By Doug Ferguson
AP Golf Writer
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jack Nicklaus II tried to keep it as simple as possible as a caddie: Keep the clubs clean, get the right yardage and let his father do the rest.
That was 30 years ago.
The oldest son of Jack Nicklaus wound up riding shotgun for one of the greatest rides in Augusta National history.
“He was teared up at virtually every tee,” Jackie Nicklaus said. “I was teared up. I would not let him see my emotions. He was wiping tears off his cheek. It was amazing that he kept collecting himself and getting the job done. Think about the overwhelming pressure to perform, knowing this might be your last chance to win a major.”
The 1986 Masters remains among the most famous of them all.
Nicklaus, golf’s greatest major champion, was 46 and had not won a tournament in two years. No one was expecting that to change at Augusta National, even for a man who already possessed five green jackets.
It was not unusual for Nicklaus to have his sons caddie for him, usually Jackie or Steve.
“I wasn’t playing that much,” Nicklaus said. “I said to the kids, ‘Would you like to caddie?’ And so they started splitting it up. I think Jackie took the Masters and I think he had the Open, and Steve had the British Open and the PGA. So that’s what they did. And so he just happened to be on the bag.
“But to have him on the bag when you won your last major? Yeah, that’s pretty special. There’s no question about it.”
Nicklaus was four shots behind going into the final round in 1986, still not looked upon to win on a leaderboard stacked with future Hall of Famers in their prime — Greg Norman in the lead, Tom Kite, Seve Ballesteros, Tom Watson.
What followed was a charge that still resonates at Augusta National. Nicklaus shot 30 on the back nine, even with a bogey on No. 12, and shot 65 to win by one shot for a record sixth Masters title and his 18th and final professional major.
He hit 5-iron into the par-3 16th and his vision wasn’t great. Jackie said to the ball, “Be right.” Nicklaus stooped over to pick up his tee and said, “It is.” The ball settled 4 feet away and the cheers were so loud that every player knew what it meant.
Jackie Nicklaus played a role, too.
The six-time Masters champion still jokes that even for his sons, the role of a caddie was to show up, keep up and shut up. There was some truth to that.
“Dad did not rely on his caddie as much as some of the golfers do on the tour,” Jackie said. “Some guys I watch get frustrated with their caddie. Maybe it was a bad read, a club selection, and it’s the caddie’s fault. I’ve never seen my dad do that. It was his club selection, his choice. He might asked me to read a putt. But he always took full responsibility on the golf course.”
Nicklaus said Jackie, who played at North Carolina and a year earlier had won the prestigious North & South Amateur at Pinehurst, was good at reading putts. He called him over for the most important one of the final round.
The birdie on No. 16 gave Nicklaus a share of the lead, and he faced about a 12-foot birdie putt on the 17th.
“I thought the putt went to the right, away from Rae’s Creek,” Jackie said. “I thought it was an inch outside the hole. Dad says, ‘You know what? This is where Rae’s Creek comes in play. I don’t believe that putt goes right. I think it goes left.’ He compromised. If you look at the putt, it looks like it wanted to go right, and then it corrects its line and it found the center of the hole.”
Nicklaus said his father returned to that spot on No. 17 each year at the Masters and could never create the same putt and have it break the way it did in 1986.
“I hold that as one of the magical things that happen at Augusta,” Jackie said.
For Nicklaus, the magic was having his son on the bag with him every step of the way.
The status outside Nicklaus’ home club at Muirfield Village is the pose of him raising the putter when the birdie putt drops on the 17th. More special to Nicklaus was the embrace he shared with his son when he tapped in for par on the 18th hole.
“I think I have better perspective now than I did when I was 24 years old,” Jackie said. “What I relish about it today is the time I was able to share with my Dad when he won his sixth green jacket, and his final major. It was pretty incredible.”