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JOE BIDDLE: Prepare for Heaven on earth during Masters week

I will never forget the first time I walked through the gates of Augusta National Golf Course.

I had always heard from others who had been to the Masters that it would take your breath. I compared it to Heaven on earth.

No one can explain the dimensions, the aura, or the natural beauty that grabs and holds your attention. It’s incomparable.

If the Masters is not on your bucket list, what are you waiting for? You don’t have to love golf to love Augusta National, especially during Masters week.

It really sunk in during the 1986 Masters. It’s become a well-worn phrase now, but it still rings true. The Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday afternoon.

That year, Jack Nicklaus personified magic moments as he set the back nine on fire. Jack Nicklaus? Most pro golfers are washed up after 46 birthdays. Their hands twitch when they face a downhill 10-foot putt that breaks slightly left. Or is it inside the cup?

Thousands are shadowing your every step. Millions around the world are glued to their TV sets. The skyscraper-tall pine trees are swaying with breezes that can redirect golf balls that require pinpoint precision. Even the slightest misread or miss-hit can cost you the coveted green jacket.

It’s a jacket that will change your life.

For Nicklaus, it was his sixth time in a storied career that he would visit Butler Cabin to be crowned. Nicklaus was not on many radar screens coming into the week. He used it as motivation. Especially stinging was when Atlanta Journal-Constitution golf writer Tom McCollister wrote Nicklaus off in a tournament preview.

“Nicklaus is gone, done,” McCollister penned. “He just doesn’t have the game anymore. It’s rusted from lack of use. He’s 46, and nobody that old wins the Masters.”

A Nicklaus “friend” taped it to Nicklaus’ refrigerator at his Florida home. He let it soak in - knowing Nicklaus’ competitive juices would overflow.

What Nicklaus lacked in youth and nerves, he overcame with rock solid focus and using the hundreds of rounds at the flowery former nursery to turn the pressure on others.

After a blistering 31 on the final nine holes put him in the clubhouse with a 65 and the lead, Nicklaus didn’t have to wait long as snake-bitten Greg Norman’s approach on 18 missed the green wide right. Norman needed a par. It would not happen.

Later, Nicklaus walked into the media interview room, asking, “Where is Tom McCollister?” After filing his story, McCollister joined the press conference.

“Thanks, Tom,” Nicklaus greeted McCollister.

“Glad I could help,” McCollister replied.

Sunday drama permeates Augusta National. Sometimes there are fireworks. Other times there are flameouts. Either way it presents captivating closure.

The year after Nicklaus won, the Masters was decided in a three-player playoff. The late Seve Ballesteros 3-jacked on the 10th green, bowing out as darkness started closing in.

Larry Mize and Norman went to the 11th, Mize bailing out right on his approach shot. He left his ball 140 feet away, a difficult chip shot, while Norman had a much easier route to a par.

Norman never got a chance. Mize’s chip bounced on the green and started rolling across the lightening fast green. It disappeared in the hole, delivering another crushing blow to Norman and writing another improbable finish.

Even in high definition, TV doesn’t give Augusta National its just due. Fasten your seatbelts.

Sports Columnist Joe Biddle is a four-time sports writer of the year in Tennessee and a 2013 inductee to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. He can be reached at

Posted on: 4/9/2013


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