Between the Pines 25 Years Ago

By Rex HoggardApril 3, 2011, 4:34 pm

Even Jack Nicklaus’ memory is Memorex ripe when it comes to 1986. Asked recently what club he hit into Augusta National’s 17th green on that fateful Sunday 25 years ago, the Golden One gleamed: “Pitching wedge, 110 yards . . . close enough?

“I don't remember what I hit on 11 but I hit the putt and I hit a 7-iron into (No.) 12 and played 3-iron into 13. I think I played 7-iron into 14. I hit a 4-iron into 15. I hit a 5-iron on 16. I hit pitching wedge at 17 and I hit 5-iron at 18,” Nicklaus continued. “But outside of that, I can't remember.”

It’s a testament to the significance of the event that even the guy who penned the game’s greatest chapter can be infected by the “what were you doing when . . .?” bug. Nicklaus’ 1986 Masters victory transcended sports and time – like the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team’s “Miracle on Ice” or Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962.

Anyone within ear-shot of a small-screen, low-def television can remember the eagle at the 15th followed by workman-like birdies at Nos. 16 and 17. There was Seve Ballesteros’ watery 4-iron on the 15th hole and Greg Norman, poor Greg Norman, who needed a par at the last to force a playoff , but instead could only manage a skanky 4-iron. Bogey. Bring on the marching band.

A golf course designer five years removed from his last major won his sixth green jacket in “the December of my career” he explained to a stunned press corps. Scribes who were there still recall thinking that this one was “too big to write.” And preeminent golf writer Dan Jenkins seemed to have nailed it with his lead:

“If you want to put golf back on the front pages again and you don't have a Bobby Jones or a Francis Ouimet handy, here's what you do: You send an aging Jack Nicklaus out in the last round of the Masters and let him kill more foreigners than a general named Eisenhower.”

Average people with no more than a passing interest in the game remember Nicklaus’ ’86 masterpiece like child births and weddings, some taken by the competitive perfection of it, all others the timelessness of the achievement.

Nicklaus started the final round tied for ninth and four strokes behind Norman, who turned in 1 under before things unraveled with a double bogey at the 10th hole. With 10 holes to play, Nicklaus was still six strokes adrift of front-runner Ballesteros. But he closed with a back-nine 30, which has been bested by only two others in Masters’ history, and signed for a 65, which tied for the day’s lowest card.

But as clutch as Nicklaus’ Sunday play was it is another number that captivated fans, fervent or otherwise. At 46 years old Nicklaus was, at best, a part-time player and, unlike the modern game which has been dominated in recent years by forty-somethings thanks to technology and fitness advances, was viewed in many ways as a ceremonial golfer.

“I don't even know why I was playing golf then. I don’t really,” Nicklaus said. “I was doing my golf course design work, but I really liked to play golf. I didn't want to quit playing golf but I really didn't have any goals. So from about (1980) on, I was there. And then just sort of lightning in a bottle I suppose in many ways.”

What transpired between the pines that Sunday 25 years ago left an indelible mark on an entire generation, to say nothing of a young Englishman who has no trouble filling in the blank “where were you when . . .?”

“The players’ locker room to just watch how it all unfolded,” Sandy Lyle recalls with little prompting.

“When Norman made four birdies in a row I thought Norman was going to nip (Nicklaus), but then Norman makes such a mess at the 18th hole. Everything was unfolding in Nicklaus’ favor. The old devil made a great effort with his 65 but you could see the golfing gods were watching over him.”

Lyle had the closest thing to a front-row seat for anyone not named Nicklaus that day. He teed off with Nicklaus that April afternoon about 45 minutes before the leaders – just far enough out of the conversation to keep his mind from wondering. Or so he thought.

“I was not thinking we had much of a chance to win the tournament. Jack may have been,” said Lyle, who had never played with Nicklaus, his boyhood hero.

But then there was the birdie at No. 2 when Nicklaus landed his 7-iron approach shot in an area about the size of a “biscuit tin” for birdie. And at the eighth, when the eventual champion emerged from the trees where he’d hit his drive: “He came walking toward me with a big grin. ‘I tried to go through a gap of 6 feet and went through a gap of 6 inches,’ he said. He missed his target, but he made par,” Lyle remembers.

For the rest of the day Lyle watched, intently. Although he would go on to sign for a 1-under 71, and claim his own green jacket two years later, Lyle admits now, in the December of his career, he was more patron than player that day.

“I was very aware history was sort of unfolding. I had my own battle going on, but I was almost spectating with the last two or three holes. Jack was in overdrive,” he said.

With almost more clarity than Nicklaus, Lyle can recount Nicklaus’ back nine like a court reporter. At the 13th hole when Nicklaus’ son, Jackie, turned and pleaded, “This is no good for my young heart.” Nicklaus’ eagle at the 15th hole, his birdie at No. 16 with “an absolute classic shot” and the “wonderful putt” from 12 feet for birdie at No. 17.

“The noise level by the time he made the eagle at 15 was deafening. You could hear the golfing gods,” Lyle recalls as his memory races back 25 years.

Lyle tied for 11th in 1986, but he likely couldn’t tell you that. For nine holes Lyle, the competitor, was transformed into Lyle, the witness to history, just like the rest of us. The only difference is he had a better view.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.