Heading into 1986, the world of professional golf was looking for a hero. After decades of domination by
a few big names, suddenly there was no paramount figure in golf.
The major championships in 1985 had been won by the stealth foursome of Bernhard Langer, Andy North, Sandy Lyle and Hubert Green. No golf icons there.
Golf had parity, and, frankly, the thrill was gone. Those who had been heroes were showing their age.
Arnold Palmer, 56, had not won a major championship for 22 years. Gary Player, 50, had not won a PGA Tour event since 1978. Lee Trevino, 46, had captured the last of his 29 PGA Tour victories. Tom Watson, 36, had claimed the last of his five British Open titles.
For the record, Tiger Woods was 10.
Even the legendary Jack Nicklaus, who turned 46 in January 1986,
had not taken a major since double-dipping with the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in 1980. Nicklaus already had 17 professional majors, plus
two U.S. Amateurs, and this seemed likely to be his legacy.
In golf years, Nicklaus was old. It had been 24 years since his first major triumph at the 1962 U.S. Open, where he beat Palmer in an 18-hole playoff. Nobody was picking Nicklaus to win the Masters. I remember throwing $10 into a Masters pool and watching with curiosity as Nicklaus remained unselected until one of the late rounds.
The Masters is special. It is synonymous with spring, all flowery and green. It marks the unofficial start of the golf season around the country. There is no other ticket in golf that is so coveted. There is no other golf tournament with so much buzz.
In 1986, conversation and speculation focused mainly on Australian Greg Norman and Spaniard Seve Ballesteros. If any golfers in the world were closing in on hero status, it was these two. Norman led at 6 under after three rounds, while Ballesteros was just one behind. Nicklaus was four back.
I always will remember the 1986 Masters as the event that convinced me of something: Golf is without question the most wonderful game on the face of the earth.
Working for daily newspapers, I had covered the Super Bowl, the NCAA basketball championship, the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500. I had attended all four of golf’s major championships. I thought I had seen it all.
And then I picked up Nicklaus on the 11th hole of the final round of the 1986 Masters. He had birdied Nos. 9 and 10 with putts of 10 and 24 feet. As I watched him make a 20-footer for birdie the earth seemed to shimmy and shake along with the yelling, cheering, stomping fans. Nicklaus was two back of Ballesteros.
Every year, when I come home from the Masters, people ask what it was like. Often I don’t tell them the truth, but now I will wear my honesty cap: You can’t really see what is happening because there are too many spectators and not enough room in which to maneuver.
The Masters is all about absorbing the atmosphere. Occasionally it is possible to witness a shot at close range. Mostly, though, it is a long-distance pursuit.
There are, however, a handful of viewing towers reserved for the media. I climbed into one at No. 12, only to watch Nicklaus bogey the hole by missing the green, chipping to 6 feet, then missing the putt.
On the par-5 13th, I surged along with thousands of other fans. Nicklaus recorded an easy two-putt birdie.
He parred 14, then notched a decisive eagle on the par-5 15th. When his 12-foot putt found the hole, people went crazy. Many were talking out loud to no one in particular: “Can you believe it? Jack is back.” Others were babbling, almost as if they had been moved by some religious spirit.
By the end of the day, I was close to believing that some sort of divine intervention had occurred. Heading into the Masters, this man
was 160th on the PGA Tour money list. In seven tournaments, he had missed three cuts and withdrawn from another event.
I saw him birdie 16 (4 feet) and 17 (12 feet).
I climbed another tower beside the 18th green
to watch Nicklaus two-putt from 40 feet for a closing par. The pin, so often located in the front left portion of the 18th green in the final round, was back right in 1986. No problem for the world’s greatest golfer, putting uphill with another major on the line.
The experience was consuming for all who were there. With all the noise and commotion, the ground literally felt like it was moving. It
was a surreal experience. I half expected the
trees to bow down in homage to Nicklaus.
I called my friend George Cohn, who was
the wisest man I knew, just because I needed
to express my feelings about how lucky I was
to have seen this historic achievement.
“Did you ever think it was your destiny to tell this to hundreds of thousands of people?” he asked.
Well, no. My destiny seemed unimportant compared to that of Jack Nicklaus. I remember thinking then – as I do now – that no other sport is full of such pure emotion. This wasn’t a rivalry, with one team battling another. This was one man, riding the crest of a longevity that does
not exist in any other major sport.
That did it for me. I decided that I wanted to write about golf and nothing else.
It remains a day I will never forget.
Jack Nicklaus: Still unforgettable
Forty-six-year-old men do not win major championships. They just don’t.
