q. 1 in 86.

JACK NICKLAUS: 1 in 86. Is that what it is? So he’s been really good. His wife has been really good. Their school in Florida is beautiful. It’s just gorgeous. They’ve done just a wonderful job with it, and you can see how proud they are of what they’ve done. And he’s still playing the game.

Do I think the game to him is as important as it was 15 years ago? Probably not. But his game, he still plays. He still plays well. British Open, what did he win, three years ago? Is that what it was?

THE MODERATOR: Four years ago.

JACK NICKLAUS: And was it ’12? Is that when he won?


JACK NICKLAUS: I just see a guy whose life has been changed by his family, and he’s done good with what he was given.

Q. You had written a message to Jordan Spieth, Jack, after his Masters loss back in April. What do you think it is — as a golfer, what do you think it is that can allow a golfer to bounce back from that kind of a setback? Especially for a younger golfer.

JACK NICKLAUS: He’ll be fine.

Q. I guess, what can they learn from that kind of experience?

JACK NICKLAUS: Well, you always learn from those experiences. I think we all do. I didn’t have one that was quite as bad as what he had, but I go back and look at — sort of parallel my life a little bit back there.

1960, I was 20 years old, and I was leading the U.S. Open. Now, I wasn’t leading by several strokes, but I was leading the U.S. Open and playing with Ben Hogan, had a very good chance to win, nine holes to go, I was leading. I was still leading with six holes to play. I looked at a leaderboard, which had Hogan, Palmer, sue CHAK, KROEL, and fleck one shot behind me. And I proceeded to fall apart like a $3 suitcase. Three-putted 13, three-putted 14, missed a couple of short birdie putts and bogeyed the last hole to lose by two shots.

I look back on it, and I say, you know, I would have loved to have won that tournament, but maybe the best thing that ever happened to me was the learning experience that I had from it. Did it destroy my life? No. And it won’t destroy Jordan’s life. I learned from it. I put what I learned there to use. Did I do it again? Sure. But did I do it to the same degree? No. I came back and in ’63, I was at the British Open, trying to win my first British Open. And I had what I thought was a two-shot lead with two holes to play at Lytham. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had a shot off the tee in perfect position. I had 212 yards to the hole. Pin was at the back of the green. And my caddy said to me, Jimmy Dickinson, he says, 3 iron is plenty. I said, no, I can’t get 3 iron back here, Jimmy. And he said, you don’t need to. I wasn’t smart, I was too young still to figure it out. So I hit 2 iron, hit it through the green. Didn’t get up and down, made bogey, bogeyed the last hole. Lost the tournament by a shot. But I learned from that. Anybody with a proper brain would have played the ball short of the hole. I didn’t have a proper brain at the time. But you have to make that mistake to learn it.

Tom Watson, Tom Watson blew, what, two PGA Championships and a U.S. Open. Did it destroy his life? No, it didn’t destroy his life. He learned from it. He went on to win a lot of major championships and obviously became one of the world’s great players.

So I think, if I’d won some of those tournaments, I think I’d have been scratching my ears out here like this and, it would probably have been the worst thing that ever happened to me. It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. So probably what happened to Jordan at Augusta, he’ll learn from that, and it will be one of the best things that ever happened to him.

That’s certainly the way I look at it. From him turning back and looking on it and being okay, he’s 22 years old. He’ll be just fine.

Q. Jack, Johnny Miller is your honoree. How good was that 63 at Oakmont? You were there that day. Where do you think that ranks?

JACK NICKLAUS: He was done before I started, or close to it. Close to it, wasn’t it? I mean, I was in contention, but he blew right by all the contenders. He left us in the dark.

I mean, 63 at Oakmont is just one whale of a round of golf. We’re delighted to have Johnny here this year. I’ve obviously spent a lot of time with Johnny, fished a lot with him. We obviously played a lot of golf. We won a team championship together, several team championships. We won Canada Cup together in Spain. We won Tour’s Team Championship down in Boca one year. We fish every year. We either fish out West or we fish in the Bahamas, I take him over there.

So I’ve gotten to know Johnny pretty well, and he’s a good man. He’s got a good family. He’s the only guy I know that’s got more grandkids than I do. He’s got 23 to my 22. He had an extra kid to work on it, though.

But he’s a very honest guy. That may have been to his detriment sometimes. On television, he’s too honest. We talk about it a lot. Do you really need to be that honest? You know what I mean? But he’s a good man. He’s a good family man. He’s got good values, and we’re delighted to have him as our honoree.

