For any sport, the personal attachments are endless. In fact, it’s long been a theory that certain sporting events become more a rite of passage than simply a competition for podium positions. The individual moments of skill, the epic comebacks, the demoralising defeats and those trailblazing victories – they all serve as by-products to a sport’s complex emotions which, in turn, create a conveyor-belt of lasting memories. It may sound extreme, but such moments have a huge bearing on the way many people shape their lives.
When I first saw Jack Nicklaus winning the US Masters in 1986 at the age of ten, I had little understanding or appreciation of the victory. A golf-mad family and a smattering of books around the house meant I knew who Jack was (although the blonde locks were occasionally mixed up with those of Johnny Miller’s), but there was no knowledge of the Masters or, for that matter, the fact that a 46-year-old had just completed one of the most extraordinary feats in modern-day sport.
What I did have, however, was an the image of Nicklaus wielding his putter towards the clouds, knees bending as he begins to stalk down a grease-like putt on Augusta National’s 17th green. From replayed television footage or numerous still shots, you can’t really make out much of the hole due to the ground-level camera angle and the rolling contours of the green. But you rely on Jack’s piercing eyes – and the rising heads of the galleries – to let you know it’s searing dead centre towards the cup. Once it drops, all hell breaks loose.
Over the years, personal research has helped to develop a more acute understanding of how Jack won on that day. There are many other powerful images, but this single moment carries with it something much deeper. It resonates with golf fanatics more than Jack being presented with his sixth Green Jacket by Bernhard Langer, more even than Jack accepting the applause on Augusta’s 18th after completing the back nine in just 30 strokes for a Sunday 65. I sometimes wonder if things had turned out differently. What if the great man had bogeyed the 18th to finish one back? Or if Greg Norman hadn’t pushed his approach into the galleries on the same hole to end any hope of a two-way play-off? Would we still picture this with the same feeling of romance? The answer is, undoubtedly, no.