I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’m not a golfer unless I’m competing with my daughters on the devilish holes of mini-golf. I wouldn’t argue if all of America’s golf courses were turned into parkland or used to build shelters for the homeless, people and pets, both.
And while I have spent my time walking 18 holes at the U.S. Women’s Open at Bethesda Country Club, the former Kemper Open at Avenel, the sweatfest at Kingsmill and a senior tournament or two, watching golf has hardly ever done anything for me. Give me “Bull Durham” instead of “Caddyshack” and “Hoosiers” over “Happy Gilmore” every time.
However, I’m a sucker for the old guy recaptures glory tale. So as the Masters begins today in Augusta, Ga., I can’t help but think back to 1986 and one of the few times I was inspired by events on the links. That was the year, of course, that 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus, then nearly twice my age and winless for two years, carded an incredible 30 on the back nine to win his sixth Masters and his 18th and final major.
If not quite as stirring as “Seabiscuit” or 40-year-old Sonny Jurgensen quarterbacking the Washington Redskins past the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphns a dozen years earlier, Nicklaus’ final holes did induce goosebumps in an already getting jaded young sportswriter. As I was writing this piece, I learned that ESPN has made a documentary, which premiered last night, about Nicklaus’ unexpected heroics at the ’86 Masters. Obviously, I’m not the only one who hasn’t forgotten what took place at Augusta a quarter century ago.
Just two years ago, at the British Open 59-year-old Tom Watson nearly outdid Nicklaus before a bogey on the 72nd hole forced him into a playoff which he lost decisively to Stewart Cink. A victory in a major less than a year shy of his 60th birthday would have been off the charts, but Watson couldn’t quite pull it off so Nicklaus’ epic 1986 Masters remains the standard for aging golfers on the world’s biggest stages. As was so often the case, The Golden Bear was simply, well, masterful.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.