'Yes, sir!': The oral history of the 1986 Masters
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“Yes, sir!”: An oral history of the 1986 Masters

jack-nicklaus-1986-masters-17

As we approached the Golden Anniversary of the Masters Tournament, the sun shone brightly on a hopeful world.

The Cold War had seemingly ended, capitalism having outlasted communism.


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Technology continued to hurtle us into the future at light speed. The first portable computers hit the market at $1,600, while Fiji invented the first disposable camera and Sony came out with the first digital audio tape player.

Worldwide, computerized share-dealing followed the London financial markets' deregulation – the so-called “Big Bang”, the genesis of the gargantuan global financial market system of today. Though America still mourned the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, she still looked to the heavens - both for the might of her own space program and for the return of Halley’s Comet, not seen since 1910.

In popular culture, however, it wasn’t exactly what Dickens would call the best of times. The year 1986 was the age of Culture Club, the Bangles and John Cougar Mellancamp. People went to dance parties in spandex and teased hair. Prince was called just that, not known by some indecipherable symbol, and there was music still on MTV. Aided by a totally ridiculous yet strangely mesmerizing video, Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” became a No. 1 hit. Oprah Winfrey skyrocketed to film stardom in “The Color Purple,” though “Pretty in Pink” was an enormous hit with the teens and college kids. Who could resist Molly Ringwald?

addicted to love

And it seemed to everyone that the world that had passed by Roy Orbison–Doris Day-loving Jack Nicklaus. Yet that was the romance, the incomparable grandeur of the moment.  To celebrate the anniversary, we'd like to take you back to that magical day 30 years ago...in the words of those who saw watched it.

Golf commentator Bruce Moulton:"It was the age of Ronald Reagan, not Jack Nicklaus. It seemed the game had finally passed him by."

Tom Weiskopf, 1973 Open champion, 16-time PGA Tour winner and CBS commentator for the 1986 Masters: “That was the beauty of it – it was so unexpected."

Tom Watson, eight-time major champion, including the 1977 and 1981 Masters, who finished four shots back in ’86: “Nicklaus turned back the clock. He gave us one of the most iconic moments in sports - not just golf, all of sports. It’s one of those moments where everyone remembers where they were when it happened.”

PRE-TOURNAMENT

Arnold Palmer, in a pre-Masters interview with CBS: “I read an article the other day where Jack said – at 46 and still playing – that he felt like a man at 46 ought to be able to win a golf tournament. There’s no reason why [not] and I don’t disagree with him. As a matter of fact I think he’s right, I think he can still win a golf tournament...you just have to get it all together one time...”

Watson: “You always expected Jack to be on he leaderboard. He still could play; he certainly was not done then. Yes he had struggles, but like we all do.”

Weiskopf: “There was no talk among the broadcast team beforehand about Jack winning. We always talked about Jack because of his greatness and his winning 17 majors; he’s the all time greatest player and greatest player of his age, like Tiger. Jack was always the benchmark of historical comparisons, but that week, the odds were quite against him. It was not typical; he was 46 and at the end of his career. Now he never thought that, but the rest of the world did.”

Former PGA Tour Pro Kenny Knox, who played every Masters practice round with Nicklaus for five years running, including 1986, and who was the only man known to have predicted a Nicklaus win in a pre-tournament interview with CBS: “Not many people have seen that CBS video. Occasionally, I have someone come up to me and say, ‘You were the only one that picked him!’ But I knew he was going to play well, because I played the practice rounds with him on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"It was my first Masters, (I had won the Honda Classic that year), and Jack taught me all kinds of stuff – which putts break much more than they look, which putts look like they break, but don’t break at all – he was so comfortable out there and he had all that course knowledge. He was playing terrific, and he knew everything about the golf course. So CBS was interviewing all the players when they got to the par-3 course. They were asking everybody who they thought was going to win, and so I said, ‘My partner! Jack! He’s playing great, he’s going to win.’ They kinda looked at me funny, because everyone was predicting that he was a has-been at 46.”

blogs-the-loop-assets_c-2015-03-ANGC quonset-thumb-518x365-156455
A black & white photo of the old Masters press tent.