They don’t win the Masters, but instead sit on couches with cold mugs of beer and big bowls of pretzels and watch as a Sunday unfolds at venerable Augusta National.
Jack Nicklaus must have made some deal with the devil in April 1986.
Starting back in the pack, with a Hall of Fame cast in the hunt, he discovered magic in the final 10 holes at the National, playing those holes in 7 under par.
It was mystical, it was magical, it was beautiful.
The sounds still reverberate through the tallest pines
and the most stately dogwoods that stand sentinel over one of the most picturesque settings anywhere.
How good was Sunday at the 1986 Masters?
Nicklaus says it’s the one event that, when it
appears on his television screen, even he stops and watches. That good.
“You would think pretty soon that they would just forget about it and move on,” said Nicklaus as the
20th anniversary of his 18th professional major victory neared. He knows better.
A day doesn’t pass when some memory of that Sunday isn’t triggered.
“I don’t know,” says Nicklaus, trying his best to explain the impact. “It’s the only golf tournament that
I can recall that everybody, when I see them, they turn around and said, Jack, ’86 Masters, I was at a motel,
or I was at an airport, or I was in this bar, or I was here and I couldn’t leave, my wife was yelling at me to leave and I said, ‘No, no, we’re not leaving until this is over.’
Verne Lundquist: The call
The drama had been building since Jack Nicklaus birdied No. 10, and Verne Lundquist could feel it as the Golden Bear worked his way around the back nine of Augusta that Sunday afternoon.
“For two hours I listened to the waves of applause and roars that followed Jack,” Lundquist recalls. “I was in the TV tower behind the 17th hole, and I would take my headset off on occasion as he played his way to me, and I would hear those sounds.”
Things got quiet, however, when Nicklaus contemplated his approach to 17. And when he guided a low shot between two pines to 12 feet from the hole, the scene was set for the biggest call Lundquist ever made.
“We went to another hole after Jack put his second shot onto the green, and I had a moment to think about what I would say,” Lundquist recalls. “I told myself to keep it simple. I was aware of the importance of that putt because Seve had put his second shot into the drink at 15 about the same time Jack had hit his approach to 17. I also knew Jack had a chance to take the lead if he made that putt. It was slightly downhill, and he hit it perfectly. And when he made it, I just reacted.”
Actually, Lundquist reacted before the ball dropped into the hole. “When it was about a foot away, I said, ‘Maybe,’ ” he explains. “And then I said, ‘Yes Sir!’ It was the first time
I had ever said that on the air, and Peter Kostis told me years later that Ben Wright had said the same thing earlier that day, from the 15th. So I guess it just slipped into
Lundquist was the only announcer
in the tower that day at 17, and it
was his first year covering that hole.
“The noise was amazing after Jack
made his putt, and I remember putting my headset down in front of me as
he walked to the 18th tee and just
listening,” he says. “I never heard a group of people outdoors make that
kind of sound.”
The veteran CBS broadcaster often
is reminded of his historic call, and several weeks before the 2006 Masters, a spectator at a college basketball game he was covering approached him and asked if he would sign a copy of the famous photograph of Nicklaus stalking his putt on 17..
That gave Lundquist an idea. “I realized then that Jack and I had never talked about that moment,” he says. “And I had nothing to really commemorate it. So, I got a copy of the picture myself and sent it to Jack so he could sign it. When it comes back, it’s going up on my office wall.”
Barbara Nicklaus: All in the family
Jack Nicklaus had a few surprise guests at the 1986 Masters – including his mother, Helen Nicklaus, who returned to Augusta National having not seen her son play a Masters since 1959, and his sister, Marilyn Hutchinson. With his oldest son, Jackie, on the bag that week, Nicklaus didn’t lack for family support.
“I think the neat part of that week, in my opinion, was having my son Jack on the bag and having my mother there,” Jack Nicklaus said. “It was the first time she had actually been to the Masters since I was a pro. She went down the first year when I was an amateur. And I don’t know why, but she said she wanted to go back one more time, and she did.”
She picked a good year.
Of course, Barbara Nicklaus was always the strongest supporter. She had seen her husband play more than 50 rounds at Augusta National, often walking alone in his massive galleries.
Throughout the round, Jack and Barbara would make eye contact. It was a way for them to connect and for Barbara to quietly show her support.
When Jack tapped in for his par at the 18th hole, Barbara never saw the hug that her husband gave Jackie. She eventually would see
it on tape later that night at their rented house.
