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Sunday, April 10, 2016
YES SIR! NICKLAUS WINS SIXTH MASTERS IN 86
Jack Nicklaus was 46 in 1986. He was too old. Nobody wins the Masters at the age of 46.
During the week, one of his friends cut out a newspaper article declaring that Nicklaus was too old. He taped the article to the refrigerator in the house Nicklaus had rented for the tournament.
Jack was over the hill. Even Nicklaus may have suspected his days of competing were over He had his son Jack on the bag with him for the tournament.
By Sunday Nicklaus was 4 behind and not even in the discussion. Seve Ballesteros was in the lead. Bernhard Langer and Greg Norman-the White Shark- were hunting for the Green Jacket. On that magic Sunday five different players had a share of the lead as play unfolded.
As he approached Amen Corner, birdies at 9,10,11 had put Nicklaus back in contention. But a bogie at 12 dropped him three back.
But there was life in the Golden Bear.
Sunday April 13, 1986. The fifteenth at Augusta. The start of the greatest back nine charge by the greatest golfer the sport has ever seen. As he approached his second shot on 15, four behind Seve, Jack turned to his son and asked how far a three iron would go on his 202 yard approach shot? Nicklaus chose a four iron and lasered it twelve yards from the hole. He drained the putt for an eagle three and now he was two behind. The crowd swelled. The Bear was on the prowl.
At the par three sixteen Jack hit a sweet five iron. As the ball was in the air he bent down to pick up his tee. "Be right" willed his son Jack out loud- right of the hole would leave him with an easy uphill put.
Without even looking at the ball Nicklaus said "It is". And it was. Jack sunk the birdie putt and now he was minus three over two holes and walking to the seventeenth one behind the leader.
The Seventeenth. Augusta. 1986. Jack Nicklaus. It still gives us chills.
The crowds were now out of control. There is a wonderful documentary called 86 in which everyday people recount what they were doing as Jack made his charge.
A man convinced his wife not to get on their honeymoon flight to Hawaii. There would always been another flight, but probably not another Masters charge by the Golden Bear in his winter.
A group of three friends- one now a judge- pulled into a truck stop in West Virginia and convinced the truckers to switch the channel from a car race to just check in on the Masters. An hour later it was standing room only as Jack walked to the 17th.
And then there was the mother whose teenage son Craig Smith had died fifteen years earlier at age 13 of a rare and painful bone cancer. Nicklaus had been his favorite golfer and he wrote a letter to Jack and they developed a friendship. When the boy told Jack he wore his lucky yellow shirt every Sunday for Jack, Nicklaus started wearing a yellow shirt on Sundays as well. Nicklaus told him that his yellow shirt would a secret just between them.
And there was Jack, in his yellow shirt, playing the final round of the Masters. The shirt a tribute to his young friend who had died many years before. And there was Craig Smith's mother and father, watching and crying.
If you don't do anything else today, watch the Yellow Shirt video here. It's just a few minutes, but it shows the humanity of a great athlete. A humanity all too missing in the stars of sports today.
As he walked to seventeen, a roar went up from the crowd. Seve had hit his ball in the water at the fifteenth. Then he bogeyed the hole. At age 46, written off and forgotten, the best golfer ever was walking to the seventeenth tee, tied for the lead in the Masters.
The man who changed the numbers on the board was shaking as he posted the score. The crowd was roaring. And the Golden Bear had a little more magic left on a spring Sunday at Augusta.
Off the tee at seventeen Nicklaus was way right. But he was still where he wanted to be on his approach. His second shot landed softly on the green and he had an eighteen footer for birdie.
There's a series of photos as Nicklaus comes out of his stance, watches the ball; aims his putter willing the ball to the hole and then raises it in victory. The putt read as if it was breaking to the right. But Nicklaus believed nearby Ray's Creek would affect the grass and the break and that a straight approach would work. It did.
You can see the photo above.
Those who heard it swear they have never heard any noise like it before or since. It was a roar. A roar of admiration and love and shock and joyful surprise that the golfer they loved since he had won his first Masters in 1961 was now winning his record sixth Masters and a record eighteenth majors. Records that have not and probably will not ever be broken. On CBS television Verne Lundquist made the call at seventeen a historic one with a resounding "Yes Sir!" as Jack raised both arms in triumph.
We don't watch much sports any more these days. A few baseball games. A football game here and there. There is so much more to life than sitting and watching sports. But there is magic in a Sunday Masters. Magic that was forever captured on a wonderful spring day in April 1986. Magic that we tune in for to see.
See You In Court tomorrow.