Sports writer Art Spander, who covered his first Masters in 1967: “Back then, it was like trying to write your story in an airplane. We all worked in the Quonset Hut – this building designed like those military barracks they built in the South Pacific in World War II. The next year we moved into the new place, Taj Mahal, but back then we were all in the Quontset Hut. We sat at these long tables, jammed elbow-to-elbow, like a classroom, and there’s these narrow aisles between the desks. There’s a scoreboard up front and one little television set. We’re all cramped, and if you had to go to the bathroom, everyone else had to get up. Rookies were stuck in the second floor; ‘the attic’ we used to call it. And the whole thing sloped, so you were standing lopsided. One year it rained like hell, and we were all standing on our desks while the place flooded. I was a columnist for the [San Francisco] Examiner, and I was in a house with Dave Kindred and John Feinstein and Hubert Mizell of the St. Petersburg Times. The whole week none of us talked about Jack.”

Golf World Editor-in-Chief Jaime Diaz, at that time covering his first Masters: “Nicklaus was an icon, but an afterthought as far as looking to win in ‘86. He hadn’t won since the Memorial in ’84 and hadn’t won a major since the 1980 PGA. The Tom McCollister article really said what everybody thought - he just wasn’t getting in contention any more, and even Jack said that spring he hadn’t prepared well and didn’t expect much.”

Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports writer Tom McCollister in his 1986 Masters preview, which a friend of Nicklaus's posted on the refrigerator door of the house Jack rented for the week of the tournament: “Nicklaus is gone, done. He just doesn’t have the game anymore. It’s rusted from lack of use. He’s 46, and nobody that old wins the Masters.”

Nicklaus, in a post-victory interview: “I kept thinking about that all week. My clubs aren’t rusty, and I’m not done.”

Knox: “It’s funny that it’s Tom McCollister who wrote that, because he was one of the nicest guys in the world and an excellent sports writer.”

SATURDAY NIGHT

Moulton: “Jack’s rounds got better as the week went on – 74-71-69 – but nobody was ready for him to drop a 65 on Augusta on Sunday out of nowhere.”

Diaz: “All the Sports Illustrated people were all staying at this traditional Southern-style two-story house right off Wheeler Road. I remember meeting Rick Reilly for the first time. [Dan] Jenkins and Pat Summerall and Bob Drum were there, too, and a lot of the old football players like Paul Hornung and Sonny Jurgensen, who played on the Giants with Summerall. We all went out to Calvert’s for dinner Saturday night and ended up closing the bar. We mostly just talked about Seve, because even though he was behind, it was his tournament. I mean he was in his prime, he’d won twice already, and his game was made for Augusta. He was long, he had an incredible short game, and he was a terrific putter. He was also the most romantic figure, the most charismatic. All the talk was ‘Can Seve do it?’ Nobody thought Jack would win – we thought he was too old, too nervous, and won’t be able to handle it.”

Weiskopf: “All the CBS people were at a cookout at [executive producer] Frank Chirkinian’s house. The whole crew was there: Ben Wright, Jack Whitaker, Verne Lundquist, Jim Nantz. There wasn’t much talk at all about Jack. It was all about Norman and Seve.”

Your Author: I was in my freshman year at college and writing sports for the school paper. We were closing up the press room for the night – about 10:30 – just me and another freshman sports writer, when the editor-in-chief stopped by with the leaderboard. He asked us what we thought the winning score was going to be. I said 9 under was going to win. The other writer said, "No, you’re too low." He thought 11 under was going to win. I told them that the pressure of a Sunday at Augusta would keep everybody bunched up. That’s when he asked us who we wanted to win. I replied, "Well Jack is my idol. How cool would that be?" They both just laughed.

Dan Jenkins, candidly admitting in his tournament recap piece what he thought Jack needed to do to win on Sunday: “With so many imposing international players, he would need a visa to get on the scoreboard and have to beat the League of Nations to win.”

Nicklaus, while signing autographs for fans after Round 3: “I’ve got a good chance with a good round.”

CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY

1:24 p.m. -- Bob Tway (214), Gary Koch (214)
1:32 p.m. -- Sandy Lyle (214), Jack Nicklaus (214)
1:40 p.m. -- Tom Watson (212), Tsuneyuki (Tommy) Nakajima (212)
1:48 p.m. -- Severiano Ballesteros (211), Tom Kite (212)
1:56 p.m. -- Donnie Hammond (211), Bernhard Langer (211)
2:04 p.m. -- Greg Norman (210), Nick Price (211)

Spander: “The longer you covered the Masters, the better your seat was. I was about halfway up, and I was sitting at my seat when Jenkins walked by. (He sat up front, of course.) He stops next to me and asks me, ‘Which one of those guys has the least chance?’ I said ‘I know what you want me to say: Nicklaus!’ He nodded in agreement.”

