The Masters: Memories of Jack Nicklaus at Augusta National

Charles WilcoxContributor IApril 10, 2011

Jack Nicklaus watches his ceremonial first shot at this year's Masters. The 71 year-old shared the honor with his longtime friend and rival, 81 year-old Arnold Palmer
Jack Nicklaus watches his ceremonial first shot at this year's Masters. The 71 year-old shared the honor with his longtime friend and rival, 81 year-old Arnold PalmerJamie Squire/Getty Images

Watching golf on television is something that I have never quite gotten into completely. Truth be told, for the most part I find it a little boring to follow.

My Grandpa was different from me in that respect, where as I would rather be there actually golfing myself, Grandpa could sit and watch on television 24/7 if he had the opportunity.

The tournament that has been going on this week, though? Well, let's just suffice to say there are truly some things that are special about The Masters.

It could be the picturesque scenery around Augusta National, as players weave their way through the Georgia pines and the azaleas in full bloom. A landscape so beautiful and so vibrant that if you close your eyes for just a second, even watching on television, you can smell the freshness of spring in the air.

It could be the way the players themselves treat this tournament, it's many traditions and everything that goes into the entire week with such reverence. You know you are watching something special when every shot can bring forth the emotion of a championship moment from the person making it.

Augusta National can do that to even the most experienced of players. It's all about that green jacket, the most cherished garment in sports.

The Masters is special for all of those reasons, but it was, and continues to be, something much more personal. This is the tournament, the one that my Grandpa convinced me to watch on television with him.

In the beginning, it was because I knew how badly he had wanted to be there at the venue himself, and never had the opportunity. Over the years though, it was just about spending time with him.

Grandpa loved to tell stories. He had so many great ones to tell too, and I loved to listen to him tell them. Over the years many members of our family have questioned the facts behind some of them. I have to admit, there are a few that are pretty far fetched. That will never matter to me though. I just loved the animation with which he told them, and the bonding with my idol.

His favorite golfer by far was Jack Nicklaus, and when we watched The Masters together, he always had hundreds of stories to tell about “The Golden Bear”.

I am reminded of that on this the Sunday the finally round of The Masters, 25 years after perhaps the most famous final round ever.

Like golf, fans both there and around the world, Grandpa and I watched as the greatest golfer of all time, at 46 years old, became the oldest to ever win a major in the tournament that is synonymous with his name.

As remarkable as that performance was though, and the bright smile it brought to my Grandpa's face watching that unforgettable back nine charge, I remember too, another performance from "The Bear" that might have been even more remarkable.

In 1998, The Masters was won by Mark O'Meara in a playoff over Fred Couples and David Duval. O'Meara won with a final score of nine under par, his first of two major championships that year.

Too bad he wasn't even the main story of that tournament for the majority of fans.

No that honor would go to the man who finished four strokes and five places behind him in a tie for sixth place. If you didn't know it already, and haven't guessed, yes I was that man again, Jack Nicklaus. To be more exact a 58-year-old Nicklaus.

Entering the tournament, all of the talk was about a man 46 years Nicklaus's junior, a 22-year-old named Tiger Woods. This was one year prior Woods became the youngest major champion in history at age 21 by taking Augusta by the throat like no one ever before or since.

Now, everyone wanted to know how long it would take that incredible talent to surpass Nicklaus's record of six green jackets. Most were conceding it would happen by the time Woods was 30, if not sooner. Incidentally, it still hasn't happened, and he's 35 now, stuck on four green jackets.

With all of this talk going on though, Nicklaus may not have won like he did in 1986, but he did remind everyone why he is the greatest ever one more time and finish five spots and two strokes ahead of his heir apparent.

What I will remember the most about that tournament though, is a single tear.

My Grandpa, who I had only saw cry once previously at my Grandma's funeral two years earlier, had a tear in his eye watching Nicklaus's performance against people half, and sometimes even a little more than a third his age.

It was confusing to me to see, so I asked him about it.

Grandpa, you didn't even cry when Jack won in 1986, why are you tearing up now?”

He explained it to me in the simplest of ways, that anyone could understand.

Charlie, so many people think senior citizens have to be dependent on others. That we can't do things for ourselves. Some of my own children want to see me put in retirement home. It is just really nice to see Jack go out and show everyone that senior citizens can do things just like anyone else.”

Today, I will watch on television, the final round of the 2011 Masters. An Irishman, Rory McIlroy will try to equal he feat of Woods and win the tournament, his first major at age 21.

Likely too, many stories will be shared surrounding Nicklaus's victory 25 years ago.

My Grandpa will be watching with me too as he always does. Despite the fact that since 2009 he has been watching from a much better place than I, let there be no doubt his presence is still felt with me.

Hearing all of those great memories about Nicklaus, I will have my own memory. A memory of seeing my idol, moved to a tear, by the performance of his idol.

It's just one more thing that makes The Masters special.


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