A stirring account of the most memorable victory of golf’s greatest champion.
In 1965, marveling at the talent of the young Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones remarked, “He plays a game with which I am not familiar.” Nicklaus would go on to win a record 18 professional major championships, but by the 1986 Masters he was winless for two years, with no majors for six. Most thought him well past his prime, too old at 46 to win another. And then, for four days in April, the Golden Bear did the improbable, reminding everyone why we’ve never seen a golfer with such focus, discipline and pride. Former New York Times reporter Clavin (That Old Black Magic: Louis Prima, Keely Smith, and the Golden Age of Las Vegas, 2010, etc.) pays principal attention to the ’86 tournament and Nicklaus’ daily progress, focusing particularly on Sunday’s back nine. However, the author frequently departs from what might otherwise be a prosaic stroke-by-stroke report with discussions of Augusta National’s evolution and descriptions of the course and its famed magnolias, pines, dogwoods and azaleas; the history of the Masters, where the parade of glittering contestants amounts to a history of modern golf; the impressive 1986 field, featuring Ballesteros, Price, Norman, Langer, Kite, Crenshaw, Floyd, Watson, Strange, Couples and O’Meara, all of whom figured far more than Nicklaus to emerge triumphant; and Nicklaus’ stellar career, his unprecedented achievements and the rich experience he brought to this moment that thrilled the gallery and brought many observers to tears. Nicklaus always had the respect of golf fans, but in 1986, Augusta’s “patrons” gave themselves to him wholly, pulling unabashedly for him to prevail.
For golf fans, of course, but also for anyone who cherishes signature moments in sports history.