To celebrate Jack Nicklaus' 80th birthday, we look back on his greatest win, the 1986 Masters, in every last, glorious drop
Nobody gave 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus a chance when the 1986 Masters came around, few got excited when he teed off on Sunday four with the likes of Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Nick Price, Bernhard Langer, Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman ahead of him.
In his seven starts on the PGA Tour in 1986 he missed the cut in three of them, withdrew in another, and his best finish was a tie for 39th in Hawaii.
He drove out of Magnolia Lane at the end of the week with a preposterous sixth jacket thanks to a 65, one of the greatest closing rounds in major history, and a mammoth MacGregor Response ZT 615 putter.
To celebrate his 80th birthday, here are 80 quotes from Nicklaus talking us through that momentous win…
1. Going into the tournament I had no expectations about winning, at all. I love playing golf. I wanted to stay part of the Tour. I really loved playing golf.
2. When January rolled around I started thinking about the Masters, I started practising for the Masters and getting ready for it and pick my tournaments and everything else based on getting to Augusta.
3. I did the same thing in 1986 but I thought about it in January, thought about it in February, thought about it in March and I started preparing about a week before the tournament. I didn’t do the things I used to do.
4. I was between things in my life. My business was fine but it didn’t take up all my time. I’d play some golf, 12 to 14 tournaments a year, not enough to keep me sharp, but enough to be somewhat competitive. I was neither fish nor fowl. I wasn’t really a golfer.
5. I really sort of finished my career, basically, in 1980, and I wasn’t playing so I could be ready for seniors golf. I just happened to like to play golf and I wanted to be part of it and play a few other things. I was doing a lot more course design and watching my kids play football, basketball or baseball or golf or whatever it might be. And I was frankly enjoying my life.
6. Many years ago the 13-year-old son of Barbara’s church minister died of cancer. The boy’s name was Craig Smith, and before he passed away he told me he loved watching me play on Sundays, and how he liked it when I wore a yellow shirt because it always seemed to bring me luck. I remember Barbara telling me to wear yellow that Sunday morning, that it would bring me good luck because of Craig.
7. I wouldn’t wear a shirt at Augusta that you couldn’t wear with the Green Jacket.
8. Several things about that Masters were unique. My mother had not been to the Masters since my first one in 1959, and she’d said, “I want to go to the Masters one more time.” So she was there, and so was my sister, Marilyn, who had never been to the Masters. Other family members were there, and a bunch of my friends.
9. I read in the Atlanta paper that 46-year-olds don’t win Masters. I kind of agreed. I got to thinking. Hmmm. Done, through, washed up. And I sizzled for a while. But I said to myself, I’m not going to quit now, playing the way I’m playing. I’ve played too well, too long to let a shorter period of bad golf be my last.
10. I was down to 170 pounds and I realised I couldn’t play golf at 170. I was back at 190 that week.
11. If I could just putt. I might just scare somebody. Maybe me. I was ready to can that putter. But then I started making putts with it, and I got one that was a little bit heavier, and actually it was quite a nice putter.
12. Through the years, I usually placed my feet about 10 inches apart. That week I began placing my feet much closer together, very narrow. It helped me swing the putter more freely, move the handle better.
13. Steve [Nicklaus] called me on Sunday morning. He said, “What do you think, Pops?” I said, “I think 66 will tie and 65 will win.” He said that’s the exact number he had in mind. Go shoot it.
14. I didn’t feel like I could get anything going until the 9th hole. And then we had that rigmarole with Seve Ballesteros and Tom Kite making eagles at 8. And I turn to the crowd. I’ve backed off the ball twice because of the shots, so I ask the gallery, “OK, you’ve heard all of that noise, let’s see if we can make some noise here ourselves.” And I knocked it in, and I was off.
15. All of a sudden I started making birdies and all of a sudden I remembered how to play. I remembered the feeling of being in contention. I remembered the feeling of how do you control your emotions and how do you enjoy the moment, too, and be with it and I had my son, Jack with me, and we had a conversation, and doing the things that you wouldn’t normally expect to have happen.
16. I remember the first tournament I played with that putter and the thing was so big that the wind would get to it. I thought, ‘Oh, man, what have I got this thing in my hands for?’
Jack’s story continues on the next page…