Jack Nicklaus recalls 55 years at The Masters

Courtesy of the Associated Press

Jack Nicklaus at the 2013 Masters
Jack Nicklaus at the 2013 Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jack Nicklaus loves absolutely everything about this place.
But being reminded how many years have elapsed since he won the first time, let alone the first time he made the drive up Magnolia Lane? Not so much.
Nicklaus sat in the interview room at the Masters for an hour Tuesday, and had more than enough material for two. He grimaced when club member Ed Herlihy introduced him by saying, “He returns to Augusta National 50 years removed from his first of a record six jackets,” and turned wistful for a moment at the end.
“I can’t imagine anybody having more fun doing what I’ve done and getting paid for it,” Nicklaus said, “and also being able to sit here in front of you guys at 73 years old, so I can spout a bunch of stuff that I had no idea whether you were listening or not, or care about.”
In between, Nicklaus had that same roomful of reporters eating out of the palm of his hand. He spun so many entertaining tales about the 55 years he’s been coming to Augusta that there isn’t room to recount them all here.
A quick sampling:
• Nicklaus was revered throughout the years for his willingness to advise young players at every level of ability. Thirty years ago, he responded to a letter from a 13-year-old left-handed player from Canada who wrote to ask whether he should switch and play right-handed. That kid, Mike Weir, went on to win the Masters in 2003.
Earlier this week, he helped the latest long-driving sensation, Nicolas Colsaerts. In a day or two, Nicklaus will do the same for Guan Tianglang, a 14-year-old Chinese player who will become the youngest competitor ever at the Masters and wrote to ask for tips. Asked whether he delivers the same message to everyone who seeks him out, Nicklaus simply smiled.
“I’m not smart enough to have different ones,” he said.
• Several questions went back to his final Masters in 1986, perhaps the most famous win here ever. Nicklaus was 46 at the time and hadn’t won a major in six years. He recalled slowly playing his way into contention on the back nine, talking with his son, Jackie, to relieve some of the pressure.
“At 16, I hit a 5-iron in there, it was 175 yards, and I just threw a soft 5-iron up in the air. And I remember when I hit the shot, Jackie said, ‘Be right, be right.’ And I said,” Nicklaus paused for effect, ‘It is.’ ”
“It was the cockiest remark I ever made.”
• Masters co-founder Bobby Jones, whose record of 13 majors Nicklaus eclipsed, took an interest in the young Golden Bear and invited him and his father to his cabin for long discussions on subjects ranging from golf to philosophy. A reporter asked, “Can you give us a flavor of the conversation?”
Nicklaus did, and the reporter asked a follow-up, “Did you say anything, or were you listening?”
Nicklaus didn’t have to think long about the answer.
“It’s one of the few times,” he recalled, “I probably didn’t say too much.”
• Nicklaus could have gone on like that forever. But Herlihy, moderating the conversation, finally noted that Nicklaus had to attend the champions dinner and offered one last question.
“If you hadn’t had such extraordinary talent as a golfer, what would you like to have done with your life?”
Nicklaus said he believed he would have wound up “somewhere in sports,” then looked out at the roomful of reporters and added, “I may have ended up sitting out here.”
“Lucky you could play golf,” the questioner offered.
“Well,” Nicklaus said finally, “I can’t spell, either.”

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