Q. Jack, what would be your definition of a good members course? Would Oakmont be considered a good members course?

JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I think you would have to ask the membership that, to a large degree, Doug. Oakmont members love their golf course, and the tougher it is, the better they like it. I redid — I’m going to go around the corner a little bit. I redid the Australian Golf Club down in — I did it back in ’78 maybe, and they asked me to redo it again about five years ago. I assume you don’t want me to — a lot of the same members. Oh, no, no, no, we want it tougher. I said, what? Why would you want — you’ve got a membership (indiscernible) here. No way in the world you want to make it tougher. They said, no, no, no, we pride ourselves on having the most difficult golf course. Okay.

But you look at the membership, and it’s what they like it. Some members golf courses are the opposite. I think Augusta National — and I got in trouble for calling Royal Melbourne a great members golf course, but both of those, I think, are great members golf courses in that you basically — you play the members tees. You have normal pins. It’s not a very hard golf course. You take the tees and move them back and you hide the pins, and you’ve got a great tournament golf course without doing anything. That, to me, is my definition.

I mean, I don’t play much golf anymore. I can’t — if I break 80, I’m doing pretty well. The last two times I’ve been down to Augusta, I shot 72. I’m playing the members golf courses. I play the same tees that Condoleezza Rice plays. Don’t laugh. It’s true. Because they don’t have a set of ladies tees.

But the members enjoy it, and they have fun with it. Other memberships do it the other way around. They like to — I think this is a fairly difficult members golf course. I did this golf course originally more for a tournament. I didn’t know how to do a golf course for the members to start with. So I did this golf course for the tournament, and I spent the last 40 years changing it to try to accommodate the membership. It’s a lot easier to do it to start with. As I said, I think it really depends on who you talk to and what do they want.

Q. If you lived in Pittsburgh, would you want to play Oakmont a couple times a week?

JACK NICKLAUS: If I was a member at Oakmont and I enjoyed that and I accepted it for what it is, I would be so proud of my golf course that they could withstand a national Open and be considered one of the best golf courses in the country, yeah, that would be my pride. Is that what you want for a steady diet? It depends on the person. Like I say, it depends on who the guy is or who the gal is. What do they like? Oakmont is a pretty stiff test.

Did I answer what you wanted? Okay.

Q. Jack, two parts, if you could. One, in ’60, I think — ’62, excuse me, I think you three-putted just once at Oakmont. Is putting still the key there? Two, I know you’re good friends with Bob Ford. His grandson and your son are good friends. I hear he’s retiring this year. I wonder if you could speak to Bob and what kind of golf club professional he is.

JACK NICKLAUS: You started out with the putting. What was the question on the putting?

Q. Is putting still the key?

JACK NICKLAUS: Oakmont is probably the premier — Oakmont and Augusta National are probably the top two set of greens in the country. Oakmont, they never get as fast as here, nor did Augusta ever get as fast as here. We never had the pitch in. We never put it in. They’ve got a lot of pitch. Both golf courses have a lot of pitch. Oakmont could run at 9 or 10 and be almost impossible. I don’t know what they’ll have it for the U.S. Open. I have no idea. My guess is probably they won’t have them fast, 11, 11 1/2 probably.

Q. Mike Davis said 14.

JACK NICKLAUS: Then nobody will finish. If they’re truly at 14, they won’t finish. It would be a really tough golf course at that speed.

But anyway, that’s — putting is always the key and always being able to — the difficulty about Oakmont is it’s really impossible to put the ball below the pin. You have so many things that run away from you, and if you let it run away from you to get it below the pin, you’re running off the green all day long. You’re not hitting the ball below the pin. You’ve got to use slow play. You’ve got to play the golf course much differently than you would play most golf courses.

Here, at this golf course, or at Augusta, either one, you can play the ball into the center of the green and work to the hole. Oakmont, you can’t. Oakmont, you’ve got to be playing slope.

As to Bob Ford, Bob Ford is a great guy. He’s a great friend. He’s done a great job at Oakmont and Seminole. He’s a very quiet man. He doesn’t get in the middle of everything, but he understands what a nice job he’s done at both places. He’s a good guy.

Q. Jack, I’m curious, all the players, Jason, Rory, they talk about how being No. 1 in the World Rankings are important to them. There were no World Rankings back — at what point in your career did you —

JACK NICKLAUS: I’m glad there weren’t. I never thought about being No. 1. I just kept trying to be No. 1.

