Georgia Golf Hall of Fame unveils bronze tribute to six-time Masters Tournament champion Nicklaus

Statue depicts legend

Posted: Wednesday, April 05, 2000

Jack Nicklaus has always been full of determination.

Whether the pursuit was golf, business or family, the six-time Masters Tournament champion didn't stop until he attained success.

But when it came time to get him to spare a few hours to pose for a sculpture, well, that was a different matter.

So organizers with the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame resorted to their secret weapon: Barbara Nicklaus, Jack's wife of nearly 40 years.

``Barbara said, `I'll handle it.' And she did,'' said William S. Morris III, chairman and CEO of Morris Communications Corp. and publisher of The Augusta Chronicle.

The larger-than-life sculpture, depicting Nicklaus as he rolled in a key birdie putt to win the 1986 Masters, was unveiled before hundreds of dignitaries, well-wishers and golf fans Tuesday morning in downtown Augusta. Sponsored by The Augusta Chronicle, the bronze sculpture was created by Blair Buswell of Highland, Utah.

``Let me say it wasn't that hard to get me to sit down,'' Nicklaus said with a laugh before his likeness was unveiled.

The sculpture shows Nicklaus with his putter -- an oversized Response ZT, for those who don't remember -- thrust in the air, his lips pursed in eager anticipation.

``He did a nice job. It's a good impression,'' Nicklaus said. ``The mouth's a little bit open. I couldn't wait for the ball to get in the hole.''

Nicklaus' 65 that day, including a 30 on the back nine, gave him an unprecedented sixth Masters win and his 18th professional major victory. Coupled with his two U.S. Amateur victories, Nicklaus has an even 20 for his career.

``When we were approached several years ago about sponsoring a sculpture for the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, I said The Augusta Chronicle would be glad to do it but only on one condition -- that we could do a sculpture of Jack Nicklaus on the 17th green in 1986 after he sank the long birdie putt that clinched his sixth Masters victory,'' Morris said.

``That picture is one of the greatest sports photographs ever taken. The excitement, energy, power and sheer joy captured in this photograph demanded that it be captured for eternity in sculpture.''

The sculpture will be moved today to the Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta's second floor for the rest of Masters Week. When the hall of fame opens, the Nicklaus sculpture will be one of the featured attractions.

Accompanying Nicklaus on Tuesday were Barbara, oldest son Jackie (who caddied for him at the Masters in '86), and son Steve and his wife.

``The sculpture is very heartwarming to me,'' Nicklaus said. ``All of it's been very special. It's a great honor to be honored here in Augusta at the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame.''

Nicklaus used the occasion to tell several Augusta-related stories, including his first trip down Magnolia Lane when he was an amateur competing in 1959.

``Coming down Magnolia Lane, I'd heard what an inspirational drive it was,'' Nicklaus said. ``I still get that tingling feel. I still get that excitement to play in the Masters again. I had a feeling that this was a special place.''

The Golden Bear wound up missing the cut his first time at the Masters. But it didn't take him long to achieve success, winning in his fifth try in 1963. He would go on to win three times in four years, setting standards for scoring and margin of victory in 1965.

Nicklaus won the Masters twice in the 1970s, never finishing out of the top 10. The 1975 Masters, where Nicklaus won a duel against Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller, ranks as one of the best golf tournaments ever.

But it was in 1986 that Nicklaus pulled off his most astonishing win. At age 46, labeled a has-been by some of the golf press, Nicklaus came out of the pack on the final day to win his sixth Masters. The victory was even more special because Nicklaus had brought his mother and sister, plus his usual family entourage, to Augusta that year.

``We had sort of a family affair, so I didn't want to disappoint,'' Nicklaus said.

This year's majors are a farewell tour of sorts for Nicklaus, who is 60. All of the major venues have ties to Nicklaus.

``I'm looking forward to playing this year,'' said Nicklaus, who missed his first Masters in 40 years last year because of hip-replacement surgery.

Two years ago, after being honored by Augusta National with a permanent plaque, Nicklaus fired a final-round 68 to finish in the top 10. The question, naturally, is can he do it again?

``I finished sixth two years ago on one leg,'' Nicklaus said. ``Let's see what I can do on 1 3/4 .''

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