You haven’t seen the last Nicklaus memory |

You haven’t seen the last Nicklaus memory

by Steve Yingling

It didn’t matter that those persistent flakes were parachuting into their favorite town again Sunday afternoon. Spring bloomed indoors on this wintry day as the final round of a stirring Masters unfolded before millions of viewers’ eyes.

Although we couldn’t slip out the front door in shorts and thongs to see reawakening azaleas and dogwoods, CBS instead brought us Nicklaus’ annual spring rite from the Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta, Ga.

There is no golf fan alive who can resist a Masters with Jack Nicklaus in contention. It could have been 80 degrees Sunday and I wouldn’t have budged from the wooden chair strategically parked several feet in front of the TV.

Nicklaus has been the backbone of golf for four decades and was Tiger Woods before Tiger himself. Just to be sure, the 58-year-old Nicklaus reminded us this past weekend that golf still hasn’t passed him by. The father of five and grandfather of eight once again defied age by finishing a record sixth in his 40th visit to Augusta. In the process, he left “Bear” tracks on the defending Masters champion, beating the 22-year-old Woods by two strokes.

I’m sure the sports book at Stateline were cringing a bit as Nicklaus flirted with the lead halfway through the final round. After all, he was a 100-1 longshot to win the event.

If Nicklaus would have won, it’d been the most amazing sports feat for somebody over 50 during our lifespan. Still, it’s probably the 1998 sports story of the year. When you realize that the course designer no longer plays on a daily or weekly basis like the yuppies he dueled with Sunday, his near victory was nothing short of extraordinary. Factor in an arthritic hip, bad back and a shortened swing, and you wonder how he mastered all but five of the world’s-best golfers.

Of course, 40 years of learning all of Augusta’s pitfalls and intricacies makes this fan believe Nicklaus could play the Masters after sunset and still make the cut.

It’s not the first time Nicklaus defied the logic of aging. Many golf observers wrote off Nicklaus prior to his 1986 visit to Augusta when the then 46-year-old crafted an unbelievable back-nine 30 to tailor his sixth green jacket.

Does this mean we’ll have to wait 12 years for a 70-year-old Nicklaus to provide his next Masters memory? I don’t think so!

Shame on the national golf columnists who have suggested that Nicklaus is taking up space and shouldn’t accept the United State Golf Association’s U.S. Open exemptions for 1998 through 2000. Californians enamored with Nicklaus should take a special interest in the 1998 and 2000 Opens since they’ll be played at the Olympic Club in San Francisco and Pebble Beach, respectively. These may be our final chances to see Nicklaus play in person.

As competitive as he is, Nicklaus will know when the time is right to surrender his place in golf. Just think of what we would have missed on Sunday if Nicklaus had listened to the critical national magazines and newspapers and sat out the Masters.

As well as the heady Nicklaus manages his game and knows the major tournament layouts, there’s no telling if he’ll ever be too old to compete.

Considering that 66-year-old Gay Brewer shot an opening-round, even-par 72 and 62-year-old Gary Player made the cut, it’s not too presumptuous to say that the game’s greatest golfer can make the leader board into his 60s.

Year after year, the Masters commences with ceremonial tee shots by Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead. I can’t see an 85-year-old Nicklaus doing that. If Nicklaus can make the first tee, he’ll play them all.

Here’s one golf fan that hopes Nicklaus keeps on competing in all four majors until he dies. He’s sports’ all-time greatest on and off the playing field.

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