Diaz: “My assignment for the week was Seve, so I followed him and Tom Kite in the third-to-last group. On the eighth hole, they both eagled by holing out from about 60 yards away. First, Kite hit a high lob into the hole, then Seve hit a low runner, and that went in, too. (It was his first of two eagles on the day.) The whole place went nuts, and at that moment, a couple of shots ahead, Seve looked in command.”

Spander: “Jack wasn’t in it, it seemed. He had one birdie in the first eight holes. We all had our heads down and were writing Seve.”

Knox: “I had missed the cut by one (75-76) but instead of leaving, I stayed and practiced a Augusta on Saturday. Back in those days, they never televised the front nine, so on Sunday my wife Karen and I drove to the next tournament venue, Hilton Head. We were listening to the radio updates and when Jack started to make his move – he birdied 9, 10 and 11 – I started driving faster so we could get there and watch the back nine on TV! We parked the car and ran as fast as we could into the pro shop. They already had it on and were watching, glued to the TV.”

Your Author:"We were having our spring concert on campus the same weekend, right outside my dorm. Back then having a TV in your room was a luxury, so while everyone else is drinking and heading to the quad for the gig, I was running around to all my friends asking if I could hang out in their room to watch the tournament. I practically begged Scott Isaac and Steve Brauer to let me watch it in their room. It was within earshot of the concert, so I could hear when Simple Minds played “Don’t You Forget About Me,” the only song of theirs I liked. I could run down the stairs, check out that song, then go back up for the rest of the golf tournament."

THE SECOND NINE

Moulton:"People forget that Nicklaus's charge began on the toughest part of the golf course. He birdied 9, 10 and 11 to go 5 under; year in and year out, those are the most difficult holes at Augusta. But the key was that he made long putts at nine and 10, and rolled in a twisting, tricky putt on 11. His putter, slumbering all week, woke up in the clutch."

Jackie Nicklaus, caddying for his Dad, in his victorious caddie post-round interview:  "We were going along with just the slightest hope, but then he rolled in that long putt on 10 and that tough putt on 11, and I said, 'Oh my gosh...'"

Watson: “Tommy Nakajima and I were in the group behind Jack when he started to make his run. Now there was one kind of roar at Augusta that was unlike any other, and that was an Arnold Palmer roar. When Arnie was making a charge at Augusta, you could hear it all over the golf course, and you knew exactly what it was, because nobody could generate that much love from the gallery. An Arnie roar was different from all the other roars, only this time it was Jack. Those roars were the loud and sustained. Seeing his name up there was like old times, and suddenly everyone is looking at the leaderboards and pulling for him. ‘Where’s Jack?’ And his name rising up a leaderboard affect everybody else’s game. It’s a little different when it’s Jack Nicklaus coming after you.”

Jackie Nicklaus, to his father after Jack's tee shot on 13 whistled through tree branches before reaching the fairway, setting him up for another birdie: "Careful, Dad. That's not good on a 24-year old heart!"

Diaz: “He had that hiccup, that bogey on 12 that looked like it might have been the end, and even though Jack birdied 13, Seve eagled it. Seve hit a 2-iron to 6 feet – an extraordinary shot – and that’s when he shared a celebratory handshake with his brother Vicente. It seemed to tempt fate a little. And sure enough on the next hole, Seve hit a huge drive right down the middle, but CBS camera man positioned there, in middle of fairway. He hit the guy in the leg on thee fly, and the ball kicked into trees. Seve still made par from there, but he told me much later that he took that as an omen something was not right.”

Jackie Nicklaus, in his post-round interview, discussing Jack's 213-yard approach to the par-5 15th: "He turned to me and he said, 'How far do you think a three will go here?' And I knew he didn't mean 3-iron. He meant eagle. I said, 'I think it will go a long way.'"

Weiskopf: “Frank Chirkinian would say things in our earpieces from time to time during the broadcast, and I remember him thinking that Jack had to birdie 13, 15 and one of the last two holes to have a chance. Jack birdied 13, an then he eagled 15, and that’s when we all knew he had a chance. It was still a way out chance, because remember all the things that happened to happen to help him. But 13 and 15 were huge because you have to make up ground on the par-5s, and the other players couldn’t capitalize.”

Diaz: “Suddenly we started hearing roars from Jack, which nobody expected. And these were roars. First it came from 15 green, then again from 16 tee.”

