Couples kissed. Strangers hugged. Women in heels threw elbows for position. Fifty-eight-year-old Jack Nicklaus had just birdied the 15th hole on Sunday to get within two shots of the Masters lead, and all heaven was breaking loose.
One man yelped as he sprinted, "This is the most fun I've ever had in my life!"
"Me, too!" hollered his buddy.
"No!" yelped the guy again. "Not just on a golf course! Ever! This is the most fun I've ever had in my whole life!"
"I said" hollered his buddy, "me, too!"
The best kind of gifts are the ones you didn't even know you needed. Last week America got a wonderful gift: one more loving look at the greatest golfer who ever lived, maybe the greatest winner in sports history. Yeah, he's a little hunched over now, and he has a left hip that probably needs replacing, but there he was, limping right out of Shell's Wonderful World of Golf 'and onto the leader board.
"Jack, you think you got a 65 left in you?" somebody asked him on Saturday night, when he was six shots out of the lead.
"Oh, I got at least that much in me," he replied. "I just hope I don't have any more than that."
Out he came, Old Saint Nicklaus on Easter morning, birdieing four of the first seven holes and tilting the course so much his way that everybody else was left with MCI galleries—friends and family. In the group ahead of him, Tiger Woods was learning what it's like playing next to a tornado. "There were so many roars, we had to back off, like, every shot," Woods said after Sunday's round. Imagine that.
All this can be blamed on Nicklaus's lousy hearing. Augusta National officials had declared Tuesday to be Jack Nicklaus Day, but somehow he heard week. They dedicated a plaque to him on a drinking fountain near the 16th green, and he even cried. But the problem was he didn't understand the Augusta National Plaque Policy, which is that when you get one, it means you're long since done, you're toast, you're the toast being toasted, and you're supposed to shake everybody's hand, shoot 79-81-160 and disappear, like a good, little legend. When they gave Gene Sarazen a plaque, he shot 83-80-WD. When Arnie got his, he shot 79-73- Cessna home. Do you realize that when Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson were 58, they'd already quit playing Augusta?