April 4, 2011

Jack Nicklaus 1986 Masters

All the quiet and propriety generally reserved for golf, especially at Augusta National Golf Club during the Masters, was abandoned 25 years ago this week. A Bear, a Golden Bear, was charging.

No feigning, this was Jack Nicklaus' course, these were his patrons, and this was, forever more, to be his day. Nicklaus was 46 years old, and it had been suggested in a preview story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution that he was too old to win.

In Sunday's final round, cheered by roars that were probably heard in Savannah and Columbus, Nicklaus turned back the clock as he posted a final round 65 including an amazing 6 under 30 on the back nine to claim one of the most cogent and beloved victories in golf history.

Tucked away in the media center, watching it unfold on TV screens because it was impossible to get anywhere near the ropes to watch the play on the course, I and hundreds of others covering the tournament sat in disbelief as Nicklaus made birdies at 10 and 11, a bogey at 12, then his unbelievable eagle at 15, followed by a short-putt birdie at 16 and another birdie at 17. The par at 18 was received as though he had made birdie from a greenside bunker the cheers long and loud and thunderous.

In the media center, there was a slight delay between the live action and the broadcast. You could hear the crowd roar after another Nicklaus birdie, another step toward winning the green jacket again, before you saw the putt that generated the reaction.

There are few moments as a working sportswriter I can recall that match that afternoon. It was something to see on TV and truly something to hear.

Nick Price, who played in the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic over the weekend, had a unique view of the historic round. He was in the final pairing with Greg Norman, a few groups behind Nicklaus.

"Outside of me winning those three majors that I did, it was one of the highlights of my golfing experience, my golfing life, because there was so much going on that day," Price recalled.

It was when he reached the 13th tee box, Price said, that he knew something special was taking place. And there was no question as to the identity of the player generating the buzz.

"Normally, you look down the 13th fairway and there's just a swath of people," Price said. "And there were like 30 people watching us. It was like a Monday practice round. In fact, there's more people on Monday."

Everyone who could find a spot to watch, or even be in the locality of the action, was following Nicklaus. No one else was relevant at Augusta National that day. No other golfer, no other score, mattered. Nicklaus, with his son Jackie caddying and every patron on their heels, walked together through the dogwoods and azaleas right into golf history.

"They said on the back of the patrons (tickets), Do not run, Price recalled. "Well, people were running everywhere. You saw all of the guys just running trying to find a spot because they knew it was something magical that was happening."

If you listen closely this week, even 25 years later, you can probably still hear the echo of the roars of that afternoon in 1986 when Jack made his charge.

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