For Barbara and Jack, the final hour of the Masters started with a hug in Butler Cabin. She stayed calm as her husband paced. And when Greg Norman missed his final putt, Jack owned his sixth Masters, and the celebration started.
“It was so cute when they finally realized that Jack had won – I mean, all the security guys in there just went wild,” Barbara said. “And it was wonderful. They were so happy, and it just made us so happy.”
Frank Chirkinian: Listening to ‘valley’ sounds
Frank Chirkinian was working as executive producer and
director of the Masters for CBS Sports in 1986, and his
most vivid memories are the sounds he heard that Sunday afternoon.
“The first thing that comes to mind is the way Jack was hitting the ball,” Chirkinian said. “There was a crispness to every iron he hit, and it made you realize each one was going to be a very good golf shot.”
Then, of course, there were the galleries, and Chirkinian clearly remembers the roars that came up through what he calls “the valley” at Augusta National.
“One sound told you someone had gotten an eagle, and another told you it was a birdie,” he said.
To Chirkinian, however, perhaps the most memorable sound was that collective groan that comes from a gallery that has just witnessed a player make a key mistake.
“And Jack heard that sound on Sunday as he was getting ready to hit his putt on 17,” Chirkinian said. “It came from 15 when Seve (Ballesteros) hit his second shot into the water, and Jack knew exactly what had happened.
“I think it pumped him up, actually, and you could tell by his reaction when that putt went in how pumped up he was. He showed a lot of emotion with that smile and his tongue sticking out, like it was the first putt he ever made.”
While the volume rose along Augusta’s fairways, things remained calm in the CBS control room.
“It was a very quiet truck,” Chirkinian said. “Only one voice was ever allowed to be heard there and it was mine.”
Seve Ballesteros: ‘I will win this’
If the ecstasy of the 1986 Masters is that photo of Nicklaus on the 17th in his yellow shirt, putter aloft after holing the birdie putt that sealed his sixth Masters victory, then the picture of agony is the slumped shoulders of Severiano Ballesteros after his 4-iron approach shot found the pond in front of the 15th green.
Ballesteros should have won that green jacket.He knows it, Nicklaus knows it, and all of golf knows it. In fact, Ballesteros had predicted just that before the tournament began.
“The tournament will be over by then,” Ballesteros answered when asked about the importance of the back nine on Sunday. “I feel ready, ready to win. I’m talking serious. I’m ready. Of course you cannot be 100 percent, but close. I will win this. It will be mineby the time I get to the 16th on the last day.”
The Spaniard was seeking his third green jacket following victory in 1980 and 1983. Moreover, he had much to prove. Ballesteros wanted to win the tournament to get back at Deane Beman and the PGA Tour for banning him for the 1986 season after he had failed to play the required minimum 15 events the previous year. On a sentimental note, he wanted to win to honor his father, Baldomero, who had died a month earlier.
Ballesteros held the lead when he arrived on the 15th tee. He ripped his tee shot far down the fairway, and then hit the worst 4-iron of his career.
“It was so uncharacteristic of Seve,” playing companion Tom Kite said. “He was playing so well it seemed impossible for him to hit the ball fat like that.”
Ballesteros added a three-putt bogey at the 17th, eventually finishing fourth, two shots back.Ballesteros didn’t hang around Augusta National long enough to see Nicklaus collect his sixth green jacket. He unpacked his locker quickly and left without talking to reporters. Later, he gave this explanation:
“I still don’t know what happened. All I know is that I had the title in my hand, and I gave it away. I tried to hit a 4-iron softly because a bit of me was not sure if it was too much club. And it went horribly wrong.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Jack,but if I made 4 there, the title would have been mine.A miracle happened over the last four holes at Augusta – for Jack, not for me.”
Dave love III: Caddie watch
As mesmerizing asJack Nicklaus’ ageless run at the 1986 Masters was, Davis Love III found himself more interested in the Golden Bear’s caddie than he was in Nicklaus’ marchto victory.
Love had joined his father, renowned instructor Davis Love Jr., for a trip to Augusta National earlier in the week so the elder Love could work with one of his students, Peter Persons. By the time Sunday’s magical round had started, the Loves were back homein St. Simons Island, Ga., watching the finish on TV.
“To have been there and seen the tournament earlier in the week was special,” Love said. “Peter was one of my dad’s students andhe wanted to watch him. But I remember seeing Jack and everybody else.”
Unlike most of a riveted nation, however, Love’s focus on Sunday was on Jackie Nicklaus. The two had just left the University of North Carolina, where they had been teammates and friends.
