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Jack Nicklaus II's front row seat to Masters history

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Jack's club technology in 1986 (3:14)

ESPN Sport Science analyzes Jack Nicklaus' clubs from his 1986 Masters win and how past technology compares to today's gear. (3:14)

T
he iconic "Yes, sir!" call by Verne Lundquist is among the enduring sights and sounds of the 1986 Masters, a scene frozen in time as Jack Nicklaus held up his putter, a knowing grin coming across his face, the ball diving into the cup.

For the first time, the legendary golfer led at Augusta National, the ground shaking in wonder and amazement with that birdie putt on the 17th hole, an improbable victory unfolding before a mesmerized audience. And off to the side stood a tall, blond kid, all of 24 years old, his heart pounding through his white jumpsuit, awash in every imaginable emotion that he didn't dare let out.

Jack Nicklaus II happened to be caddying for his dad that day and had an incredible front-row seat to history, a mind-numbing experience that he still recounts with unbridled pride.

"What I relish about it today was the time I was able to share with Dad when he won his sixth green jacket, his final major," Jack II, now 54, said during a recent interview. "Pretty incredible. That's what I embrace, being with my dad, that time shared with him and what that still means to me today."

The story is well known, one of golf's best. Nicklaus, at 46, was viewed as an afterthought. He hadn't won in two years. His game had fallen off in 1986. He was surrounded by superstars, including the likes of Greg Norman and Nick Price and Tom Kite and Seve Ballesteros and Tom Watson.

Standing on the ninth tee, he trailed by six shots. Forty-six-year-olds don't win majors (only two in the game's history have been older -- Julius Boros at the 1968 PGA and Tom Morris Sr. in 1867 at The Open). And they certainly don't make up deficits that large.

But the Golden Bear did, playing his final 10 holes in 7 under par, including that birdie at the 17th hole where CBS' Lundquist was stationed and Jack II was summoned to talk about the putt.

"How is a 24-year-old kid ... there's no way I know those greens as well or better than him," Jack II said. "Not anywhere as close as my dad. We are sitting there on 17 with a putt to put him in the outright lead. I thought the putt went to the right, away from Rae's Creek (which is at the far end of the course, fronting the 12th green and meandering toward the 13th). I thought it was probably an inch outside the hole. He said, 'You know this is where Rae's Creek comes in, it has an influence over the entire property. I don't think it will go to the right. I think it might go to the left.' "

Sandy Lyle, who won The Open the year before (and would win the Masters in 1988), played with Nicklaus during the final round. Years later, he recalled the difficulty of the putt on 17.

"That was a very, very nasty putt," he said. "You could putt 30 balls from that spot and you'd be lucky to make two of them. I was trying to read it, too, and it was incredible. It seemed to go both ways. Even he had a spot of bother trying to read it, but you wouldn't think it. It looked very easy on TV, but from a player's point of view, that was as good of a putt as you'll see."

Nicklaus put himself 18 feet from the hole after driving well left, into the seventh fairway, before setting up the birdie putt by threading a shot through the trees. After conferring with Jack II, Nicklaus stroked it with the perfect speed.

"I think he compromised," Jack II said. "If you looked at [replays of] that putt, it looked like it wanted to go to the right, it corrected its line, found the center of the hole."

Lundquist on the CBS broadcast noted that the putt was for the outright lead. Then there was silence as 10 seconds elapsed before Nicklaus stroked the ball.

As it rolled, Lundquist said: "Maybe ... Yes, sir!"

Price, playing with Norman and in the 15th fairway at the time, saw it all unfold.

"The green is up a little bit so we can sort of see Jack's head and we saw the putter go up and we knew it was going in and the loudest roar I have ever heard on a golf course right there and then," Price said.

For the first time in 11 years -- since he won the 1975 Masters -- Nicklaus had the lead to himself at Augusta National.

"Every year he went back, he went back to the same spot, but has never been able to recreate that same putt and have it break the same way," Jack II said. "There are magical things that happen at Augusta. And I hold that in my head. The golf gods were smiling on him."

Jack II got his start caddying for his dad 10 years earlier -- by accident. Nicklaus was playing a practice round on the day before the start of The Open at Royal Birkdale, and 14-year-old Jackie was tagging along.

Playing the ninth hole, Nicklaus' regular caddie at The Open, Jimmy Dickinson, tried to navigate a hill and suffered an injury to his Achilles tendon. Jack II was summoned.

"No one else was around and I remember him saying, 'You mind carrying the bag on the back nine?' " Jack II said. "I remember he hit a 4-iron into the 10th hole there. I threw the bag on my back and started walking down the fairway and heard, 'Did you get the divot?' Oh my gosh, I have to get the divot. It was a reality check. I got thrown into a pretty big scene right away. I just tried to do what I thought a caddie should do."

Unlike some players today, Nicklaus did not put a big burden on his caddies.

"These guys look at caddies a little different than I did," said Nicklaus, now 76, who tied for second at that Open won by Johnny Miller. "I never relied on a caddie for anything. I always relied on my caddie to be there, be on time; have the three 'ups' of caddying: show up, keep up and shut up. I never really had anybody get into me on caddying. Although there's still only two I ever ask anything about on a green, and that was Jackie and [][another son] Steve. Both were good putters. They weren't going to give me any more than I thought, and so I would confirm a lot of times with them. So that part was fine.

"It was not a big transition, but to have him on the bag when you won your last major ... yeah, that's pretty special, there is no question about that."

For years, Nicklaus employed a man named Angelo Argea, well known because he was on the Golden Bear's bag but even more so because of a huge gray afro that he sported. Argea first worked for Nicklaus in 1963 and would be on his bag for parts of 20 years, including 44 victories.

