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Long and short of the chairman and Jack's jacket tale

This is the golden jubilee of the first US Masters triumph by Jack Nicklaus. Yet it is only 15 years since he happened to become the proud possessor of his own green jacket.

Made by the Cincinnati-based Hamilton Tailoring Co, the jacket was introduced in 1937 so that Augusta National members would be easily recognisable to Masters patrons. In 1949, Sam Snead became the first Masters champion to receive it.

"When I first won at Augusta in 1963, they came down and put a 46 long on me," the Bear recalled. "I'm about a 43 regular, so the jacket looked a little silly at the presentation.

"Next year I came back, the jacket they gave me belonged to Tom Dewey, the former governor of New York. I wore Tom Dewey's jacket for 15 years and won the tournament another four or five times. And they never gave me a jacket, never had one made, never asked . . ."

He concluded: "When I told the story to Jack Stephens (chairman 1991-1998), he said,'Oh my God, we've got to get you a jacket'. But I replied, 'Please don't do that. You'll ruin one of the best stories I enjoy telling in sport'."

But Stephens insisted and a formal fitting was arranged. And Nicklaus finally got his own green jacket, a 44 regular in 1998.

Exchanges between Nicklaus and Augusta chairmen weren't always so amiable, however, as events on the occasion of his sixth and final Masters triumph in 1986 would indicate. Problems arose from a TV interview in which an angry Bear expressed disgust that the club had verticut the greens during Masters week.

Members were deeply offended but club chairman, Hord Hardin, decided to keep his powder dry. "He's playing lousy," said Hardin, "and he'll just blame it on us." But Hardin declined an invitation to Nicklaus's Memorial Tournament a month later.

When they eventually met in the Turnberry Hotel during that year's Open Championship, Nicklaus wanted to know why Hardin had missed the Memorial. "I'll tell you, but not in public," came the reply. So they went to the Bear's hotel room where Hardin confronted him. Nicklaus denied making the comments.

"But we've got tapes to prove it," insisted Hardin, bluffing. The Augusta chairman went on: "Jack, you may be the finest golfer ever to play the game; you are a great father and a real gentleman. But you are the most egostical sonofabitch I ever met."

Four months before his death in 1996, Hardin recalled the conversation. "I sort of waited, figuring he might come at me," said the 84-year-old. "I was ready. But Jack said, 'Hord, you're right. I apologise'."

Irish Independent