Jack Nicklaus, the 1986 Masters, and Me

Golf is one of those things that has a generational pull. Growing up in Cleveland in the early 1960s, I remember trips to my grandparents house, two hours away in New London Ohio. Frequently, these visits would involve a trip to the golf course, where dad, his two brothers, and my grandfather would engage in a bit of friendly competition. I tagged along, wielding what was probably a shortened five iron, trying to get the ball in the hole on a course tucked between corn fields and cow pastures.

Time passed. Dad was transferred to New Jersey, and my grandparents retired to Florida. The golf matches between Dad and my uncles grew rarer.

CBS began its Masters broadcasts in 1956, with an hour of black and white coverage of the final four holes. In 1958, Arnold Palmer won his first Masters, and Arnie’s Army was born. Veterans, back from tours of duty in the Korean War, many stationed at nearby Fort Gordon, came to Augusta to cheer Palmer on. Other vets, like my dad, watched on television. And somewhere along the line, I too began to watch the Masters.

50 years ago, in 1966, the tournament began to be broadcast in color. Jack Nicklaus won his third Masters, after becoming the youngest winner three years earlier. By 1986, Sunday’s broadcast had increased to two and a half hours. Pat Summerall anchored the CBS coverage, and Jim Nantz made his first appearance as a Masters commentator.

That spring, the Richards family would have a reunion. And so, I ended up driving from Atlanta to my grandparents house in Florida, Mom and Dad, his brothers and sisters, their spouses, and many cousins joined me. I don’t remember if there was a family golf match that year, but by Sunday afternoon, everyone gathered around the TV to watch something truly amazing.

Masters Saturday that year ended up with Greg Norman in the lead, at 6 under par. Jack Nicklaus was tied with three others for ninth place at two under. By the time Nicklaus reached the 12th hole on Sunday, he was three behind the leaders. But a birdie on the par 5 13th and an eagle on the par 5 15th pushed him into contention. Birdies on 16 and 17 got him to 9 under, one stroke less than Norman and Tom Kite, and enough for him to become the oldest golfer to win the Masters. You can see the highlights in the video:

Thirty years later, I remember that Sunday afternoon clearly, maybe because it was the last time all three generations of Dad’s family had a reunion before he passed away. But, it’s an example of how Augusta National, and the tradition that’s like no other has affected so many people, in Georgia and across the world. This year was the first time that Arnie was unable to play in Wednesday’s Par 3 tournament or hit the ceremonial tee shot to start the tournament. Before too long, it will be Jack’s turn to bow out.

The year before Nicklaus became the oldest golfer to win the Masters, Bernhard Langer won his first one. This morning, Langer sits two off the pace at one under par, and will play in the penultimate pairing in this afternoon’s final round. At age 58, if he wins, he’ll take Nicklaus’s place as the oldest player to win the Masters. Can he win? Yes sir! And if he does, I wouldn’t be surprised if 30 years from now, someone will look back fondly at how the family got together to watch the final round of the 2016 Masters, and smile.


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