But Augusta National allowed only local caddies through the early 1980s and it was uncommon for a player to bring his caddie to The Open, hence Nicklaus' use of Dickinson in Great Britain and Willie Peterson at Augusta, where they teamed for his first five green jackets.

"What I relish about it today was the time I was able to share with Dad when he won his sixth green jacket, his final major. Pretty incredible. That's what I embrace, being with my dad, that time shared with him and what that still means to me today." Jack Nicklaus II

As Nicklaus' career began to wind down, he began using his sons more frequently and Jack II was a good player, attending North Carolina and winning the 1985 North-South Amateur, a prestigious tournament played at Pinehurst.

And he had previous experience on his dad's bag, including winning the 1984 Memorial Tournament. But it was the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach that he remembered as having a big influence.

Nicklaus lost that U.S. Open when Watson chipped in on the 71st hole for an improbable birdie then added another birdie at the 18th. After a slow start that day, Nicklaus made five straight birdies through the seventh hole.

"I remember getting right in his face, arms up, 'Dad, this is great, way to go!' " Jack II said. Nicklaus then bogeyed the eighth hole. "And I remember thinking did he bogey because I got him out of his zone? I kind of blamed myself. He could have won that tournament so easily. Fast forward to the Masters and that's why in no way did I want him to see any of my emotions. I didn't want to feel like I got him out of the zone."

Nicklaus had shot rounds of 74-71-69 and was tied for ninth at 2-under par through 54 holes, four strokes behind Norman. Imagine if Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson were four off the lead going into the final round of a major? And yet, Nicklaus got virtually no attention for being that close.

He was in the fifth-to-last pairing along with Lyle, and had the likes of Price, defending champion Bernhard Langer, Ballesteros, Kite and Watson all ahead of him on the scoreboard.

CBS never mentioned Nicklaus until 39 minutes into its final-round telecast. It didn't have Nicklaus' birdie putt at the ninth live, nor did it have what had occurred moments before at all -- hole-out eagles on the par-5 eighth by both Kite and Ballesteros.

At that moment, Nicklaus trailed by 6. He birdied the ninth, 10th and 11th, then made what many figured was a fatal bogey at the 12th. His birdie at the 13th got him back on track, then came the eagle at the 15th -- Jackie jumping into the air in the background as the putt dropped -- the kick-in birdie at the 16th and then the one that put him in front at No. 17.

"There's no question he was feeding off his emotions, the emotions of the crowd, the appreciation the crowd had for him," Jack II said. "Every single approach, certainly on the back nine, as he approached the green, the roars were fierce, the support was fierce. It was an appreciation for what he was accomplishing that day, but more than that what he had done in his life as a golfer. The gallery was incredible that day.

"And really, at 46, he knows he's not going to get many more opportunities to win a major. And he was emotional, teared up as he approached every green. I didn't want him to see my emotions. I tried not to make eye contact with him. But I knew he was wiping tears off his cheeks. It's amazing that he kept recollecting himself and getting the job done. He kept making birdies, kept hitting golf shots. You think about the overwhelming pressure to perform at that time. And he got it done."

After the birdie at the 17th put him in the lead, Nicklaus still had to navigate the 18th hole and wait out the other contenders. He left himself a 40-footer on the final green, one he lagged up to the cup, leaving himself a short putt for par. Jack II, going to his default line in which he reminded his father to keep his head down on putts, did so again. "He grinned at me, 'I can handle this one,' " he said.

Nicklaus played the last four holes in 4 under, the final nine in 30 strokes, the round in 65. He led by one, but Kite and Norman still had a chance to tie or beat him.

"We were in the Jones Cabin beside No. 10 tee," Jack II said. "Mom, Dad's mom Helen. We're watching it on TV and he can no longer control what happened. It was actually the first time I saw him nervous all day. He was pacing back and forth, we were watching Greg [Norman] put on a great charge and Tom Kite. You had two guys who could force a playoff or win outright and I'm thinking how in the world is Dad going to recollect his emotions and thoughts and his energy? I knew he was exhausted at that point, but I knew we'd have to go back out there."

Kite had kept himself close, and faced a birdie putt on the 18th that narrowly missed. Norman, after falling off the pace with a double bogey at the 10th, stormed back with consecutive birdies at the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th and was tied. A birdie would have won the tournament, a par forcing a sudden-death playoff.

But Norman sprayed his approach into the crowd and couldn't get it up and down.

Nicklaus had a sixth green jacket and an 18th major championship.

"I just remember we had a great embrace, tears, excitement," Jack II said. "We walked out of that cabin a roar erupted."

The 1986 Masters was the first time Jack II caddied for his dad at Augusta National. He would caddie for him several more times, as would Steve -- who got the honor at Nicklaus' final Masters and Open in 2005.

All the while, Jack II took on more prominent role in his dad's business, including design work. He is the president of Nicklaus Design, a board member for the Nicklaus Companies and general chairman of the Memorial Tournament as well as Muirfield Village Golf Club, where the annual PGA Tour event is played.

Along with his family, Jack II lives in the same North Palm Beach, Florida, neighborhood where his parents reside.

The 1986 Masters, however, remains incredibly special. The golf world celebrates the amazing feat, the last victory of a great career. Jack II gets all that, but remembers something even more.

"People were jumping up and down and applauding," he said. "It was all about Jack Nicklaus. All about my dad and what he had accomplished that Sunday afternoon. I put the flag into the cup, a mundane task, and I remember turning around.

"This moment should have been everything about my dad. And there is Dad looking me right in the eyes from the edge of the green. He's not really receiving the cheers from all the fans around him, which he should have been doing. He's looking at me and he made me feel important at that moment. And there's no need to. It's as simple as that. It made me feel important because my dad waited and signaled me and made me feel incredible to be his son. That is something I'll always take with me."