Q. You never thought you were?

JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I never wanted to be. I never wanted everybody to tell me I was. I wanted to earn it, and I wanted to earn it every week. That’s the way I felt about it.

Q. I’m just curious then, if there were World Rankings and you were No. 1 and had not won a major that year, would you have been satisfied?

JACK NICKLAUS: I was never satisfied if I didn’t win a major. I mean, not that year or any major I played, I wasn’t satisfied unless I won it. But that’s what our goals are. I’m sure that these guys’ goals are the same as mine. They want to win every time they play. If you don’t win, then you’re not happy, obviously.

To be No. 1 in the world and not win a major, that’s what you’re saying? Who’s No. 1 now, Rory? Oh, no, Jason’s No. 1. He’s won a major. He won — what did he win, PGA last year?

Q. Last year.

JACK NICKLAUS: So what are you saying about not —

Q. I’m just curious. If you ended the season still No. 1 in the world without having won a major that season, would you have considered it —

JACK NICKLAUS: I never considered a year that I didn’t win a major a successful year. Is that what your question was? Okay.

Q. Jack, we all know you named this place after the Muirfield in Scotland.

JACK NICKLAUS: Because of what it meant to me, yeah.

Q. Do you have any reaction to what’s just gone on over there, including the fact that the R&A quickly took them out of the rotation for now because of the women’s membership issue?

JACK NICKLAUS: Tell me what happened because I don’t really know. I haven’t played any real attention.

Q. The membership had a vote to admit their first women members, and it didn’t pass. They had a majority but not the number needed. And so within hours, the R&A told them they won’t be getting an Open —


Q. — any time until —

JACK NICKLAUS: I heard some inkling of something like that, but I didn’t know what it was. Really? So what’s your question?

Q. I guess I’m wondering your reaction to that. Obviously, the golf course means a lot to you, the place, but there’s the chance we won’t be back there.

JACK NICKLAUS: They had that same issue at Augusta. They had the same issue at St. Andrews. We had that issue here for about ten minutes. So one of the first things I did when I started this place — and I think in 1974 — was I wanted to make sure that I covered every ethnic base that I could cover. I felt that — I just, I hated golf courses that discriminated, and I just felt like I didn’t want to be that part.

Here I am one year later, I’m saying the only person we haven’t had is women. So we immediately added women. So we took care of that, but it took me a year to smarten up to it.

But I just don’t — in today’s age, Muirfield will — they’ll change. They’re too much part of the world scene not to. That’s my feeling.

Q. Jack, there were people who were at this 1962 U.S. Open who have said, while they were partial to Arnold, they couldn’t help feel bad for some of the vocal sort of outcry against you that occurred, especially those final 18 holes. Were you so much in a zone that you weren’t aware of it? Or how much were you aware of the —

JACK NICKLAUS: I wasn’t aware of any of it, to be very honest with you. I’ve said that a thousand times, but I really wasn’t. It wouldn’t have been me. It would have been anybody. I don’t think of it that — I mean, I’ve played with Arnold for 50 years, and it hasn’t changed in 50 years. Every place Arnold plays, Arnold’s fans want him to win, and they’re pretty vocal about him. And that’s okay. He’s earned that.

But I don’t think his fans have ever been against somebody. I think they really are rooting for Arnold. Now, there are times when I probably fell into that category because I did beat him probably more than they would have liked, and I’m sure than he would have liked too, but that’s all right.

The most important thing to me has always been that Arnold has always been there for me and I’ve always been there for him. If I ever had an issue in everything I wanted to do, I could call on my friend to help me.

Q. Did your wife or father say anything to any of the crowd that you’re aware of?

JACK NICKLAUS: I know my father actually restrained Woody Hayes.

Q. I was there.

JACK NICKLAUS: Were you there when he restrained him?

Q. Yes.

JACK NICKLAUS: I didn’t know about that until a time later. But Woody was a little outspoken, as you might know. But Woody came to Cherry Hills, and then he came to Oakland Hills, and then he came to Oakmont. Largely because that fellow sitting right beside you wasn’t sent out by his newspaper.

Q. We thought he was covering in Cherry Hills.

JACK NICKLAUS: He came to Cherry Hills in 1960 because you and Paul Hornung were not sent out by your newspaper. So he said, what do you mean, they’re back in Columbus, they’ve got the U.S. Amateur champion playing in the National, and they don’t send out a newspaper guy to cover what’s going on out here? So he stayed and sent back a story every day, right?

