IN 1986 BEER cost 82p a pint, the M25 had opened and Diego Maradona scored his infamous ‘hand of God’ goal against England in the World Cup quarter finals in Mexico. And Jack Nicklaus won his 18th major golf title aged 46.
To many of us it seems like only yesterday, and the fact that 29 years later he appears just as much a part of the golfing scene as he did then is the mark of enormous respect and regard golf fans hold him in. Maybe the affection during his earlier playing days was never quite as warm as it was towards Arnold Palmer, whose vulnerability was every bit as endearing as his talent, but what held Nicklaus apart and in such esteem was his ability to lose with every bit as much grace as he displayed when he won. On January 21st Nicklaus was 75.
Those who witnessed his titanic battle with Tom Watson at Turneberry in 1977 may not recall his comment, ‘You never begrudge somebody for doing something good. That’s all part of the game’ as Watson holed a monster putt on 15 to even up the round. Having parred the long 17th to Watson’s birdie Nicklaus then made a miraculous birdie, after draining an enormous putt from the front of the green, but it was not enough, as Watson birdied it too. Yet he still walked off with his arm around Watson as if they were simply two old pals having just enjoyed a friendly Sunday afternoon round on their local course.
His gallantry in conceding Tony Jacklin’s slippery little putt at Royal Birkdale during the 1969 Ryder Cup match because ‘I did not want him to miss it,’ and which squared the match and the contest after years of British and Irish defeats did not go down too well with some of his team mates but showed the sportsmanship and stature of the man. That one act has gone down in golfing folklore.
And then there were all those runner up spots in the four major tournaments; 19 in all, plus a further nine third places over a period of 25 years to go with his six Masters’ victories, four US Open Championships, three Open Championships and five PGA victories. No one has ever dominated major tournaments for as long as he did beating the world’s finest over three decades.