Remembering the Golden Bear's win at Augusta 30 years ago

Warren Peper (left) interviews Jack Nicklaus in 1986 after he won a memorable championship at The Masters in Augusta.

It's been 30 years. At a place where time seems to stand still, three decades have passed since an old guy showed the young guys how it's done at Augusta National.

Among the azaleas, dogwoods, magnolias and roars from the gallery, Jack Nicklaus found something special at the age of 46 that produced one of the most amazing moments in sports history.

I was there that day and have the memories and one photograph to prove it.

Before another champion slips on the green jacket later this afternoon, indulge an old sportscaster for a moment while we recall what happened that sunny spring afternoon.

In 1986, the Golden Bear had not won in two years and some were dismissively calling him the “olden” bear. After rounds of 74-71-69, he was four shots out of the lead.

Stevie, one of his sons, called his father Sunday morning and asked how he felt. The prophetic elder Nicklaus replied, “I think 66 will tie and 65 will win.”

An Atlanta newspaper clipping from earlier in the week had been taped to the fridge saying that Nicklaus was, among other things, “washed-up,” “rusty” and “done.”

Nicklaus never mentioned it, but he'd seen it.

I arrived at the course about 11:30 that morning. The leaders wouldn't tee-off for a couple of hours and there would be plenty of time to eat one last egg salad sandwich in the media room. The conversation centered around names like Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman and Tom Kite, who were at the top of the leaderboard.

The sun was shining, the flowers had bloomed perfectly on schedule. Everything was in place for another Sunday shootout, but whomever was writing this script never included the guy who had won the event five times.

But then things started happening. After playing his first eight holes in a very forgettable fashion, Nicklaus' golf ball started finding the hole.

He rolled in a birdie on 9, another on 10 and yet another on the 11th hole. But a bogey on 12 left him 3 shots out of the lead and the crowd seemed to say, “Well, it was good while it lasted.”

With his 24-year-old son, Jackie, carrying his bag, Nicklaus then birdied 13. The swaying pines seemed to be quietly whispering “it's not over.”

At the 15th hole, a par 5, the man who won this event in 1963, 1965, 1966, 1972 and 1975 found himself 12 feet away from making eagle. In that familiar putting crouch, he rolled it in and the roar was deafening. Some concessionaires left their sandwich-selling stations to watch the Golden Bear emerge from hibernation. Women, some in heels, began walking briskly — there's no running allowed — to see the next shot.

At the 16th hole, Nicklaus hits another spectacular shot to 3 feet. He now trails by 1.

At 17, he rolls in a 12-footer and jumps into a 1-shot lead. A par at 18 gives him a 30 on the back 9 and a score of 65. The same score he stated early Sunday morning that would be the magic number.

Though he finished more than an hour before the final groups, his score was the one to beat.

Things I still remember from that day:

His son, Jackie, walking up the 18th so proudly soaking up the cheers directed to his dad.

Nicklaus raising that putter when the ball dropped for another birdie at 17.

The yellow shirt, which later seemed to fit so perfectly under a green jacket.

And the noise. The roars resembled something more akin to a Southern-fried football Saturday than a polite-applause golf clap on Sunday.

At the time, I remember feeling unequipped to properly describe what I had seen. I have my memories and that picture, though.

The recollections are worth saving. The picture? It looks more like an ad for Sans-a-Belt slacks than anything else.

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