They are playing the Masters Golf Tournament this week. The azaleas and dogwoods are blooming and the weather has turned cooler, as it always does for the Masters. Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player are the “starters” this year. It’s part of the Masters tradition to have previous winners begin the match by starting the first round. The fact that Nicklaus is here this year reminds me of a story I’ve told before. Many years ago I was obsessed with the game of golf. I had played it in Florida, and had read all the books on the “secret” of good playing (the secret is a God given talent and years of intense practice) and I loved the sport. Shortly after I came to Atlanta in 1962, I made friends with one of the sales ladies at WSB-TV who was a former women’s’ amateur golf champion. She and I shared long talks about the game. With her golf connections, she got me a ticket to the Ryder’s Cup playoff in 1963 which was played at East Lake Golf Club.
A very young Jack Nicklaus was the hottest thing in golf in those days, and he was on the American Team and my hero. He had been burning up the pro circuit and took time out to represent America for the Ryder’s Cup. Not for money, but for the prestige of retaining the Cup for America.
I so well remember that cool morning when I went out to East Lake. Since I was most interested in Nicklaus I followed him. And he was playing by himself way ahead of the field so I took off and headed for one of the par 4 holes way out on the course. I was all alone out there when I saw Nicklaus and his caddie really hustling along. I stepped back in the shadows and watched as they approached. They didn’t even know I was there.
I honestly don’t remember how long that par 4 hole was, but I do know it was LONG. The flag was just a tiny flutter way in the distance. Nicklaus pulled out his driver and asked his caddie, “Do you think I can make it in one?”
The old caddie hesitated. He had caddied for many players on this course and probably knew every blade of grass intimately. Finally he quietly said, “No suh, I don’t believe you can make it in one, but you can try.”
Nicklaus wasted no time. He was known as one of the fastest players on the circuit. He addressed the ball, wiggled his rump and took a mighty swing at the ball. There was just a click when the club head hit that ball and the tee jumped backward two feet.
The ball flew and flew curving slightly to the left in flight. Nicklaus and his caddie took off at a trot before the ball landed, and I stepped out of the trees to watch. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The ball hit, hopped three or four times, and as if it had a mind of its own, I saw that tiny white spot roll well up on the green. It was an easy tap in for Nicklaus to get his eagle.
I just now looked it up and America won the Ryder’s Cup that year. I didn’t know it then, nor did I really care. I left the course well satisfied. In a private moment all by myself out on that course I had seen what I wanted to see. Jack Nicklaus at his finest.