AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jack Nicklaus cried “like a baby” on Wednesday after his grandson G.T. aced the 9th hole to shut down the day at the Par 3 Contest. A 15-year-old singer, songwriter and solid junior golfer, G.T. had planned to hit the shot for a few days and said he took a few practice swings on the range to make sure he could make a move on the ball in a caddie bib.
I walked up on the scene and watched from a butte overlooking the 9th green. The ball was already in the air, and I was still moving toward the hole. I couldn’t see much because , well, this is Jack Nicklaus, and everyone wants to say they saw Jack Nicklaus at Augusta. But I felt that rising wave of electricity that one feels only when something special is about to happen at a sporting event. G.T pulled the string, and I watched a frenzied crowd melt as it trickled toward the cup.
Suddenly patrons, friends, family and even a handful of green jackets exploded with a roar that surely Jack has heard more times than anyone else in golf history. Everyone looked around like they could not believe what they had just seen. Did a 15-year-old really just ace a hole at Augusta National?
Greatness has a halo, it seems, and this ace came in the wake of. That one he celebrated. For this one, he cried and called it the best memory of his long and storied history at this place.
“What I did doesn’t make any difference to me,” said the six-time champion of this tournament. “Watching your grandson do something, it’s really special. I got a few tears. [ESPN broadcaster] Curtis [Strange] asked me going by where that ranks. I said, ‘That’s No. 1.’ My wins, that’s OK, but to have your grandson make a hole-in-one and watch him do it, man, that’s amazing.”
“He was crying,” said G.T. “He was emotional. We were both emotional. It was really special moment.”
Eventual Par 3 Contest winner (!) Tom Watson played with Nicklaus and Gary Player; he agreed that Wednesday was about as good as it gets. For a while, the Par 3 Contest felt like a facsimile of their 1977 Duel in the Sun at Turnberry. Watson and Nicklaus fighting for a trophy, grinding over shots and measuring out the weight and distance of their putts like they were playing for something more than simply their names on a manual leaderboard.
“Most importantly it was fun playing with Jack and Gary, and we have been in playing for years and years and years,” said Watson. “To cap it off with G.T. making a hole‑in‑one on the last hole, Jack crying like a baby, couldn’t have been any better. No better scene in golf.”
Augusta has an ability to make anyone a believer of anything. Inexplicable things happen here. Sergio Garcia winning in his 70th swing at a major. (Seriously, Sergio Garcia won the Masters!) Phil Mickelson out of the pine straw in 2010. Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler making back-to-back aces in the 2016 Par 3 Contest. Things that don’t make sense.
Wednesday’s ace by the grandson of the greatest Masters golfer ever is yet another in a long line of peculiar, almost spiritual moments. It’s not like Kevin Chappell’s kid or Larry Mize’s relative made an ace. That happening would be cool. This, well, this was something more.
“This is probably my favorite week of the year, and this is a special tournament and golf is a sport that I love,” said G.T. “I saw [the shot] coming back, and I felt it was kind of looking like it could go in, but I was thinking, ‘No way, no way, no way.’ And then it looked like it stopped for a second about an inch behind the hole and I thought it was over. Then I saw it fall and I couldn’t believe that it fell. Of course, I didn’t even see it at first, I couldn’t believe what I saw.”
Except this is Augusta National where you kind of can believe it.
Jack walked it off, too. As we huddled around him to ask what he saw and what he said, he noted that a few days ago he told G.T., ‘I think you’re going to make a hole-in-one.’ Then he did. He laughed and gestured and seemed at peace at a place he has whipped into an oblivious cacophony more times than probably anyone ever. His movements were easy. He hit every note. He talked exactly like you would expect Jack Nicklaus to talk on the grounds of Augusta National.
Then I shook his hand, and he winked at me and walked away.
This place, I thought, is magic.