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Posted February 17, 2012, 4:48 pm
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1986 was the year Jack came back

Here's what they all remember: The newspaper article, the family, the noise, the emotion, an early morning on a deserted Florida runway.

A decade has passed since Jack Nicklaus metamorphosed from the Olden Bear to win the Golden (Bear) Anniversary Masters with a back-nine 30 on an unforgettable Sunday afternoon.

The finish was so frantic that normally subdued Masters fans were actually running and cheering someone else's errant shot.

The still-in-contention final pairing of Greg Norman and Nick Price was left almost gallery-less a few holes back. Pimento cheese sandwich vendors abandoned their posts for prime spectator spots. A columnist's total writer's block read like poetry the next morning, ``My fingers simply will not work,'' he began.

That week a decade ago already had enough excitement. The first-round co-leader, the wacky Ken Green, admitted to sneaking friends into the tournament in the trunk of his car. Seve Ballesteros and Mac O'Grady were having a verbal war with PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman. Price shot a course-record 63 on Saturday - with a bogey on the first hole.

Then came late Sunday afternoon.

The inspiration

Jack Nicklaus, befitting his former tag ``Fat Jack,'' loves to visit the refrigerator.

``Maybe 100 times a day, whether he gets anything or not, '' says longtime friend and business partner John Montgomery.

Montgomery, one of many house mates in Augusta that week, had found the place for a practical joke/inspirational message. Tom McCollister, the veteran golf writer of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was the messenger.

For the Sunday edition prior to the tournament, McCollister was struggling on a preview story. As a last resort, he opted for a story handicapping the field. Somewhere buried in the story was a look at Nicklaus' chances, with descriptions such as ``washed up,'' ``rusty'' and ``done'' attached.

Montgomery's son, an Atlanta resident, sent the newspaper to his father, and Montgomery promptly cut out the article, highlighted the Nicklaus section and scotch-taped it to the refrigerator. Nicklaus saw it every day, but didn't flinch, even though he was privately steamed. Unusually, he didn't even bump into McCollister all week.

Then came the Sunday evening victory press conference. McCollister was pecking away on an early story in the main press room when Miami Herald columnist Edwin Pope exited the Nicklaus interview session.

``Jack Nicklaus is looking for you,'' Pope deadpanned.

McCollister still didn't know the reason, even though Nicklaus was presently preaching that the put-down was great motivation. As McCollister entered the auditorium and took a seat halfway down the right-hand side, Nicklaus nodded his way.

``Thank you, Tom,'' Nicklaus said with a smile.

``Glad I could help,'' McCollister retorted, as the whole room broke up.

Today, McCollister covers the NASCAR beat for the newspaper after 20 years as the golf reporter.

``No, no, no, we threw the refrigerator away,'' Nicklaus says today of the whereabouts of the inspiration.

The caddy

Jack William Nicklaus II became a caddy by accident at age 14.

Jimmy Dickinson was scheduled to tote Jack's bag for the 1976 British Open at Royal Birkdale. However, while climbing the steep slope to the ninth green during the final practice round on Wednesday, Dickinson tore an Achilles' tendon.

``He had no one else to carry the bag, and I happened to be there at the time,'' Jackie, at age 34 the oldest of five Nicklaus children, recalls of his first father-son outing.

The successful week - Nicklaus finished in a tie for second behind Johnny Miller - put Jackie in position for an occasional caddying assignment. The 1982 Open at Pebble Beach was the most unforgettable.

You remember: Tom Watson chipped in on 17 to beat Nicklaus. Well, Jackie takes some of the blame for his father's second-place finish. After five straight birdies early in the final round, Jack leveled off. Jackie said he got too involved, too pumped - very uncaddylike.

``I kind of told myself that I was never going to let him see my response like that again,'' says Jackie, who in June 1985 had won the prestigious North and South Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2. ``Leading into the 1986 Masters, it was really a check.''

It was also Jackie's first tote for his father at Augusta National. In five previous Masters triumphs, Jack had used Augusta National caddy Willie Peterson. After the caddy field was opened in 1983, Nicklaus used different caddies every year until Jackie came on for '86. Jackie has been the caddy every year except 1992, when he was sick, and this year, when his wife is expecting their fourth child on Tuesday. need to make another one,'' Jackie kept telling his dad.

The surge - birdies on 10, 11, 13, 16 and 17, a bogey on 12 and an eagle on 15 - set off a continuous roar that nearly disturbed Jackie's mantra.

``I have been to a lot of sporting events, whether it be going to North Carolina basketball games at Carmichael Auditorium, football games, soccer matches .ƒ.ƒ. but I've never heard that noise level, even at a concert,'' Jackie says. ``I remember my ears were just ringing.''

The conferences to read putts, an inspirational exchange on an impending eagle in the 15th fairway and the final hug on 18 are the most-publicized father-son moments. But one split second on the 16th tee, seconds before a near ace, revealed just how special this day would be.

The eagle putt on 15 had the gallery yanking its hair out as Jack pulled a 5-iron on 16 and laced one toward the green.

``Be the right club,'' Jackie blurted out.

Nicklaus, whose poor vision kept him from seeing the ball catch the hump in the green and nearly roll in the hole, just looked at his son and winked.

``It is,'' Nicklaus said.

The family

Barbara Nicklaus very rarely sees the 18th green during one of her husband's rounds at Augusta National. Usually, she stands about halfway down the left side, near the fairway bunkers, waiting for her husband to finish. There she stood, over 150 yards away, in 1986 as her son and husband completed the final-round 65 and hugged on the back tier of the green - unbeknownst to her.

``Oh, yeah, wasn't it great?'' Barbara recalls telling well-wishers, with a raised eyebrow, at the end of that day. ``I didn't think that much about it, not seeing it all, until I got home the next morning and watched the tape of the final round. I got so choked up when I saw that embrace. Maybe it's a good thing I didn't see it live on Sunday.''

For the Nicklauses, it was an appropriate time for a small family reunion.

1986 hole-by-hole and stats

Photo: Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus
» 1986 Leaderboard 

Hole By Hole Scores
4th Round - The Augusta National
Rd 4444443453353344432343065
3rd Round - The Augusta National
Rd 3444353443344326453443569
2nd Round - The Augusta National
Rd 2454343444355434452543671
1st Round - The Augusta National
Rd 1455343454374544453443774

Tournament Recap
 EaglesBirdiesParsBogeys2X BogeysOther

Performance by Round
 Par 3sPar 4sPar 5s
Rnd 1+1+2-1
Rnd 2-1+2-2
Rnd 3-1-1-1
Rnd 4+1-4-4
All RndsE-1-8