Before Tiger Woods wrapped his Cadillac Escalade around a tree, nobody doubted he’d surpass Jack Nicklaus’s record for most career major championships. But now, with Tiger stuck at 14, the Golden Bear’s 18 seems safer with each passing tournament. Marking the 25th anniversary of Nicklaus’s final, and finest, major triumph—the 1986 Masters at 46—comes Clavin’s new book, which reminds fans how everyone, most notably his fellow competitors, counted ol’ Nicklaus out that year. After all, he hadn’t won a major in six years. And in the three months leading up to the Masters, his best finish was a 39th.
That only added to the drama, of course, which culminated in perhaps the greatest championship Sunday shootout of all-time. Describing the putt on No. 17 that catapulted Nicklaus to the top of the leaderboard for good, Clavin writes, “He lunged forward, his tongue curled at the front of his mouth as if he had just caught sight of a huge steak, and he raised his putter in the air like a sword to lead true believers into battle.”
As well as the story of Nicklaus’s come-from-behind win, Clavin stitches together a history of the tournament and its famous course, Augusta National. It’s here the book is at its best. Clavin writes how the course, created by golf legend Bobby Jones, was turned into a cattle ranch during the Second World War; Augusta National was closed during the conflict and this was considered a cheap way to keep the grass on the fairways under control. Or when Dwight Eisenhower, then president-elect, had to be plucked from quicksand by secret service agents on No. 12 after trying to hit his ball from a sandbar following an errant tee shot.
The book suffers from too much play-by-play and not enough colour commentary, but its greatest weakness is the lack of analysis from Nicklaus. The golfer’s only thoughts are taken from the books he’s written himself. Still, One for the Ages is a good primer for diehard fans who wait anxiously to see the pros tee it up next month for the famous green jacket. Someone should send Tiger a copy.