“The whole thing was very, very exciting,” Love said. “I was more excited watching Jackie caddie and get interviewed than I was for Jack. We’d just spent three years of school together and I thought that was pretty cool.”
Dave Anderson: Nicklaus refusal was perfect
It seemed simple enough: Get five former champions who had won the first leg of golf’s Grand Slam at least twice to describe what they thought were the three toughest shots on Augusta National’s back nine on Sunday at the Masters.
So New York Times columnist Dave Anderson spent the earlypart of the 1986 tournament tracking down Tom Watson, Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros and Arnold Palmer. Each was more than happy to oblige with their thoughts, whether it was the tee shot at the par-3 12th, perhaps, or the approachto the par-5 15th.
But Anderson got a much different response from 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus, who was finishing his lunch upstairs in the Augusta clubhouse one afternoon earlyin the week.
Having won the Masters five times, Nicklaus no doubt had as good a perspective on that situation as anyone. But he would have none of Anderson’s story.
“I don’t want to be standing over a shot and thinking that I’ve said this was the toughest shot on the back nine,” Nicklaus told Anderson. “On the back nine at Augusta, every shot is tough.”
Anderson dutifully took down that quote and included it in a column that ran Sunday, April 13, 1986. It was the day that Nicklaus shot 65 to win his sixth title, including 6-under 30 on the back nine.
Toughest shot? There wasn’t anything too tough for Nicklaus that afternoon. And Anderson loved the answer the Golden Bear had provided.“It was the perfect response,” Anderson recalls.
Interestingly, Ballesteros chose the second shot at No. 15 as one of the most difficult under Anderson’s criteria, and it certainly turned out to be that way forhim Sunday.
Tiger Woods: ‘Pretty cool’ pose
Tiger Woods, the man chasing Jack Nicklaus’ record for career majors, was 10 years old and in fifth grade (and still three years away from getting his first recruiting letter from Stanford) when Nicklaus captured his sixth Masters and 18th professional major.
Woods said he doesn’t remember much about that Sunday in 1986, but he does remember one particular birdie Nicklaus made.
“I just remember the putt on 17, that was it,” Woods said. “I was . . . 9 or 10, whatever it was, and I just remember him hitting that putt on 17 and his arm going up, and I thought that looked pretty cool.
”Woods was asked if he immediately put the putter raised toward the sky into his own childhood repertoire.“I just thought it looked kind of cool,” he said, laughing. “I had never seen anyone do that, because obviously I was only 9 or 10 at the time.”By the time Jack got his green jacket, Woods was probably off skateboarding somewhere.
Sandy Lyle: Hair-raising experience
Sandy Lyle had never played with Jack Nicklaus before the final round of the 1986 Masters. And they’ve never been paired together since.
“Can you believe my luck?” Lyle asks, cracking an oversized smile.It’s a day Lyle is reminded about often, and it still seems improbable.
“There were no signs the first eight holes,” he says.Nicklaus’ back-nine charge remains fresh in Lyle’s memory. He begins spouting out his favorite moments of the round like a grown man telling of going to the ballpark with his dad for the first time.
“We were walking up 13 and Jack turned to me and said, ‘Did you hear what Jackie said to me? He says this is too much for his young heart to handle. What about me? I’m 46.’”
Lyle remembers the putts best. First, there was the eagle putt at No. 15.
“I’ve never heard a roar like that. The crowd went bananas,” he says. “It raised the hairs on the back of my neck.”
Lyle says that after Nicklaus knocked his tee shot stiff at the par-3 16th,it was apparent everyone in the gallery was rooting for Nicklaus. Spectators told him about Ballesteros’ watery fate at the 15th. Then came the putt on the 17th.
“(Jack) knew how important that putt was at 17, but it was also his hardest putt of the day,” Lyle remembers. “It had to be paced just right. It had to be firm enough to keep the line but it could’ve easily gone flying by the hole. It was a very steady putt that just knew its way in.”
Lyle said Nicklaus was unlucky that his approach shot to 18 rolled down the hill to the lower level of the green, leaving him a testy 40-foot putt.
“He hit a hell of a putt. It stopped inches short,” Lyle remembers. “If he made that putt there, I would’ve bowed to him.”
Lyle never was a factor that day, shooting 71 and finishing T-11, his best finish at Augusta to that point. In 1988, he won the green jacket thanks in no small part to what he had learned from Nicklaus two years earlier.
“Jack was so focused,” Lyle says. “He kept the same rhythm and the same pace all day, and that was something I learned from and tried to mimic.”