Watson: “They were spine-tingling cheers that went up on 15, 16 and 17. When he eagled 15, I knew the game was on and so did everyone else. Then at 16, when he made birdie, everyone screamed at the top of their lungs. I was wonderful. Everybody wanted him to win the tournament. It was Jack in his vintage years, but playing vintage Jack Nicklaus golf.”

Moulton: "We got two of the great golf broadcasting calls in the history of the game that day. First, after Nicklaus rifled that 5-iron to five feet and rolled in the birdie putt, Jim Nantz - covering his first Masters - famously said, 'The Bear has come out of hibernation...'"

Weiskopf: “Now there’s scoreboards all over, so you know where you stand, and when you heard the enormous roars down on 15 and 16, you knew who was playing there. Even three holes away, you knew. All that build up continued throughout the back nine. By then everybody was rooting for Jack and that’s what made the other guys falter.”

Diaz: “Seve had hit a huge drive on 15, over 300 yards, but then he had to wait on his 2nd shot. He regrets hitting 4-iron. He tried to take something off it, and he hit it fat and left. It was so bad, it didn’t even go in the water on the fly; it bounced in. That was kind of the end. He played so well and fought so hard, but suddenly he’s behind. Very quickly, Jack seized the tournament. Norman and Kite had a chance, but Seve was out of it.”

Spander: “We were all working on our stories – watching and typing away on these big Telerams. All of a sudden Norman is in the trees, Seve bogeys, and everyone outside was just cheering and cheering and cheering.”

Moulton"Here's where Nicklaus's unparalleled course knowledge may have won him the tournament. Jackie thought the putt would simply break left to right, but Jack shook him off like a baseball pitcher with his catcher calling for he wrong pitch. Jack knew Rae's Creek would hold it a little straighter, and it did. And that's when Verne Lunquist gave us the second of the two timeless calls...'Maybe...yes, sir!'"

Watson: “The roar on 17 said it all. We knew he made birdie.”

Weiskopf: “When Jack made the birdie on 17, that’s when we knew he was going to win or tie.”

Knox: “I was kicking myself, because I always used to videotape the Masters. I hated missing any part of it. And this year I forgot to set the timer.”

Spander: "However, it was by no means finished. Tom Kite still had a chance. Norman rallied, making birdies on 14, 15, 16 and 17 to pull into a tie for the lead."

Moulton: “Kite hung tough all day, but he left his putt on 18 to tie Nicklaus on the low side. Meanwhile Norman came back from the dead. He butchered Amen Corner, but then birdied 14-17 to tie Jack. And he was dead center of the fairway on 18 with a 5-iron in his hands. And everyone was on pins and needles.”

Jenkins: “It was a push-fade-slice.”

Knox: “When Norman hit that second shot, we knew it was over. He had no shot. Short-side on a down-slope over a bunker: it was impossible. He didn’t have that shot, so he had to bump and run it. He hit a great shot to get with 15 feet of the hole, but the problem is it does not break. Jack taught me that in the practice round. Greg left it on the high side.”

[Editor's Note: Jack Nicklaus had shot a final-round, 7-under 65 -- including 30 on the second nine -- to win his sixth Masters and 18th professional major. It was his last PGA Tour win.]

EPILOGUE

Nicklaus, upon seeing Tom McCollister enter the post-round interview room: "Thanks, Tom.”

McCollister in response: "Glad I could help. I hear Watson wants me to write about him next year.”

Jenkins: “He killed more foreigners than General Eisenhower.”

Watson: “But my fondest memory of all – and it was pure as driven snow – was the hug between Jack and Jackie afterward. The emotion, the love: it was an overpowering moment. And then suddenly, I got taken into that hug. I was just so elated for him, he’s been such a good, sincere personal friend who’s inspired my career in so many ways.”

Knox: “Exuberance! We were so happy for him. He was always my golfing hero.”

Moulton: “It’s golf’s Miracle on Ice. You never forget where you were.”

Weiskopf: “You have to look at it this way – Jack did exactly what he had to do to give himself a chance to win. Then the pressure was on everybody else that followed…and they couldn’t handle it. And have no doubt, the fact that it was Jack made it that much tougher. It clouds your mind and affects your concentration when everyone is rooting against you. Meanwhile, Nicklaus really caught lightning in a bottle. He put himself in a position to win with nine holes to go, and then hit the shots and the rest of them didn’t down the stretch. That moment defined what the Masters is all about, and it still does 30 years later.”

