Magnolia Lane might as well be Memory Lane for Jack Nicklaus, because he has accumulated so many memories at Augusta National since he first played here in 1959. Memories of competing in 45 Masters and winning six of them. Of finishing in the top 10 a total of 22 times. Of cementing friendships with guys like Palmer, Player and Watson, and shooting under-par rounds with azaleas in full flower and spring breezes blowing the dogwood blossoms.
Among the strongest of those recollections, of course, is the one that everyone in golf seems to be talking about this year: the 25th anniversary of Nicklaus' historic victory in 1986. He was a 46-year-old afterthought who suddenly found the fountain of youth, shooting an almost immortal 30 on the second nine that Sunday afternoon with his son Jackie on his bag and seemingly the entire gallery on his side.
It's a priceless memory, one that causes the Golden Bear to smile broadly as he returns to the home of the Masters in time for a late-afternoon press conference and reflects on a question: Did you ever have another run like the one you did in 1986?
Jack doesn't commit to an answer at first. You can sense the wheels turning and the memory banks being mined. There were the five birdies he made on the last five holes to win the 1978 Jackie Gleason Inverarry Classic. Or the five successive birdies he made in the middle of his final round at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. But then he considers that he played the last 10 holes of Augusta National on that Sunday in 1986 in 33 strokes. That he birdied hole Nos. 9, 10, 11 and 13, and then went eagle-birdie-birdie on 15 through 17.
"No," Nicklaus finally says.
It is a simple "no" that demonstrates he has about the same perspective of that day as everyone else does.
The Golden Bear never had another run like that one in 1986.
Jack says he feels a thrill whenever he drives down Magnolia Drive, and it was no different when he arrived today. Club officials were waiting for him with his Green Jacket when he pulled in. Then, they whisked him to his press conference, where talk quickly turned to his last Masters win.
Nicklaus speaks of being on the 17th tee when a cheer and a groan arose from the 15th hole, telling him Seve Ballesteros had just dumped his second shot into the pond. "When you hear a sound like that, you know exactly what it is," he says. "So, I back away."
When he finally hit his drive, Nicklaus left himself an approach shot of 112 yards from the left side of the fairway.
"I hit a pitching wedge, which I know I can't hit over the green," he recalls. "I hit it hard, because I know I won't, and that leaves me about 12 feet. Of course, I make that putt, and when I do, I realize I am probably in the lead. So, my goal and focus then is not to worry about anyone else because they are going to be chasing me now. The question is: 'How do you play the last hole?' You want to play the 3-wood because you don't want to put the ball in the bunker.
"That's what I do, and I leave myself 175 yards. I then hit a 5-iron solid. I don't want to be over the green, and I do not mind being on the front. Just as I hit it, a little breath of wind hits me in the face, and I know exactly where the ball is going to go. It is going to go halfway up the slope and come back down. Fortunately, I practiced that putt a lot prior to the tournament because the club had redone the green. So when I get there, I feel pretty certain I am going to win the tournament."
There is an understandable jaunt in Jack's voice as he relives other special moments of that Sunday afternoon a quarter century ago -- and understandable interest among his audience. He mentions conferring with Jackie on how that famous putt on 17 would break. Nicklaus rarely asked his caddies for reads, but this time he made an exception.
"Jackie says, 'It's got to go right,' and I say, 'I know, but I think it will come back to the left because of Rae's Creek,'" Nicklaus recounts. "He says, 'You sure?' And I say, 'Pretty sure.'"
And sure enough, it went in, one of the biggest putts in one of the biggest careers in golf.
"Now, I have gone back and putted that putt a hundred times since then," Nicklaus adds. "And it has never broken left again."
While much of the focus on Jack's return to Augusta this year revolves around that momentous victory, the last of his 18 majors, he has other roles this week that will hold his interest and occupy his time.
There is the Champions dinner, which he says is one of the primary reasons why he and other past Masters winners come back each spring. He says he is also looking forward to serving as an Honorary Starter once again with his longtime friend and rival Arnold Palmer. And he is thrilled to have his grandson Nick O'Leary caddie for him in the Par 3 Contest.
All of which means Jack will be making even more memories at this Masters as he also keeps taking trips down Magnolia, aka Memory, Lane.