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Putter safe in history, not in garage

Thursday, April 06, 2006
By Garry Smits
Morris News Service

One of the most enduring images of Jack Nicklaus from the 1986 Masters Tournament is his reaction to a birdie putt falling into the hole at No. 17, a smile on his face and his putter aloft.

The Response ZT putter became a big seller after Jack Nicklaus' 1986 victory.

(Associated Press)

A very large putter.

The putter was called the Response ZT, and before Nicklaus won the Masters, its huge head and homely shape weren't drawing much, well, response.

"We probably sold four before the Masters, and I used three of them," Nicklaus said of the MacGregor putter, which sold for $89. "After the Masters, we couldn't make enough."

Nicklaus said the company eventually sold around 350,000 Response putters, sales no doubt inspired by his sixth green jacket. To commemorate that 1986 victory, Nicklaus Golf has manufactured a limited number of the putters.

The suggested retail price is $199 - about $25 for each birdie and eagle Nicklaus made that day.

The most important Response - the one Nicklaus used to one-putt six greens on the back nine at Augusta National Golf Club that day 20 years ago - is missing in action.

"It's the only golf club I won a major with that I don't have," he said.

Nicklaus said he has a habit with clubs he takes out of play: He puts them in his garage at his home in North Palm Beach, Fla. Because he has four sons, clubs have a way of disappearing from the garage, much in the same way exasperated fathers can lose track of their favorite power tools.

"I'm sure one of my boys gave it away," Nicklaus said of his sons' habit of borrowing a club, then letting friends use it.

The Nicklaus sons weren't always aware of the significance of a club when they used it or gave it away. Last year, when Nicklaus gave his son Steve a 40th birthday party, one of Steve's friends came up to Nicklaus with an old putter.

"He said, 'Hey, Mr. Nicklaus, I found this in my garage. Steve gave it to me one day because he said his dad didn't use it any more.'"

It was the "White Fang" Bullseye putter Nicklaus used to win the 1967 U.S. Open at Baltusrol.

"So I've got that one back," Nicklaus said, but not the putter that won his sixth Masters, the one Nicklaus called a "waffle iron." The search continues.

Nicklaus almost ditched the Response before the Masters that year. He had first played with it in a PGA Tour event at the Honda Classic; he missed the cut.

He remembers vividly an incident during the second round as he addressed a 6-inch putt.

"The thing was so big (but lighter than normal putter heads) that the wind would get to it," Nicklaus said. "The wind was blowing so hard that I hit the putt, stubbed it and left it short."

Mark McCumber played with Nicklaus that day and still has a hard time believing what he saw.

"I mean, Jack Nicklaus doesn't stub 6-inch putts," McCumber said. "But you could feel the big gust of wind come up and literally move the putter. But once he got used to it, he made a lot of putts.

"That final round at Augusta was amazing, mainly because of how he putted with that thing."

Nicklaus stuck with the Response because, that incident at the Honda Classic aside, he said the ball left the putter face with a good roll and feel.

"Once I got used to the lightness of the putter, I could make the ball roll over better with it," he said. "Why I'm not still using it, I don't have any idea. I should probably go back to it."

He probably would, so long as it was the original. Note to whoever might find it in the garage: There might still be some magic left in it.

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