Q. He did.

JACK NICKLAUS: So anyway, he goes, and he’s following me there, and comes up to Oakland Hills the next year and follows me, and I finished second. And then I finished fourth the next year. And he comes to Oakmont, and he came there as a fan because Kay was — they were covering those. The paper felt that 200 miles wasn’t too far.

Q. He discovered you really.

JACK NICKLAUS: Anyway, he was a pretty big fan.

Q. Yeah, he was.

JACK NICKLAUS: He was a big fan. And I want to tell you one thing, if Woody liked you and supported you, you’d better not be saying something against who he’s supporting. That was Woody. He was something else.

I’m sorry. I don’t know that I ever answered your question, did I? What was your question? I don’t even remember.

Q. Just curious what the people around you who were on your side, how they reacted to —

JACK NICKLAUS: They never — you know, I never got one word from my wife or my dad or anybody. I really didn’t. Because they knew that — if anybody got the last word, I got the last word. I won. I guess that’s the way it worked.

Q. Maybe a broader question, maybe apart from the golf course, I know this is where your heart is, but when you come back here, do you reminisce? Do you go down memory lane? Or do you say, hey, Barb, I need to see this person, or I want to get a meal there? What are those formative years for you —

JACK NICKLAUS: What do I do when I come back to Columbus?

Q. Correct.

JACK NICKLAUS: I try to find if there’s a good basketball game on, which there will be tonight, right? Or tomorrow — no, no, it was last night.

Q. Thursday.

JACK NICKLAUS: Thursday when they start. But last night was a good game. I watched that.

I guess enough things that are going on here. I’ve got —

Q. Perhaps maybe how much this city has changed since you —

JACK NICKLAUS: Well, it was a little town when I was here when we started the golf tournament. Not a little town, but Columbus is probably three times the size of when I was here.

Q. Sure.

JACK NICKLAUS: The university is a little bit bigger, not much. It was pretty big when I was here. But I always looked at Columbus as sort of an overgrown college town. It’s a great place to grow up in, nice people, good values. I felt like I was very fortunate to come from this background. It served me well in life.

I come back here. My sister is here. She’s never left. So I see her a lot. My guess is I’m having dinner with her tonight — no, I won’t tonight. Tomorrow night.

I see these guys back here who see me a couple times a year, Nicholas and Paul and Larry. They sort of do everything that happens here at the club, and Dan. And I come back, and I get a big kick out of coming back and sort of get a kick out of that they still respect what I’m saying or that I say something. They all are so — they’re way beyond me as far as the talent that they have. What they do with their job, they do it so well that I don’t have to do anything. I keep my mouth shut, and things will go along, but I’ve always got to stick my nose in somewhere. It’s just my nature.

But I’ve still got a lot of friends back here in Columbus. Unfortunately, the guys that we started this place with are just not around anymore. I miss that. I miss a lot of those things. But time moves on.

The Memorial Tournament has grown tremendously through this period of time. Scioto’s got the Senior Open this year, which I will certainly be back for, not to play. But I think Columbus is a great city.

I came back and played golf with Urban on Saturday. I didn’t come to an Ohio State football game last year, but I never missed one. Never missed one on television. I’m still a big Buckeye fan, and that will never change. That will certainly not change. I grew up in Arlington, and certainly every time I come here, I look in the paper about what’s happening in Arlington, what it’s doing, even though it’s a changed community. Hey, I’m a Buckeye at heart, period.

Q. Jack, with the one three-putt you had in ’62 at Oakmont, do I have the story right, was that when a helicopter was flying overhead and it made you think of another time the helicopter was flying?

JACK NICKLAUS: 4th hole at Cherry Hills.

Q. Could you tell that story again.

JACK NICKLAUS: Sure. Last round I was playing with Hogan. I was at Oakmont, and it was the 55th hole of the tournament. I hit it on the green, and I probably had a 30-footer down the green. I start looking at the putt, and all of a sudden a helicopter starts going over taking pictures of the golf course, and it wouldn’t leave where we were.

So I usually wait until the helicopter leaves, it goes away, but it wouldn’t. My mind went right back to Cherry Hills two years earlier, I’m playing the last round with Ben Hogan, on the 4th green, 30-footer, helicopter is doing the same thing, and I three-putted the darn green. My mind just went right back to it, and I three-put

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Muirfield Village Golf Club was the dream and work of Jack, in association with Desmond Muirhead. The land was acquired in 1966, but construction did not begin until July 28,…

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