AUGUSTA, Ga. — The great Jack Nicklaus is getting a lot of questions this week about the 30th anniversary of his spectacular sixth Masters victory, a 1986 charge for the ages at age 46.
It’s also the 50th anniversary of Nicklaus becoming the first back-to-back Masters winner. In 1966, Augusta National co-founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts were initially unsure how to conduct a ceremony in which the past champion helps the new winner slip into a green jacket.
“Cliff and I have discussed the problem,” Jones finally told Nicklaus, “and have decided you will just have to put the coat on yourself.”
A half-century later, Jordan Spieth wore a teal shirt and a tell-tale smile Thursday while slapping a row of hands on his way off the 18th hole. Which, of course, he birdied.
“I don’t know what it is about this place,” Spieth said to playing partner Bryson DeChambeau, the U.S. Amateur Champion. “I just love putting here.”
The 22-year-old Texan shot a first-round 66 on a breezy day to seize the Masters lead, continuing to defy the laws of American youth and Augusta gravity. A bogey-free day for Spieth, who tied Tiger Woods’ Masters record at 18 under par last year and finished tied for second in his 2014 debut.
Most guys 22 are out looking for their first apartment and some BOGO frozen pizzas. Unspeakably steady Spieth has yet to play a Masters round over par.
This isn’t supposed to happen, mostly because the back-to-back thing almost never happens here. Nicklaus, Nick Faldo (1990) and Woods (2002) are the only repeat champions.
The challenge for the defending champ comes with the usual roadblocks, prickly pin placements and then some.
Even with Woods still at home healing and no longer ferocious, it’s one of the most competitive Masters fields in years. Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day are the freshly anointed Big Three.
Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion and defending British Open champ, is among those who insist the Augusta layout favors lefties. That includes Bubba Watson, the winner in 2012 and 2014, and an always capable three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson.
More than anything else, demands come with a green jacket, making that next 12 months an obligatory grind. The Spieth Show has been on display between the ropes in China, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Australia and the Bahamas — just since Halloween.
“For somebody who did travel and burn out a little bit from the travel overseas, I think he did do a little bit too much,” ESPN analyst Curtis Strange said. “But … I think it was good that he did it this early in his career because he learned from it.”
Strange is one of only eight players to win consecutive majors since Nicklaus’ 1966 breakthrough at Augusta:
Masters — Faldo (1989-1990) and Woods (2001-2002).
U.S. Open — Strange (1988-1989).
British Open — Lee Trevino (1971-1972), Tom Watson (1982-1983), Woods (2005-2006), Padraig Harrington (2007-2008).
PGA Championship — Woods (1999-2000) and (2006-2007).
After Nicklaus’ repeat, they figured out a better way to re-present a Masters green jacket. Chairman Hord Hardin did the honors for Faldo in 1990 and chairman Hootie Johnson for Woods in 2002.
Current chairman Billy Payne is in the bullpen if needed for Spieth on Sunday.
Paul Casey, who played with Spieth on Thursday, said the defending champion “just exudes.”
“It’s a confidence,” Casey said. “It’s the way he walks. It’s the way he stands. It goes all the way through from the way he speaks and the way he shakes your hand and the way he deals with people as well. It’s wonderful.”
Tradition says a Spieth Streak shouldn’t happen. And that 22-year-olds in their third Masters should have played an over-par round by now.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff