Jack Nicklaus: Unlocking the Mystery of his Missing 1986 Masters Putter
Jack Nicklaus’ famous MacGregor Response ZT 615 putter – the one he held high in the air wearing his bright yellow shirt after sinking the long, slightly wiggling, iconic putt for birdie on the 17th green at Augusta National in 1986 – had been missing for 10 years or more.
Now he knows where it is – but he’s still seeking its return.
How the putter got there is a story of twists and turns – and now the MI Golf Journal is the first media to share Jack’s perspective on it, which he voiced at a sponsor’s event at the recent Ally Challenge in Grand Blanc.
The situation troubles him because Nicklaus said it’s the one and only golf club he doesn’t have out of all 18 majors he won: six Masters, five PGA Championships, four U.S. Opens, three Opens.
The only club.
“I don’t know if people have noticed in the paper, but here in the past week that Irsay (owner of the Indianapolis Colts) bought my putter from the ’86 Masters,” Nicklaus said.
“It’s kind of a funny story. I was playing tennis for about 10 days with Ivan Lendl, Tony Roche, and Billy Scanlon. They came to my house; they wanted to get ready for grass court tennis … so Ivan and I would play Billy and Tony, and we won a few sets too.
“Anyway, we’d play tennis in the morning and play golf in the afternoon. And Billy was putting terribly. I said, ‘Billy, try this; just use it while you’re here.’
“But he never gave it back. It was the putter I won the ’86 Masters with. I didn’t know about it, I didn’t know where it was. Finally, Ivan told me, ‘Jack I know where it is. It’s in Billy’s rec room in a trophy case.’”
By now, the small gathering of Ally guests were laughing, but some a bit nervously. The topic came up because event moderator Chantel McCabe – the only other media in the room – had previously asked Jack what he might donate to the World Golf Hall of Fame Museum. Jack replied that he would not give anything – “except maybe this” as he tugged on the shirt he was wearing that Saturday at the Ally – which drew many laughs. Nicklaus explained that his method is to retain ownership of special items for the Jack Nicklaus Museum in Columbus but that he does have loan programs with other museums for special exhibits.
“Anyway, so, I said, ‘Ivan, I don’t know Billy well enough, but he should give me my putter back,” Nicklaus continued, with no real animosity heard in his voice. “Or if he doesn’t want to he can donate it; it’s fine with me.’ Unfortunately, Billy got cancer and died (fairly suddenly, according to tennis media reports in June 2021).
“And now I’m dealing with his wife,” Nicklaus continued, “who wants to put it on eBay as fast as she can. She doesn’t own the blasted putter. It’s my putter. I never gave it to anybody. He just took it.”
The eBay statement elicited some laughs and some groans as Nicklaus told the story mostly, but not always, with a slight smile on his face.
“So, anyway, I’ve been trying to get the putter back, and she wouldn’t donate it. I tried to get Augusta (National) to buy it,” Nicklaus said. “And Augusta negotiated with her, I don’t know how long; they wanted to buy it because they wanted the putter, and they would take it for 6 months, and then I’d take it to Muirfield (Village) for 6 months.
“Augusta said they wouldn’t pay the amount of money she wanted for it. I read in the paper that (Jim Irsay) ended up buying it; she put it on eBay, and he bought it. Now I’ve got to call Irsay, and I know Irsay so I can call him. I’ll call him and figure out some way, and somewhere we’ll end up getting it back.
“That’s the only golf club that I don’t have that I won a major championship with. Irons, woods, putters, everything.”
Here is hoping for a successful phone call between Columbus and Indianapolis.