Augusta's 'Mr 63'
When Nick Price drove into the fairway bunker at the 1st on Saturday April 12, 1986 it didn’t appear that anything special was on the cards.
The Zimbabwean, who had only just made the cut, dropped a shot to slip another notch down the leaderboard but then, for the next four hours, lit up Augusta National.
Halves of 33-30 added up to a new course record, a score that has only been equalled once since – by Greg Norman almost 10 years to the day later.
Both brilliant rounds, but it’s worth pointing out that the Aussie had more of a helping hand from technology. Price managed his nine-under bonanza without the help of a metal wood or a collection of lofted wedges.
To shoot 63 and not go for any of the par 5s is something else…
The reason was because of the wind or because I didn’t hit good tee shots, I can’t remember. You know, my wedge game was good at that time so if I was 50/50 I would lay up and use my wedges and I made the right decision.
When did you have a sense it was going to be something special?
After I birdied 13 I was seven under and then obviously I had 14, 15 and 16 to come. I didn’t know how they had set up those holes at the time and all I was interested in was paying attention to the next shot that I was about to play, which is obviously one of the most important things.
After I birdied 13 I was walking up 14 and I said to my caddie, ‘You know what the course record is don’t you?’ and he said ‘yes’ so we were both aware of it. It wasn’t the most important thing for me that day because the most important thing was that I played myself into position to contend on Sunday, which is what you want to do in any major.
I went from basically the middle of the pack on 147. The cut was 148 so I was probably in 40th and the cut was top 50 in those days. After the 63 I was one off the lead which was held by Greg Norman and with him in the final group.
You had a chance on 14, didn’t you?
I hit a beautiful putt from the back of the green and I left it dead in the hole but short.
You were hitting almost everything stiff, weren’t you?
I hit a lot a lot of quality iron shots. If you look at the par 5s the longest putt I made was six foot so it shows you how good my wedge game was that day.
It was such a different round because when you shoot a low round you make a couple of eagles or at least one eagle and there wasn’t an eagle. The thing that was so good about the round was obviously 10 birdies, the bogey on the 1st was the only time I drove it in a bunker off the tee.
I had played well the first day but hit six three putts and ended up shooting 79 and then the second day I got back on track with a 69 and that obviously meant when I started making those birdies on Saturday I just wanted to play myself into contention. I don’t want to say the 63 snuck up on me because when I birdied 10, 11, 12 and 13 I was really in business and I knew what I was doing and what the course record was. But that wasn’t at the forefront of my mind because I didn’t want to ruin a good round ahead of Sunday so I still played smart.
I had good strategy and that’s what was important to me. Keep the strategy good and the putts will fall.
What was your general strategy on 12?
For Augusta it wasn’t blowing hard, I don’t think the wind was 10mph, so it was more predictable compared to when the wind does swirl but I think the pin position wasn’t the premium position they play on Sunday which is towards the right which always brings a double bogey into the equation. There’s always a double bogey in there but it wasn’t like I was going to destroy my whole round on 12 like some people have.
Did you keep anything from that round?
I’ve still got the wedges and the driver. I only had one wedge after the pitching wedge, we didn’t have a 60˚, we just had a 56˚. It was a Cleveland, a 485 model I believe.
What driver did you have?
Well, mine was actually laminated. It wasn’t persimmon, persimmon obviously was a solid block of wood. I learnt that laminated was much harder and didn’t swell as much as a persimmon did when it got wet so that’s why I used a laminated one. That’s why I started using the Tony Pena 65A which was a laminated black face with a white insert.
Everyone talks endlessly about having to get to know Augusta and learn all the nuances yet this was only your second Masters?
I knew that course pretty well by the time that Masters started because, like everyone, I had done some pretty comprehensive practice rounds.
Also when you’re playing well there’s certain sides of the course that you never look at or never see so the difficulty of a strategy on a course is when you’re not playing so well, how can you manage your game? When you’re playing well you can play anything because all you’re seeing is the fairway and the greens.
You overtook a number of players who had shot 64?
It was funny because Jack Nicklaus came up to me the next day, we were walking past each other and he said ‘you beat my record’ and I said ‘yes Jack, I know that’.
Do you think your story is a bit lost after what happened the following day?
It was an amazing, amazing week and one of the best majors that I’ve been involved in and I was a part of it.
It was just an incredible week and, no, I don’t think my 63 was lost. I think it helped the week.
That Sunday of that Masters was one of the most exciting Sundays in major championship history, I don’t want to say ever because other majors have been exciting, but that was the best theatre I have ever been involved by far.
I really didn’t play well enough on the Sunday, I was always three or four shots off the front and then the back nine I couldn’t get anything to happen. I think I’d had all my good fortune the day before.
What was it like watching Greg play those last few holes?
I said to him on the 13th tee: ‘Let’s make something happen now.’ We were both wallowing and we had two par 5s to play. When you are in the last group and stood on that 13th tee the fairway is just lined with people, there were only a hundred people as they were all watching Seve or Jack so it was kind of strange really.
We were going to have to do something if we were going to win because the guys in the lead were all ahead of us. We knew that we had extra holes which always helps and we both birdied 14 and 15 and Greg then birdied 16 and 17. So he came to the last needing a par to tie Jack.
What did you think after he carved it right at the last?
I was very disappointed for him. It was just such an anti-climax to what had happened before, it really was. He missed it in the worst possible position. If he had hit it in the bunker or gone left he would have had a chance to get it up and down I suppose – where he hit it was almost impossible to get it up and down.
The recovery shot he hit on 17, under the circumstances, was one of the greatest shots I’d ever seen in my life.
He hit a 3-iron underneath the trees and the touch was just spectacular. I guarantee that he was just trying to get it on the green but he left it under the hole and that’s where talent and skill pays off.
Did you get a chance to speak to Jack afterwards?
No, he was gone. I did get a chance to speak to Sandy Lyle in the locker room and he had played with Jack that day and I asked him ‘what was that like?’ and Sandy doesn’t have a lot of words and he just said ‘that was amazing, absolutely unbelievable’ and he rolled his eyes.
And the record still stands? Greg equalled it in 1996 but nobody has shot 62 at Augusta..
I really am surprised, we saw Branden Grace last year shoot 62 and it is always in the back of your mind that it’s going to get a broken. I thought it would have gone in the 90s.
It was hard when we played it but it is all relative. In honesty it’s all relative. I don’t think it’s as difficult as when we played it.
Do you go back each year?
My last one was 2005 and I didn’t go back until 2014. I enjoyed it that much that I’ve gone back every year. I love going there now, it’s really nice to go and see some of my friends and see past major champions Ian Baker-Finch.
I will also walk a few holes with some of the young South African golfers in the practice rounds, it’s a good time.
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