Charles Coody reflects on his Masters victory over Jack Nicklaus 50 years ago

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Drew Davison
·7 min read
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Fifty years later and Charles Coody is still surprised he knocked off Jack Nicklaus in the 1971 Masters.

“If you asked anybody in the golfing world on that particular Sunday, April 11, 1971, if Jack Nicklaus and Charles Coody are tied, who’s going to win? Anyone who said Charles Coody would probably be taken to Bellevue to get checked out,” Coody said, chuckling. “I’ll be realistic in my answer. I would’ve said Jack, too, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to try.”

Coody tried all right, and prevailed for a two-stroke victory over Nicklaus and Johnny Miller. That marked the biggest victory — and only major championship — in Coody’s career.

In a recent interview, the 83-year-old Coody who is still working out at Diamondback Golf Club in Abilene joked that it feels like 50 years ago physically but not mentally. The former TCU golfer still remembers everything that happened during that tournament, especially the final holes and how his collapse late at the 1969 Masters played a part in securing a victory two years later.

In 1969, Coody had a one-shot lead with three holes left following a birdie on the par-5 15th. On the par-3 16th, though, Coody went back-and-forth between clubs. He ultimately decided to hit a 5-iron instead of a 6-iron and ended up going long into a back bunker. That started a bogey string as he finished his round with three straight bogeys and finished two shots back of winner George Archer.

Two years later, facing similar conditions, Coody opted for the 6-iron and knocked it to within 12 feet. He made the birdie putt en route to his victory.

“The tee shot on No. 16 was deja vu,” Coody said. “The time of day. The shadows. The weather. The pin placement. Everything was exactly the same. I doubted myself in ‘69, changed clubs, wasn’t totally committed to the shot and made a very poor swing to start a bogey string which killed me.

“Then in ‘71, with it being like groundhog day again, I knew I was going to hit a 6-iron. That was the big assist from ‘69 is just the experience from that hole. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.”

Fortunately for Coody, Nicklaus never got going down the stretch. Given his length at the time, Nicklaus usually took advantage of the par-5s Nos. 13 and 15 but settled for pars on both. Nicklaus shot an even-par 72, going 1-over on the back nine.

Nicklaus went on to win the Masters the following year in 1972, one of his six victories at Augusta National.

“Jack did not have one of his good days, fortunately for me,” said Coody, who earned $25,000 for winning the tournament that week. This year’s winner will receive $2.1 million.

Coody added that Miller never entered his mind as a challenger down the stretch. This wasn’t the Miller who went on to win the U.S. Open two years later in 1973 and the British Open in 1976.

“I always knew how I stood with Jack and I don’t mean to be condescending to Johnny Miller,” Coody said. “I was never really concerned about Johnny Miller. I knew if I beat Jack, I’d win the tournament.

“It was great satisfaction. Obviously everyone knows Jack won 18 majors, but he finished second 19 times. So one of his seconds was the year I won.”

Don’t forget about ‘Cricket’

It’s hard to tell the story of Coody’s Masters victory without mentioning his caddie Walter “Cricket” Pritchett.

Back then, Augusta National assigned caddies to players. Coody wasn’t comfortable with the caddie initially assigned to him and asked tournament officials to pair him with Pritchett, who caddied for him in 1969.

The officials made it work. It paid off, of course, with a humorous story near the end of Sunday’s round. Pritchett traveled to Augusta to caddie for the tournament while telling his boss at his everyday job that he was visiting his sick grandmother. In an effort to avoid being “noticed” he draped a towel over his head.

The disguise didn’t work as his boss knew it was him … but he kept his job.

“I told Cricket, you’re not going to fool anyone,” Coody said. “He didn’t. He still had a pretty good week though.”

Champions Dinner

Among the highlights of being in the exclusive green jacket fraternity is attending the Champions Dinner the Tuesday of every Masters week.

This year’s dinner was hosted by 2020 champion Dustin Johnson, whose menu included a main course of filet mignon and miso-marinated sea bass with mashed potatoes and spring vegetables as sides. Dessert was peach cobbler and apple pie with vanilla ice cream.

Coody has attended every dinner since he won the coveted green jacket in 1971.

“Until I’m not physically able to go, I don’t intend to miss one,” Coody said. “I consider it not only an honor, but a privilege, to go.”

A couple of the more memorable dinners he’s attended was in 1989. Defending champ Sandy Lyle started the tradition of the players choosing the menu when he offered haggis.

Said Coody, laughing: “When I found out what haggis was, I decided to have a steak.”

Then, in 1998, a young golfer by the name of Tiger Woods had just won a green jacket at age 21 in 1997. Woods decided to do a menu suited for college-aged kids with cheeseburgers, french fries and milkshakes.

“The first time Tiger won, he had some sort of publicity about really liking cheeseburgers,” Coody said. “I told him, ‘Tiger, no way you’re getting out for a cheeseburger.’ The defending champion pays for the dinner. I had the best steak you can have.”

Coody chuckled about that dinner.

Woods upgraded to a porterhouse steak the next time he hosted in 2002 and 2003. When Woods hosted last year, his menu featured steak and chicken fajitas, sushi and sashimi and, yes, milkshakes once again.

“The dinner is a very important night for a lot of the past champions and the current champions who are still playing,” Coody said. “Everybody really looks forward to it. There’s a considerable amount of past champions who are no longer with us — the Hogans and Nelsons and Demarets. You miss them not being there because they were such an integral part of everything, and I really loved listening to their stories.”

Jack vs. Tiger

Jack Nicklaus was the best golfer of his generation. Tiger Woods is the best golfer of his.

Who’s better? Well, Nicklaus has won more majors (18 to 15) and has more than double second-place (19 to 7) and third-place (9 to 4) finishes in those events.

But Woods is arguably the most dominant golfer in the sport’s history.

Coody offered his opinion.

“They’re both great players,” Coody said. “Tiger, if he had not had any injuries or any of the other issues that were self-imposed, he might’ve won over 20 majors. But if you just take Jack’s record and Tiger’s record in majors, Jack has the better record by far.

“I’m not going to say Jack is the better player, though, because they’re both great players. In their prime, they were both very intimidating and the best of their period without a doubt — heads and heels above everybody else.”

Coody went on to say it’s impossible to compare players from different eras in any sport. Look no further than the Michael Jordan or LeBron James debate in basketball. Or, in baseball, how do you compare a Babe Ruth to a Mickey Mantle to a Mike Trout?

“You can’t compare them,” Coody said. “The times are different.”

At the end of the day, Coody is just happy to have his name on the same champions list as those two legendary players. The trip down Magnolia Lane every April never gets old.

“If anyone hasn’t been to Augusta before, I’d tell them that it’s not going to be like anything they imagined,” Coody said. “Just the rolling terrain and the magnificence and height of the pine trees, the few magnolia trees around the golf course. You actually have to see it in person.”

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