Your Author: The tournament ended just as everyone was coming back from the end of the spring concert. I caught up with a couple of the other guys on the golf team as I was walking into my dorm. When they asked me why I missed the gig, and I replied, 'Because I just saw Jack Nicklaus win the Masters!'

They looked horrified and asked me, 'Do you think it’ll be on 'George Michael Sports Machine' tonight?'

Yes. Yes, I did."

Diaz: “Rick Reilly was writing the main story, and he was really nervous. I mean this was too big: Jack Nicklaus at 46, sixth Masters. But Rick had a friend named Buddy Martin and in the Quonset Hut, and he told him to put all his notes away and just write it as he saw it and remembered it. ‘Don’t lose the emotion and the flow.’ And he wrote a great piece. Then at the end, I saw Jenkins outside smoking. Our eyes met, and I asked him was this the greatest Masters ever? He said, ‘Well there’s been a lot of good Masters.”

Jenkins, in his tournament recap: “The situation was ripe for someone to go out and steal the thing. But you had to say that Jack Nicklaus, 46-year-old golf-course designer, was the last one you thought about…”

1986 Masters final leaderboard and results

POSPLAYERTO PARR1R2R3R4TOTAL
1J. Nicklaus-974716965279
T2G. Norman-870726870280
T2T. Kite-870746868280
4S. Ballesteros-771687270281
5N. Price-679696371282
T6T. Watson-570746871283
T6J. Haas-576697167283
T8T. Nakajima-470717172284
T8B. Tway-470737170284
T8P. Stewart-475716969284
T11D. Hammond-373716774285
T11C. Pavin-371727171285
T11M. McCumber-376677171285
T11S. Lyle-376706871285
T11C. Peete-375716970285
T16B. Langer-274686975286
T16G. Koch-269747172286
T16B. Crenshaw-271717470286
T16D. Barr-270777168286
T16L. Mize-275747265286
T21F. Zoeller-173736972287
T21C. Strange-173746872287
T23R. MaltbieE71756973288
T23T. ChenE69737571288
T25S. Simpson176726774289
T25P. Jacobsen175736873289
T25B. Glasson172747271289
T28D. Edwards271717276290
T28J. Miller274707769290
T28D. Graham276727468290
T31B. Lietzke378706875291
T31D. Pohl376707273291
T31F. Couples372777072291
T31L. Wadkins378717369291
35W. Levi473766776292
T36L. Nelson573737176293
T36R. Fehr575746975293
T36H. Green571757374293
T36S. Randolph575737273293
T36T. Sills576737371293
41D. Pooley677727372294
T42B. Kratzert768727679295
T42J. Mahaffey779697275295
44K. Green868787476296
T45J. Thorpe1074747377298
T45P. Blackmar1076737376298
47L. Trevino1176737377299
48M. O'Meara1374738173301
MCC. Stadler67476MCMC150
MCG. Player67773MCMC150
MCB. Gardner77477MCMC151
MCA. Bean77576MCMC151
MCK. Knox77576MCMC151
MCG. Hallberg77873MCMC151
MCB. Eastwood77972MCMC151
MCG. Burns III87478MCMC152
MCR. Floyd87478MCMC152
MCR. Lewis Jr.87478MCMC152
MCR. Sigel87478MCMC152
MCH. Irwin87676MCMC152
MCD. Forsman87874MCMC152
MCJ. Sindelar87973MCMC152
MCH. Sutton88072MCMC152
MCM. O'Grady88270MCMC152
MCC. Coody97677MCMC153
MCC. Drury97677MCMC153
MCP. Persons97677MCMC153
MCJ. Renner97677MCMC153
MCG. Brewer Jr.97776MCMC153
MCB. Casper Jr.97875MCMC153
MCL. Rinker107381MCMC154
MCD. Tewell107480MCMC154
MCM. Wiebe107678MCMC154
MCS. Verplank107777MCMC154
MCJ. Kay Jr.108074MCMC154
MCG. Archer117580MCMC155
MCD. Ford127878MCMC156
MCG. McGimpsey127878MCMC156
MCT. Aaron127977MCMC156
MCI. Aoki127977MCMC156
MCA. Palmer128076MCMC156
MCB. Rogers128076MCMC156
MCD. Watson128076MCMC156
MCM. Podolak128274MCMC156
MCT. Simpson137879MCMC157
MCR. Sonnier148177MCMC158
MCT. Chen167981MCMC160
MCB. Goalby167981MCMC160

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