The 2022 MASTERS will be my 38th. I’m often asked which was my favorite. The answer is easy.
Anyone that knew me when I was young knew how much I admired Jack Nicklaus. My earliest recollection of Jack was the 1975 MASTERS, the one that came down to the wire between Jack, Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf. Many refer to it as the best MASTERS in history. Jack took control with a memorable 40-foot birdie putt on the 16th green to secure his fifth title.
When I arrived in Augusta, April of 1984, the second day I was in the city was the final round of the tournament, Ben Crenshaw’s first victory. I couldn’t have cared less what the leaders were doing on that day, I was going to make sure that I saw my hero on the course, never mind that he was 44 years old, and not hitting #13 in two with his 1 iron. Hell, his 1 iron probably wasn’t in the bag in 1984. But I found him, and I watched him all the way to the clubhouse. I had seen jack Nicklaus play golf in the MASTERS. You gotta remember, I wasn’t sure that I’d ever set foot on the ground again.
As fate would have it, in 1985, I received my first press credential, and I’ve been fortunate to be there ever since. I never, and I mean never thought something like 1986 was possible.
I’ll fast forward to Sunday and Jack playing the ninth hole. There was an unmistakable roar from #8. The Sunday roars at Augusta National are always unmistakable. When it happened, Jack backed away from his birdie putt and reportedly said, “let’s see if we can make some noise of our own”, before dropping the putt.
Watching TV, he went on to birdie the tenth and eleventh. It was at that point that I said, I HAD to get out on the course to see of some this in person. Of course, I chose to get to the farthest point on the course from the Quonset hut. On my way out there, I saw that he made bogey on #12. I decided I was going to see what I could see. When I got to him, he was preparing to hit his second shot on #13. Not a 1 iron, but he did reach it in two. Birdie. I watched him par #14, and then tee off on #14, walking down the fairway with his wife Barbara, and thousands of his closest friends. My eyes were on my watch, as I needed to return to the media area for my next report, but before leaving, I saw him strike the second shot on #15 and joined in the “roar”. While making my way back, I “heard” the eagle thanks to the patrons. Then, just before entering the media area, I heard, what was, to this day, more than 30 years later, the LOUDEST roar I ever heard. It was his tee shot on #16 rolling back to within feet of the hole. Another birdie. I did my report, settled back in front of one of the TV’s and watched him birdie #17. “Yes Sir!”. He was now leading the golf tournament. #18 was not that far from the media center, but I decided that I wouldn’t be able to see a thing out there, so decided to watch his finish on one of the screens. His nearest competitor Seve Ballesteros was falling by the wayside, hitting it into the water on #15 and making bogey on #17. It all came down to Greg Norman and when he failed to make par on #18 Jack Nicklaus had won the MASTERS for the 6th time.
I then was there for the ceremony on the putting green and for the interview afterwards, there was NO WAY I was missing either.
In the years following, I’ve been able to become closer with Jack. Over the years as he has gotten older, he’s been more accessible. It’s one of the great joys of my life that I never take for granted. I still pinch myself when my childhood hero calls out my name when seeing me. All of a sudden, I’m a teenager again.
The tournament has a way of doing that. I’ve learned that through the years. It’s magical that way. I hope you’ll join me over the next couple of weeks as I document some other memories from what I think is the greatest sporting event in the world.