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Monday 16 July 2018

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Bear's extraordinary victory retains its ability to inspire

Kevin Farrell and his wife Joan talk to Joanne McGrath of The Golf Channel at Black Bush. Photo: Caroline Quinn.
Kevin Farrell and his wife Joan talk to Joanne McGrath of The Golf Channel at Black Bush. Photo: Caroline Quinn.

Fergus McDonnell

'That arm. Who could forget that arm? In the roar of roars at the 18th green, from behind a Masters scoreboard glittering with the names of golf's power brokers - BALLESTEROS and WATSON and LANGER and KITE - under the sign that said No. 18, beside the huge black letters that read NICKLAUS, next to a red 9, came the arm that had put that number there, the arm that seconds before had placed a red 8 next to NORMAN, and that arm was pumping furiously.'

- Rick Reilly,

Sports Illustrated, April 1986

The arm belonged to the scoreboard operator who had been unable to contain his excitement, his delight, his pure joy that Jack Nicklaus, at the age of 46, had just won his sixth Masters and his 18th Major.

It had been a titanic battle on that April afternoon as Nicklaus, having played the first eight holes in level par, exploded into life with six birdies and an eagle in the last ten holes. Even with a bogey on the 12th, the Bear's seven-under-par 65 was decisive in one of the most famous final-round Masters battles.

Amongst the millions watching on television around the world was Kevin Farrell who, 30 years later, responded to a Facebook appeal from The Golf Channel looking for personal stories from that memorable Masters.

Kevin and his wife Joan were watching in Mulhuddart in Dublin at the time. Neither was a golfer, but Kevin had been intrigued by the Seve Ballesteros angle. "Here was this flamboyant Spaniard who had vowed to win the Masters for his seriously ill father and suddenly Jack Nicklaus came charging through the field. He was a force that not even Ballesteros could resist."

Kevin's story caught the eye of the TV company - it was one of only two selected worldwide, the other from a golfer in Australia - and they sent a camera crew to his home club, Black Bush in Dunshaughlin, Co Meath, to record his memories.

"I was 35 at the time and had played different sports throughout my life," added Kevin, "but with various niggling injuries I thought my playing days were over and I would just be a spectator from that point on.

"And then I see this guy, he was 11 years older than me, winning the Masters. And it's not as though they handed it to him, there was a lot of serious talent at the top of the leaderboard - the likes of Ballesteros, Tom Kite and Greg Norman - but he covered the back nine in 30 strokes to win.

"I was inspired by that. Myself and Joan stayed up until after midnight watching it, even though the next day was a work day, and I decided that here was a game I could play . . . I didn't have to be a couch potato.

"So I went to the driving range and to the public course in Deer Park until Black Bush opened in 1998. We joined here and thankfully have been able to win a few things down the years. Ironically, we're just starting a 'Get Into Golf' programme at the club for beginners, so maybe that will inspire a few others to take up the game and hopefully get as much enjoyment out of it as we have."

It has often been said that the Masters doesn't start until the back nine on the Sunday and that would certainly apply to the extraordinary event of April 13, 1986.

Ballesteros had eagled the eighth before birdies at nine, 10 and 11 brought Nicklaus into contention. A bogey at the 12th would have put paid to the chances of most ordinary players. But Nicklaus was no ordinary player.

He eagled the 15th and followed it up with birdies at the 16th and 17th. A par on the 18th confirmed that, as one commentator put it on the day: "There is life in the old Bear yet."

"I read in the Atlanta paper this week that 46-year-olds don't win Masters. I kind of agreed. I got to thinking. Hmmm. Done, through, washed up. And I sizzled for a while. But I said to myself, I'm not going to quit now, playing the way I'm playing. I've played too well, too long to let a shorter period of bad golf be my last."

- Jack Nicklaus

April 1986

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