Silver-anniversary prose on Masters’ Golden moment

Jack Nicklaus watches his putt drop for a birdie on the 17th hole at Augusta National on April 13, 1986 in Augusta, Ga. The shot gave him the lead and he went on to win his sixth Masters title.

Few tasks are more difficult for a writer than bringing new insight to a topic that your readers know as well, or better, than you. Try writing something fresh about a Super Bowl after America has hung a “closed” sign on the door and spent the day crashed on the couch watching a six-hour pre-game show, the game, the halftime show and post-game interviews and analysis that extend into the wee hours.

Or you can try to chronicle the 1986 Masters, which has been dissected more than a box of dead frogs in a ninth-grade biology class.

That notwithstanding, the silver anniversary of Jack Nicklaus’ final and most famous major championship has occasioned the release of several new books. Tom Clavin and John Boyette are the latest to weigh in, with the latter’s account leavened by the fact that he can call on his memories of walking all 18 holes with Nicklaus during the final round in 1986. (The cover of Boyette’s book also has a tease, “Includes an interview with Jack Nicklaus,” which seems superfluous in a book about Nicklaus’ greatest victory.)

Retrospectives such as these, by necessity, probably owe more to LexisNexis than enterprising reporting. We see similar anecdotes and quotes in both books: CBS’ Verne Lundquist describing how Lance Barrow nagged producer Frank Chirkinian to put cameras on Nicklaus as he began his back-nine charge; the motivation that Nicklaus derived after Atlanta columnist Tom McCollister wrote, before the tournament, that the Golden Bear was “gone, done”; and Nicklaus’ decision to wear a yellow shirt as a tribute to 13-year-old cancer victim Craig Smith.

Boyette, now sports editor of The Augusta Chronicle, largely sticks to the build-up to the ’86 Masters and the tournament play-by-play.

Clavin, whose credits include books on Walter Hagen and the Ryder Cup, tries to inform his narrative with extended detours into the history of the Masters and Nicklaus’ career. One senses that he did this in hopes of offering fresh perspective on Nicklaus’ triumph. The result, however, is a rather unwieldy presentation. For instance, the chapter titled “The Second Round” covers 48 pages, but only the final three pages actually deal with Round 2 of the ’86 Masters. The first 45 pages meander from Augusta National’s days as, literally, a cow pasture during the war years to inaugural champion Horton Smith’s use of an electric cart in 1963 to Augusta chairman Clifford Roberts’ 1977 suicide. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – Nicklaus, after all, shot a pedestrian 71 in the second round – but it’s often difficult to detect any rhyme or reason in the organization of Clavin’s narrative.

Boyette helpfully included graphics of each hole on Augusta’s back nine and markers identifying where Nicklaus hit each shot. He supplemented that with more than 50 tournament photos, mostly color images pulled from the Chronicle’s files.

In the end, neither Boyette nor Clavin breaks new ground. It probably would be unfair to expect them to do so. But each, in his own way, has done his part to recapture the magic of April 13, 1986.

The 1986 Masters: How Jack Nicklaus Roared Back to Win

• By John Boyette

• Lyons Press

• 176 pages; hard cover

• $24.95

• • •

One for the Ages: Jack Nicklaus and the 1986 Masters

• By Tom Clavin

• Chicago Review Press

• 228 pages; hard cover

• $24.95

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