When my friends come over to see me, I’m often asked if the TV is on a loop. The reason for this seemingly strange question is that my screen seems to always be on golf.
For me, The Golf Channel provides a bit of peace and tranquility in an otherwise crazy, hectic world. It’s also a great backdrop for snoozing on lazy Sunday afternoons. Perfect!
Being a card-carrying member of the PGWA (ProGolfWatchersAssociation. com), it was my joy to learn that The Golf Channel was interested in stories about where people were when Jack Nicklaus won his final golf major at the ‘86 Masters Tournament.
Of course, any respectable, card- carrying member of the PGWA can tell you exactly where that were at, what they were doing and who they were with (you get the picture) when Jack made his glorious charge on that beautiful April Sunday afternoon.
My story is a bit more intimate than most, as I actually found myself eye to eye and face to face with the Golden Bear when his tee shot shanked left o the 17th tee. This was seemingly his toughest challenge because, up until this point, everything since the ninth hole had been miraculously going his way. Looking at the ball lying in the pine straw just yards from the infamous Ike’s Tree, I suddenly found myself in a very, very precarious position.
That story, as well as my Masters experience in ‘86, are told in the essay I submitted to the Golf Channel for their special “‘86, Where Were You?’” That special will premiere on Tuesday, April 5, at 9 p.m. EST.
After the Golf Channel let me know that they wanted me to tell my story, they sent a lm crew to an area of Augusta we lovingly refer to as Summerville. I, along with former Augustan Brain Saul and Lawrenceville resident Everett Stokes, told our stories of Jack’s play on the 15th, 16th and 17th holes.
With the backdrop of our golf tales being Durden’s Barber Shop, my friend and owner Tim Durden played the part of Floyd as the three of us gladly spun the yarns of the events on that historic day.
The following is the actual essay I submitted to The Golf Channel for their consideration. It simply tells the story, through my eyes, as golf greatness unfolded in front of me.
As many of you who know me know, I’m quite a talker and storyteller. Some of you may have even heard this story from me before. Either way, don’t forget to watch.
Where Were you: ‘86 masters
Growing up in Augusta, the Masters in April was just a part of spring break. My mom worked at the bank, and there they would give out free passes to anyone who wanted to go.
As a child, it was no big deal. Even as we were getting older, tickets were everywhere.
Into my late teens to early 20s, there were no alcohol sales in Georgia on Sunday. My friends and I would always plan to get together, meet at the 16th
green then bet a beer on the player who hit the ball closest to the hole. I still do believe that we are solely responsible for the “No Beer after 4 p.m.” policy that is in even in effect to this day.
In ‘86, my friend Bobby Santos and I arrived at the course and were suddenly greeted by that magnficent “ROAR” of the gallery. Looking up at the leader board I saw that Jack had birdied nine, and the roar that we had heard came from 10th.
I screamed, “Jack’s back and he’s making a charge.” We then ran down the hill to Amen Corner, got a beer (of course), then caught him teeing o at the 12th. The crowd was buzzing and running around like the place had caught on re. You could taste it in the breeze, just like those sweet, fragrant azaleas. Everybody seemed to be screaming “JAAACK!”
To chase a golfer, drink beers and scream, it’s a must that you strategically know the lay of the land. After 12 (bogie) and another beer, we landed mid fairway on 13 (birdie).
“Jack’s Back” was all you could hear. Remembering our rst objective (beer), we watched him tee off at 14, then jogged down the backside of the 16th to get in position. It seemed like everyone was running. People were stopping us, asking questions. All we could say was “JACK’SBACK.”
Again, knowing the lay of the course, we placed ourselves between the 15th and the 16th greens with the beer hut strategically behind us at the 17th tee. Jack said something aloud just before his second shot at 15, and the gallery applauded and laughed. Then, as if on cue, he carded an eagle. Absolutely phenomenal!
Then as if it couldn’t get any better, he almost sank a hole in one on 16. That was without a doubt the loudest “ROAR” I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. That includes concerts, sporting events and any other Masters that I’ve ever attended. It was LOUD (yes, caps loud).
By now we felt safe enough to leave the birdie putt with Jack and Jackie at 16, so we hit the beer hut for one more beer. It was here that we decided to run up the hill past Ike’s Tree to get the most optimum visual for the 17th green. Of course by this time, we were getting pretty winded and a little buzzed.
As we started running up the hill, it came to the forefront of my mind that Jack was about to tee off down the 17th fairway. I turned and out of nowhere a ball landed at my feet in the pine straw. My first thought was “Please don’t be Jack.” Looking up, a herd of people were racing towards me and the ball. Uh-oh, my first fears were realized.
It was Jack’s ball.
Like a good golf patron, I threw my hands in the air as if I were suddenly the Guardian of the Ball. As we waited for Jack to walk up the hill, a mass of people began to gather around. Suddenly it was like Moses parting of the Red Sea. There out of the masses (cue music), Jack and Jackie were closing in on the ball with a look of pure concentration.
At first, Jack was looking down, eyeing the ball. Then, he looks up and stares straight dead ahead at me like, “You got my ball?” People are screaming his name, “JAAAACK,” as Jackie begins a feeble attempt to calm everyone down.
But strangely Jack was still looking straight dead at me.
It’s quickly quiet. No one speaks a word. Not even Jack. He stares down at the ball, then back at me.
Thinking back, I’ve often thought of many wonderful words of encouragement that I could have said in that moment. But no, the only thing that I could muster up was a very quiet, “You’ve got this.” He very intently looked at me one more time as if to say, “Yes I do!”
I stepped back, he hit the ball. Simply, the rest is history.
Did I help this happen? No, I’ve never thought so. But feeling that intensity. Seeing that game face. Being within the vicinity of pure historical greatness for that one moment, certainly changed the trajectory of my life for many, many years to come.
Having the opportunity to speak to him again, I would say these words: Thank you, Mr. Nicholas, for all you’ve given us. Not only here in Augusta at the Masters, but to the world of sports and beyond. We didn’t speak words that day, but you spoke not only to me, you spoke volumes to all of us with your fearless determination, unequaled sportsmanship and, above all else, the highest form of integrity, character and heart.
You are truly a champion among champions.
Hats off to you, sir. Hats off.