Dave Musgrove: A ringside seat
English caddie Dave Musgrove turned up at Augusta National that Sunday hoping boss Sandy Lyle would walk away in the green jacket. Musgrove had been on the winning bag at two majors by then – the 1979and ’85 British Opens with Seve Ballesteros and Lyle, respectively – but both paled in comparison with the ‘86 Masters.
“I’ve never known such noise on a golf course as I heard that day,” Musgrove remembers. “When Nicklaus birdied the 11th, I could hardly hear, it was so noisy.”
Musgrove not only is one of the game’s best caddies, he is one of its most astute observers. He disagrees with those who say Nicklaus won because he shot 30 on the back nine. He believes the key moment came when Nicklaus stood on the 16th green.
“Jack and Sandy both hit to about 4 feeton 16. (Tom) Watson and (Tommy) Nakajima were playing behind us but wouldn’t putt out on the 15th until Nicklaus had hit his putt,” recalls Musgrove. “That meant Seve (who was playing two groups behind) had to wait at the top of the hill on 15 to play his second shot.
“If Seve hadn’t had to wait, then he would have pulled out a 5-iron and hit it as hard as he could and put it on the green. But because he had to wait, he was given time to think. It put him in two minds. So he went with a 4-iron and tried to cut it up and land it softly on the green. He put it in the water and that cost him the Masters. I believe he would have won if not for the long wait on the 15th fairway.”
Musgrove’s other abiding memory is the way Nicklaus treated it like a social round.
“I’ve always loved playing with Jack, but that day it was like we were just having a day out,” he says. “He talked to us the whole way around.”Musgrove also was at Lyle’s side two years later when the Scot won his green jacket, a feat Musgrove still believes Nicklaus inspired. But, to Musgrove, even Lyle’s victory does not compare with that special Sunday in ’86.
“It’s my best moment in golf – better than winning majors with Sandy and Seve,” Musgrove says. “I got a ringside seat to watch history being made.”
Greg Norman: I want a mulligan
Even now, 20 years later, Greg Norman says his “biggest regret in golf” came on his last full shot at the 1986 Masters. Even now he longs for a mulligan.
Norman came to that last hole tied forthe lead with Jack Nicklaus. After drivinga 3-wood onto the 18th fairway, he faced 186 yards to a back-right pin. He decided to hit a soft 4-iron instead of a hard 5-iron and blocked the approach right of the green. He chipped to 16 feet, missed the par putt and finished a stroke back.
“My first thought was to hit a hard-5, but I talked myself out of it,” he said. “Wrong choice. I should have stayed in attack mode rather than trying to finesse a longer club. That’s what had been working for me allday. Unfortunately, I was so pumped that I hit it too hard and pushed it into the gallery. If I could have one career mulligan, I’d takeit there.”
Back then, Norman’s misses under pressure tended to go right. The year before he blocked a key 6-iron approach at the U.S. Open.In the ’86 Masters, Norman began the final round in the lead at 6-under-par 210. He dropped back after snap-hooking adrive and double-bogeying No. 10, but he got back in the mix with birdies on Nos. 14 through 17. The last came from 12 feetafter he hit a marvelous pitch-and-run shot over a hill. All those loud roars for Nicklaus motivated him, he said.
“I continued to hear the roars throughout the back nine and I knew I had to turn it upa notch,” said Norman, who estimated he and Nick Price played before only about 50 people in the last pairing. As fans flocked toward Nicklaus, Norman told Price, “Let’s do something to wake these people.”
He did so with that four-birdie run but would end up with his first of three runner-up finishes at Augusta. Close often, but no jacket.
Still, despite what he called a “number of heartbreaking defeats” and referring to Augusta National as his “cruel temptress,” Norman maintains the Masters is his favorite tournament.
Tom Meeks: ‘He’s got no chance if he putts like that’
During his career as one of the top administrators in the Rules and Competitions Department of the U.S. Golf Association, Tom Meeks worked as a rules official at the Masters for a quarter century.
On Sunday of the 1986 tournament, Meeks was assigned to work the par-3 fourth hole.“As I remember it,” recalls Meeks, “Jack hit it in there pretty close, maybe to about 6 feet. That may have been closer than anyone was that day; I certainly don’t remember anyone hitting it in there any tighter. And I think I remember that not only did Jack miss the putt, but I don’t think he even came close. I think he missed it pretty badly.”
After the field went through his post, Meeks began the walk back to the clubhouse, where he planned to watch the rest of the round on television.
“When Nicklaus missed that putt, I remember saying to myself, ‘Well, he’s got no chance if he putts like that,’” Meeks recalled. “Then, of course, he got to the back nine and made everything he looked at. I couldn’t have been more wrong.”
