Jack's epic win at 1975 Masters was the first tournament I watched -- and I was hooked

Jack’s epic win at 1975 Masters was the first tournament I watched — and I was hooked

Jack Nicklaus’s display at the 16th contributed to the near perfection of the ’75 Masters, which hooked one viewer for life.
Stephen Green Armytage / Sports Illustrated

The first golf tournament I can remember watching on TV was the 1975 Masters, which from a golf history standpoint is a bit like enlisting in the military and starting as a general. After the ’86 Masters, when Jack Nicklaus put an excla­mation point on his career with a comeback victory at age 46, the ’75 Masters might be the finest golf tournament ever played.

Those who had an ear for commentary contend that it was also one of the finest combinations of words put to events, with the renowned British writer Henry Longhurst on the call when Nicklaus made the 40-foot birdie putt up the hill on the 16th green that would prove to be the difference. Longhurst had written about the time as a schoolboy studying the classics when he first saw golf being played, noting that he was “gazing at them—the caddies, not the golfers—with deepest envy as I peered surreptitiously up from the Greek unseen.” Soon after, he was hooked for life, and so was I after watching Jack make that monster putt and explode in excitement.

When the pandemonium subsided, the great Longhurst said, “My my . . . in all my life I have never seen a putt quite like that.” Then the camera found its way back to the tee. Tom Weiskopf, having just made birdie at the 15th to take a one-shot lead over Jack and a two-shot advantage over Johnny Miller, stood pondering his fate. “And now he must take it, just like he dished it out,” Longhurst whispered.

No other tournament sears the shots struck or the putts holed into our memories quite like the Masters, or for that matter the words uttered by those with the insights and elocution to match the skill of the players. It is this blending of elements, each approaching perfection, that makes so many actions that occur among those Georgia pines indelible.

What this 12-year-old didn’t know as he was watching that epic Sunday unfold was the backstory of the three combatants: Nicklaus, Miller and Weiskopf. They had all already won on Tour that year. Miller had three early wins; Nicklaus had won at Doral and the Heritage; Weiskopf won the week before Augusta at Greensboro. They were golf’s three best players, each on top of his game, with Johnny and Tom emerging as the closest rivals to Jack. If there had been world rankings, that trio would probably have held the top three spots.

In addition Miller and Weiskopf were eager to erase the disappointment of past runner-up finishes at Augusta and to add to the one major each had won in 1973. Meanwhile, Nicklaus was going for his 13th major championship, a number that would tie him with Bobby Jones. Imagine the hype a story like that would get today—if Tiger were sitting on 17 majors and was rallying to tie Jack’s total of 18 while Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy exchanged blows with him on the back nine on Sunday afternoon.

I was too young and too new to the game to fully appreciate what I was watching as I sat next to my dad in the living room of our house in Irving, Texas. And yet I remember almost every shot.

Looking back at it is a pleasure, and nostalgia is a big part of why Augusta National, in a world full of exclamation points, can whisper to us and still hold our attention. Every shot and every hole has context as each brings back memories of green-jacket glory. I’m old enough now to know that tournaments rarely conform to the ideal script, but with Tiger’s reclaimed potency, Phil’s dramatic flair and Rory’s promise this Masters could produce the same magic that hooked me in ’75.