Twenty-five years later, those two words from Verne Lundquist of CBS still instantly capture the whole scene: Jack Nicklaus, the Masters and one of the most amazing days in golf history.
“Yes sir!” was Lundquist’s punctuation, soon after he had said, “Maybe ” as Nicklaus’ putt rolled toward the cup on the 17th hole during the final round of the 1986 Masters.
“Yes sir!” was the affirmation that said it’s OK to believe your eyes and ears, 46-year-old Nicklaus just took the lead on the way to the last and most remarkable of his record 18 major championships.
It was safe to stretch your imagination. It really happened, even though an hour-and-a-half earlier it had seemed inconceivable that anyone 46 could win the greatest prize in a professional sport. That was long before the equipment technology boom that has enabled everyone to hit the ball farther and straighter. Nicklaus, not having won a tournament in two years and not having prepared much, still was using a wooden driver.
“I guess nobody really expected me to be in contention at that point in my career,” Nicklaus said recently, “particularly even me.”
On the back nine that day, he emerged from a Hall of Fame pack – Seve Ballesteros, Tom Kite, Greg Norman, Nick Price, Tom Watson – and created one of those moments that make people remember where they were when they saw it. Lee Trevino says he skipped his flight so he could watch in the airport.
Lundquist was at the 17th hole, hearing roars that he never has heard at Augusta before or since (he has worked the Masters all but twice since 1983 and was there for Tiger Woods’ chip-in on No. 16 in 2005). Nicklaus’ win, marked by that putt, was the No. 1 event he has witnessed in a distinguished broadcasting career. The only thing on the same plane was the 1992 Duke-Kentucky basketball game, decided by Christian Laettner’s buzzer shot.
“That is a distant second,” Lundquist said this week. Recalling April 13, 1986, he said, “The day was great and the championship built up in such a way that it just kept getting better and better and better. It was like we were all going to explode.
“It has been an honor for me to know people regard that Sunday afternoon as one of the great sporting events ever,” he said. In fact, ESPN will air an hour documentary on it Wednesday, entitled, “Yes Sir: Jack Nicklaus and the ’86 Masters.”
By April 1986, Nicklaus was more of a businessman and course designer than championship golfer. As late as the front nine on that day, when he was six shots back, he was seen as just a neat ornament in the field.
“It’s almost like a mystical thing,” said bestselling author Tom Clavin of East Hampton, N.Y, whose new book is “One for the Ages: Jack Nicklaus and the 1986 Masters.”
“It was as if he was not through being great. He had stopped nurturing his greatness. He didn’t call upon it, necessarily, but it was almost like this greatness that was in him had not run its course yet. It forced itself out. It was like something happened to transform him into someone 15 years younger.”
THE 75th MASTERS
SITE: Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Phil Mickelson.
TV: Thursday and Friday, noon to 4:30 p.m., ESPN; Saturday, 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., Ch. 7; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Ch. 7