Gary Koch: Hurry up and hit
Gary Koch and Bob Tway faced a bit of a dilemma during the final round of the 1986 Masters. Playing in the group ahead of Jack Nicklaus, they found themselves playing the last four holes at Augusta National at a torrid pace – just trying to stay out of the way.
Koch was putting out on the par-3 12th hole when he began to sense that the Golden Bear
was on the prowl. Koch had heard roars when
he was on the 10th and 11th holes. But the roar
for Nicklaus at No. 11, as he made his third consecutive birdie less than 200 yards from where Koch stood on the 12th green, signaled something special was brewing.
“I guess it was probably the 15th when it really kind of sunk in what was going on,” Koch said. “He was waiting out in the fairway and we putted out. We walked over to the 16th tee and of course, he hits the iron shot in there pretty close, and the place just went ballistic.
“So I looked at Tway, and he looked at me, and we basically said, ‘You know, we need to get out of here. Because it’s getting too loud.’ ”
Koch and Tway would hit “real quick” at 16 and almost jogged to the green, hoping they could putt out before Nicklaus attempted his eagle putt. But they couldn’t, and the stage belonged to Jack.
“Of course he makes the putt there, and the whole place (erupts),” Koch said. “The neat thing about 15 is that you have the people to the right of the green, the people to the left of the green, you’ve got all the people around on the bank (on the left side) at 16 and around behind 16 (green). And of course they’re all watching him. They’re not watching us. And it just was electric. The hair on the back of your neck just stood up.”
Once they finished 16, Koch and Tway again tried to race ahead of the Nicklaus surge. Nicklaus then stiffed his tee shot at 16. “It was crazy again,” recalled Koch. After hurriedly playing the 17th, Koch and Tway teed off on 18, and as they walked down the fairway, Nicklaus buried his birdie at 17 to take the lead.
“That roar when he made the putt at 17,” said Koch, “was probably, if not the loudest roar I’ve ever heard on the golf course, right next to it.”
Tom Kite: A birdie away
Golf might be a game of inches, but it was even less than that for Tom Kite at the ’86 Masters.
Kite needed to birdie one of the last two holes to tie Jack Nicklaus. Both he and those last two birdie putts came painfully close.
At 17, he barely missed an 18-footer of which he says, “I hit as good of a putt as you can hit. It was one of those I thought I should’ve made.”
He had an even better chance at 18. He hit a 6-iron from 176 yards to 12 feet short of the back-right pin. His uphill putt to tie hung on the edge.
“I made that putt,” Kite would say after shooting 70-74-68-68. “It just didn’t go in. Honest to God . . . I made it so many times in the practice rounds – seven or eight times – and it never broke left once.”
This one broke left, not to mention his heart. It was the second of Kite’s three runner-up finishes and one of his 11 top-6 showings at Augusta.
Not a long hitter, Kite played the four par 5s in 5 under par the final day. Kite and playing partner Seve Ballesteros eagled the par-5 eighth without using their putters. First, Kite holed a wedge shot from 81 yards. Then Ballesteros dunked one from 40 paces.
At that point, Nicklaus was an afterthought.
“Quite honestly,” Kite said, “I thought it was coming down to a battle between Seve, me and Greg (Norman).”
Kite recalls all those back-nine Nicklaus roars and hearing cheers so loud it was hard to hear yourself think.
“Going down that walkway through the people between 13 and 14, the noise was deafening,” said Kite, who birdied 13.
He calls it one of the best Masters ever, but he wonders how people might be viewing it had Nicklaus not won.
“Had Greg or Seve or Tom Kite won, I don’t know if people would be calling it one of the best Masters ever,” he said. “But it was Jack. Still, I have great memories from that tournament. For years I could remember every shot that week.”
Tom McCollister: ‘Nobody that old wins the Masters’
Tom McCollister, longtime golf writer at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was scrambling to piece together an advance for the 50th Masters in 1986 to run the Sunday before the tournament. He came up with a preview touching on several players.
He wrote: “Nicklaus is gone, done. He just doesn’t have the game anymore. It’s rusted from lack of use. He’s 46, and nobody that old wins the Masters.”
Jack Nicklaus probably never would have seen the piece, but family friend and frequent prankster John Montgomery made sure the article was taped prominently in a place Nicklaus was sure to see it again and again – on the refrigerator in Jack’s rented home.
Nicklaus is a prideful man, so obviously such disparaging words had to motivate him, right? Actually, he downplays the significance.
