Know Jack: Mom, Marilyn and the '86 Masters

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Jack Nicklaus with mother Helen and sister Marilyn at the 1986 Masters. (Getty Images)

Marilyn Hutchinson looked up and she was gone. A sight to see, a 78-year-old woman racing up a hill to the 17th hole at Augusta National to watch her 46-year-old son try and win the Masters.

“She had her adrenaline flowing,” Marilyn says. “I turned around and she was gone. She wasn’t gonna miss a moment.”

Helen Nicklaus was attending her first Masters since her first Masters. She, Jack Nicklaus’ sister Marilyn and future wife Barbara all made the trip to Augusta in 1959. Helen and Marilyn hadn’t since been back – it was always more of a boy’s trip, one for Jack’s dad, Charlie, who died in 1970, and his gang.

But, because she wasn’t sure how many more opportunities she’d get, Helen told her son: “I think I’d like to go to the Masters one more time before I pass."

Let's make it the next one, Jack told her. The next one being in 1986.

As usual, it was a family affair for the Nicklaus’ at a major. But it wasn’t the usual crew. The three ladies were there, as were two of Marilyn’s sons, Steve, then 12, and Bobby, 19, and her husband, Howdy – the Hutchinson family and Mom having driven from Ohio. Uncle Frank and Aunt Rachel were there, and so was son Jackie – his first turn as caddie at the Masters.


Jack: A collection of Nicklaus stories


But son Gary was back home in Florida. Son Steve was working in Mississippi. And daughter Nan flew to Dallas to be with friends. After all, who wins the Masters in their mid-40s?

To look back on it now, you’d have to credit fate as playing a key role in Jack’s 18th and final major victory. But nobody was thinking about it at the time.

As legendary golf stories go, this one might be the easiest for golf fans to detail. Who among us hasn’t read or seen or heard everything that has been made available?

  • The poor play leading into the event.
  • The Tom McAllister newspaper clipping proclaiming Jack’s demise pinned to his rental home fridge by friend John Montgomery.
  • The MacGregor Response ZT 615 putter.
  • Trailing by six entering the final round.
  • The phone call to Steve in which father and son felt 65 was the winning number.
  • “How far do you think a 3 would go here?”
  • “Be right.” “It is.”
  • “Maybe … Yes, sir!”
  • Jack’s company having redesigned the 18th green at Augusta National so he was well aware of the speed he needed to hit his 40-foot approach putt to secure par – and a 65.

Gary was about to go scuba diving with friends that Sunday afternoon. He had pulled out the boat when his dad birdied the ninth. They decided to watch Nos. 10 and 11. When he birdied the 11th, Gary told one of his buddies to put the boat up.

Steve was watching from a clubhouse in Hattiesburg, Miss., where he was helping run the opposite-field [and then-unofficial] Deposit Guaranty Golf Classic.

Nan, a University of Georgia student, less than two hours from Augusta, was watching with about 15 of her friends at an SMU apartment.

Unfortunately for Uncle Frank and Aunt Rachel, they decided to beat traffic and left at the turn.

The rest of the family in attendance watched Jack finish out and embrace Jackie. After signing his card, father and son went to Jones Cabin to see how the event would play out.

Now you might not know this, but Jack is superstitious. He gets that from his mom. Jack missed the cut in his first Masters, that one time Helen had attended. She didn’t want to jinx him in the future.

“I’m sitting down and I’m watching [Greg] Norman make birdie after birdie after birdie comin’ home,” Nicklaus says. “And I said, ‘I can’t sit here.’ I says, ‘I’m bringing too much good luck.’ I don’t ever want to wish anyone bad luck, but I don’t wanna really give him good luck.”

So Jack got up and walked behind a couch. Tom Kite missed a 12-footer for birdie to tie on the 18th. And Norman, tied for the lead on the 72nd hole, pushed his approach shot into the gallery and made bogey.

Jack had his sixth green jacket and, for the first time, Mom and Sis were able to witness.

“She was elated,” Marilyn says. “He had given her a gift she’d never forget.”

After more hugs and tears, and the jacket ceremony and news conference, the family was invited to dinner in the clubhouse. Marilyn had to find jackets for the boys.

“It was phenomenal,” Barbara says. “It was just a happy, happy, happy evening.”

And as Marilyn says about the car ride back home that Monday: “We were happy and singing and living the day.”