Far as we know, Jack Nicklaus is not truckproof. Any self-respecting out-of-control 18-wheeler would turn him into a thin-crust pizza same as it would anyone else. A California grizzly would treat him like a between-meal snack and not even think to ask for his autograph. Anything could happen to the greatest golfer who ever lived, which is why Augusta National Golf Club should honor him soon, honor him the way it has honored Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen, which is to say, with a monument.
Not that the folks who run the Masters are tight, but it has been 36 years since they gave somebody a monument. Might be fun.
In 1955 they dedicated a bridge leading to the 15th green to Gene Sarazen and his double eagle there 20 years before. Sarazen was 53 years old at the dedication ceremony and still playing good golf. In 1958 they built a new bridge at the 12th, the meanest little par-3 in the world, and dedicated it to Hogan, the meanest little golfer in history. Hogan was 46 at the time and still playing good golf. That same day they dedicated a bridge to Nelson at 13, which he had played in eagle, eagle, birdie, birdie en route to tying for second in 1947. Nelson was then 46 and still playing the Masters, if nothing else.
Nicklaus, of course, hasn't done much at Augusta. He has only won six Masters, two more than anybody else. He is the oldest to win one (46 in 1986) and, for 17 years, he was the youngest (23 in '63, but Seve Ballesteros was two months younger when he won in '80). He was the best—his 64 in 1965 held up as the course record for 21 years, and his 271 four-day total that year still stands, though Ray Floyd equaled it in 1976. He was also the first golfer to win back-to-back Masters, and nobody else has gone longer (23 years) between his first win and his last at Augusta. He has won four more Masters than Hogan and Nelson and five more than Sarazen. This week he will play in his 36th Masters. He is 54 years old and still playing good golf. Of course, call us when he really does something.
The fact that one Augusta landmark or another has not been rechristened in Nicklaus's name is obviously just an oversight. Maybe nobody has thought about it. And owing to the fact that Augusta's members are probably very busy right now yelling at the azaleas to hurry up and bloom, we herewith and helpfully submit a way they can honor Nicklaus rightly and well.
First off, any monument to him has to be at the 16th. If there is one hole in the world where the Nicklaus legend has been written, it's that fetching 170-yard par-3, with its mirrorlike pond in front, its narrow green banked like the number 3 turn at Daytona, its azalea amphitheater behind and its huge, happy galleries.
Without 16, Nicklaus's green sport coat collection might have been cut in half. In the 1963 Masters, Fat Jack (left) knocked a five-iron 13 feet from the flag on Sunday and flushed the putt to take the fizz out of Champagne Tony Lema and win. Two years later he made the last birdie of his third-round 64 there en route to his gaudy, nine-shot win. In '72 he dunked a 22-footer on Thursday that finished off an unthinkable streak of birdie, birdie, birdie, par, eagle, birdie from 11 through 16. He went on to win easily. In '75 he sank a 40-foot snake at 16 on Sunday, a Family Circus job that went up a slope, down a slope, stopped for coffee, made a few turns and finally proceeded into the hole to bump him out of a tie with Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller and send him on to his fifth green jacket. Miller, who played in the group behind Nicklaus, said, "We got to that green and all we saw were bear tracks."
And who can forget 1986, when Nicklaus came to 16 and delivered perhaps the greatest moment of his career? After starting the day four behind, Nicklaus birdied 13 and eagled 15 to move within two shots of Ballesteros. Nicklaus's five-iron tee shot on 16 looked as if it would hit nothing but flag. It landed five feet right of the hole, kicked left, nearly rolled into the cup and settled three feet away. Incredibly, Nicklaus's eyesight was getting so bad, his son Jackie, who was his caddie that week, had to tell him where his ball was. When Nicklaus brushed it in, the gallery's roar so rattled Ballesteros that he put a death grip on his four-iron and hooked a shot into the pond at 15. Seve went on to make bogey, the Golden Bear went on to make history.
Face it, that hole has been his. So what you do is make the hole his forever. You fashion a cup out of pure gold. Inscribe it with these simple words: JACK NICKLAUS, WINNER: 1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975 AND 1986. And you stick the flag back in it.
It becomes the first completely cool and completely movable monument in history. Greenskeepers say a gold cup would hold up as well as a plastic one as long as it was sealed in a clear polyurethane. No problem. Can't you see it glimmering already?
Two weeks after Nicklaus won his second Masters, in 1965, he wrote to thank Augusta National cofounders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts. "Augusta National is my favorite course and the Masters my favorite golf tournament," Nicklaus wrote. "I feel the Masters is a monument to everything great in golf."
Now we need a monument to the player who matched it.