“I had enough motivation to play golf,” he said recently. “I didn’t worry too much about articles.”
Nonetheless, after Nicklaus received his sixth green jacket and made his way to his lengthy sit-down interview with the media, he asked, “Where’s Tom McCollister?” He was told McCollister was on deadline, filing a story. But later in the interview, McCollister entered the room.
“Thanks, Tom,” Jack said upon seeing him.
Answered McCollister, “Glad I could help.”
Laughter drowned out what McCollister said next, a witty line only a few around him heard: “(Tom) Watson wants me to write about him next year.”
Glenn Sheeley worked with McCollister for many years in Atlanta, covering golf at the Journal-Constitution from 1979 to 2005. His said his good friend T-Mac was a pretty good golfer with a tight draw who, as a journalist, was “all about fairness.” After several years covering NASCAR, McCollister was set to return to covering more golf in 1999. He was a month away from the Masters when he was killed in a car accident at age 61. Today, three journalism scholarships are awarded annually in his name.
“That whole thing in 1986 was amazing, and Tom laughed about it a lot,” Sheeley said. “He had a good relationship with Jack. He probably felt bad about writing what he did, and I’m glad Jack had some fun with it.”
Jackie Nicklaus: Cool and calm – until the 15th
Making victory extra sweet for Jack Nicklaus was the fact he was able to share it with his oldest son, Jackie, who was on the bag. It wasn’t the first time Jack had Jackie on the bag. In fact, the two came close to winning a U.S. Open in 1982 at Pebble Beach.
Tom Watson would win that famous Open at Pebble, and what Jackie took from the experience was that he got far too emotional during play. So at Augusta four years later, Jackie, a good player who was coming off a victory at the North & South Amateur, made a concerted effort to stay calmer.
Father and son had some great exchanges as the day wore on. When Jack pulled a 3-wood slightly and nearly caught a branch down
the left side of the par-5 13th, his
son said, “Dad, that’s not good on
a 24-year-old heart.”
When the two stood in the fairway at No. 15, with Jack prepared to go at the flag with his second shot, he turned to Jackie and said, “How far do you think a 3 will go here?”
“I think it will go a long way,”
The two were talking score, not what club Jack was about to hit.
As far as Jackie staying levelheaded and calm, that plan pretty much went out the window when the elder Nicklaus buried
his eagle putt on that 15th green. Jackie jumped so high his dad
told him he should have played basketball, not golf, at the University of North Carolina.
“He holed that,” said Jackie,
“and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, look out!’ ”
On the par-3 16th, Nicklaus hit
a towering 5-iron that took off in
the direction of the flag. “Be right,” Jackie called out.
Jack, as he reached down to pick up his tee, cracked, “It is.”
Said Jack: “It was sort of a cocky remark, and I don’t normally make that. But I had so much confidence
in what was going on, that’s what
After a birdie at 17 and two putts for a clinching par at 18, father and son embraced and made their way off the course.
“I love that picture,” Jack said, “just watching the two of us
Sam Randolph: ‘Electricity in the air’
Sam Randolph couldn’t get the microphone out of his hands fast enough. The then-21-year-old was the Masters’ low amateur for the second consecutive year in 1986 – another addition to a resume that led some
to tag him as one of those “next Nicklauses.” But Randolph knew the trophy ceremony on Augusta National’s 18th green belonged to the real Golden Bear.
“I just remember saying what
a great week I had and what an awesome back nine he had,” Randolph says, “then thinking, ‘Hey, let’s get to the real thing.’ ”
Afterward, Randolph had to
fight through the excited gallery –
all seemingly chanting Nicklaus’
name – on his way to Butler Cabin.
The champion had the luxury of a full security detail. Randolph said it was tough just to keep up.
Randolph shot a final-round 73 that Sunday to tie for 36th at 5-over 293. Only three men, including Nicklaus, had earned back-to-back amateur honors at Augusta before him.
Randolph, who played with Nicklaus in the final two rounds
of the 1985 Masters, finished play
as Nicklaus was just beginning his back-nine charge.
The University of Southern California star – he was a three-time first-team
All-American and the 1985 U.S. Amateur champ – watched the tournament telecast with friends and family in a cabin along the 10th hole.
“Every time they made a change on the scoreboard at 18, you could hear the roars,” Randolph says. “You could hear the roars (from 15 and 16) even up on the 10th hole. The electricity in the air was the most I’ve ever seen. It was working its way up through the trees and all over the place.”
