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Young Jack The Mighty Master

This article on Jack Nicklaus's win at the 1963 Masters first appeared in the April 15, 1963, issue of Sports Illustrated.

AN IMPERTINENT SPEEDUP IN THE CYCLES OF GOLF

Thanks to an early Georgia springtime, the Augusta National golf course was at its pink-and-white loveliest last week, with the azaleas and dogwood gaily blooming. It seemed a most inappropriate place to use a bludgeon, yet that is what big, smart Jack Nicklaus did as he became, at 23, the youngest golfer ever to win the most cherished tournament of them all. The blows that made the Masters his were struck on Friday when he shot a 66 that has to rank as one of the finest single rounds ever played at Augusta National. It put the course at his feet and the tournament in his palm, and gave him the edge he needed to coolly survive the last-round histrionics which have become as much a part of the Masters championship as Bobby Jones and the green coats given to the winners. After that 66, nobody really thought Jack Nicklaus could lose the Masters, and that includes Nicklaus himself.

SI Vault Now he has won, and it seems the cycles of golf are moving ever more rapidly. As the eras have succeeded one another — from Jones and Hagen to Nelson to Hogan and Snead to Palmer — each has followed the next more closely. With his Masters win, Nicklaus apparently has resolved to start a new era before that of Palmer (and to a lesser extent, Player) has even begun to ebb. If you did that in show business, they would murder you for stepping on the other fellow's lines. But Jack may get away with it.

For a few minutes on the last day, however, it looked as if Nicklaus was not going to get away with anything, least of all the Masters championship. It was a time of testing, and a time of rare excitement, and it began as Nicklaus stepped to the 10th tee at 3:30 p.m. He had just made the turn in 37, losing half of the two-stroke advantage over par he had held when the day began. By that time Sam Snead, who was playing the 13th hole, was trailing Jack by only a stroke, having had an excellent first nine of 35. Gary Player, who was on the 14th hole and playing better than anyone else in contention, was tied with Snead. So was Tony Lema, who was on the 11th fairway, a couple of twosomes in front of Nicklaus. And steady, phlegmatic Julius Boros, Nicklaus' playing partner for the day, was casually swinging along only two strokes behind Jack — or one over par for the tournament.

For the next hour and more, the respective positions of these five players were scrambled and rescrambled so rapidly that one might have thought the scoreboards around the course were being operated by the dealer in a five-card monte game. The first important change came after Lema got a bogey 5 on the 11th hole, his first major lapse of the afternoon. He hit his second shot fat, barely reaching the front edge of the long green, and it took him three putts to get down from a good 100 feet away. Shortly thereafter Snead sank a dizzily winding 35-foot putt at the treacherous 14th green to go one under par. So at 3:50 in the afternoon, the five contenders stood:

Nicklaus, on 12 — one under

Snead, on 15 — one under

Player, on 15 — even

Boros, on 12 — one over

Lema, on 13 — one over.

Now it was Player's turn to arouse the enormous galleries that had rushed to the far southwestern corner of the course where most of the action was in progress. Gary's drive was too short on the 520-yard 15th to risk trying to carry the pond in front of the green with his second, although there was hardly a breath of wind. Instead he hit a safe shot short of the water with an iron. Then he pitched his third just 15 feet from the pin and sank the putt for a birdie. The victory that had seemed so remote to him throughout the tournament suddenly appeared within reach, and Gary did a little dance on the green, waved his white cap in the air and replaced it at a cockeyed angle.

Snead, following in the next twosome, hit a good drive and then carried the pond with as hard a three-wood as he could muster, leaving his ball eight feet short of the green and only 30 feet from the hole. He was easily down in two for his birdie, and now was two under par.

Meanwhile, Nicklaus was having his miseries on 12, a 155-yard hole that involves shooting across a swale and a pond to a narrow green. "Just about that time, Snead had birdied a couple of holes in a row and the crowd was cheering. It probably bothered me," Nicklaus said later. "I came off a seven-iron a little and hit it into the trap in front of the green."

He hit his shot out of the wet bunker well across the green, and his third shot was still eight feet from the hole. "I knew I'd better not miss that putt," he said. "Sinking it made a tremendous amount of difference." Still, the bogey dropped him to even par, while Boros was getting his birdie 2 and Lema was sinking a putt for a birdie 4 on 13. So at 4 o'clock they stood:

Snead, on 16 — two under

Player, on 16 — one under

Nicklaus, on 13 — even

Boros, on 13 — even

Lema, on 14 — even.

It was during the next half hour that the final scrambling took place, and the tournament was decided. Player, who was the first to finish, took bogey 5s on both the 17th and 18th holes, a depressing ending to his fine bid. Snead, while still in the lead, hit his four-iron tee shot badly at the 16th. It stopped on the front part of the green, 50 feet from the cup, and from there Snead three-putted for a bogey. Moments later he bogeyed the 18th after a poor second shot to play himself out of contention.

Lema was the next to finish, and he arrived at the 18th still even with par after his birdie on the 13th. Tony hit his second shot on 18 some 25 feet above the pin and to the right, leaving himself a terrifying downhill putt over the hump of the green with a sharp break to the right. His only hope for a tie was to sink it, for Nicklaus was again two under.

Lema looked over this scary putt with a poise that denied the torment inside him. For all one could tell, he might have been playing a $2 Nassau on Wednesday afternoon back home in San Leandro. Then he addressed the ball and barely moved it with his putter. Down the hill it rolled — curving, curving, always seeming on the verge of stopping, until, just as Tony leaped into the air, it dropped solidly into the middle of the cup.

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