Ernie Els: Late-night treat
As a teen growing up in South Africa, Ernie Els had strict rules for bedtime: It was lights out by 10 p.m., with few exceptions.
“I remember, on Tuesdays, I could watch ‘Dallas,’ ” Els said
of the old American television series, “because it ended about 10 (minutes) ’til 10. I could watch that and go to bed.
“The Masters? That was a special treat.”
So as early Monday morning crept in, given the time difference between South Africa and Augusta, Els and his father, Neels, stayed up to watch the final round of the ’86 Masters.
“Nicklaus was definitely my guy,” said Els. “There was a group of players (I followed), but Nicklaus, he was the best in the game at that time. Him and obviously Gary Player, and
Seve Ballesteros, I love the way he played, he was in the mix. Greg Norman is another guy I loved watching, and he was in the mix, too.
“I mean, if you look at that leaderboard, everybody that was anybody was on the leaderboard.”
Els felt a little sympathetic for his hero as Nicklaus made his way into the hunt. Like many, the 16-year-old Els was convinced Nicklaus was too old to win
“It kind of was like watching
an old boxer like Muhammad Ali fighting Larry Holmes, and you hope he’s going to beat the guy, but you think he’s going to get
the crap beat out of him,” Els
“That was kind of the same thing watching Nicklaus
play the Masters going into the final nine. You’re thinking, I hope he wins, but I don’t think he’s going to do it.”
But Nicklaus, of course, came through with some of that old Jack magic, leaving Els with a memory for a lifetime.
“My dad and I, sitting there, we couldn’t believe what we
were seeing,” he said. “That
was exciting stuff. They can show that on The Golf Channel every day instead of all that other stuff they show.”
Clay Long: The putter maker’s response
There may never have been a golf club that got a bigger boost from one tournament than the Response ZT, the putter made famous by Jack Nicklaus during his 1986 Masters victory.
“Up until that point it was a novelty, a goofy putter,” says Clay Long, former head of research and development for MacGregor Golf and the designer of the oversized putter. “But it got serious real quick.”
MacGregor had forecasted selling 6,000 putters for the year. By the Masters, 20,000 had sold.
“It was already a success for us,” he says.
But the company never expected demand to skyrocket the way it did after Nicklaus’ final-round performance at Augusta. Golfers everywhere were supersizing their putters like an order of fries at
a fast-food restaurant.
“We took 5,000 orders from 8 a.m. until noon on Monday,” Long remembers. “By the end of the year, we did 150,000. We couldn’t make them fast enough. The plant was full of putters.”
It turns out the putter had been a mistake.
Long designed a corrective putter face with an overhang just below the top line. The putter had to be tall enough so the ball didn’t hit the overhang with a forward press, so he scaled the profile up 33 percent. Thus its unconventional size. But the USGA ruled the overhang was nonconforming. Long, however, liked the putter’s performance so much that he made a few models without the overhang.
“It became a high-inertia putter instead,” he says.
Nicklaus first saw the putter at MacGregor’s sales meeting in July 1985. He had asked Long to make a putter similar to the
Ping Pal that Tom Watson used – not the oversized contraption he was given.
“He said to me, ‘Is this a joke?’ Then he tried it out, he liked the way it rolled and asked me to send him a couple to try out,” Long says.
Nicklaus experimented with it at Loxahatchee Club in Jupiter, Fla., and shot a course record with it. He put the “MI 615” model (moment of inertia, weighing 615 grams) in his bag at the beginning of the 1986 season.
During Sunday’s final round, Long was home in Albany, Ga., working on his taxes with the tournament on TV in the background.
“And then I wasn’t doing my taxes anymore,” he recalls.
Long was too busy fielding calls from his former golf teammates from Ole Miss, who were wondering if that was his putter responsible for all the heroics they were watching. When Nicklaus made the putt on 17 and lifted the putter in the air, Long broke
“I was running around, screaming, I was so hoarse the next day,” he says. “And I was praying, ‘Please don’t three-putt on the last hole.’ ”
Long says MacGregor sold approximately 350,000 Response ZT’s before the company stopped manufacturing the club. In development, they simply called it “the big putter.” Nicklaus used the putter through 1988 and an oversized model for the next
Today, Long is an independent designer, although none of his available models are oversized. He also has remained connected to Nicklaus, providing design work for Nicklaus Golf since 2001. There’s even a 20th anniversary Response ZT putter coming to market. All because of Nicklaus’ putting prowess in the final round of the 1986 Masters.
“Forget (just) golf, that’s the greatest sporting event I’ve ever seen,” Long says, “and to have played a part in it is the highlight of my career.”