15 Minutes

In 1986 an ugly duckling of a putter was turned into a swan
April 04, 2005

An executive at MacGregor called it a "Bozo the Clown club." SI's Dan Jenkins got laughs by writing that it looked like a vacuum cleaner attachment. Even Jack Nicklaus, who made the Response ZT putter the must-have club of 1986, initially greeted it with a raised eyebrow. "Is this a joke?" he asked its designer, Clay Long.

If golf clubs had feelings, the Response putter would have gone to its room and cried. Instead it wound up in the bags of about 300,000 golfers after Nicklaus--at the ripe age of 46--used one to win the 1986 Masters. "The Monday morning after the tournament we got 5,000 orders over the phone," recalls Long, who was then MacGregor's director of R&D. "It was like a fairy tale."

Nicklaus admits that he was leery of the Response when Long first showed him a prototype at MacGregor's plant in Albany, Ga. While the rationale for the club was sound enough--its oversized, lightweight aluminum head resisted twisting on off-center hits--it looked like something salvaged from Ralph's Plumbing.

But Nicklaus liked the way his clown club rolled the ball. Acting in his capacity as company owner--MacGregor Golf was then a subsidiary of Golden Bear International--he authorized a modest rollout of the product for 1986. (The company forecast a sale of 6,000 Response putters for the year.)

Then came the Masters. Through two rounds "I was hitting the ball well," Nicklaus says, "but I couldn't make a putt." In the third round his ball started to find the hole. That set the stage for one of the most memorable Sundays in sports history, and Nicklaus shared it with the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer of golf clubs. "In the final round I ran the table," the great man says of his 65. The iconic image is that of Nicklaus, putter thrust skyward, watching his ball disappear into the 15th hole for eagle.

The following morning the phones began to ring in Albany. MacGregor soon had most of its 250,000-square-foot plant crammed with putter racks, and foundries in California had to be enlisted to meet the demand for the clubs. "We couldn't give those putters away before the Masters," Nicklaus says. "Afterward we couldn't make them fast enough. I don't know of any time in history when a club got a boost like that."

--John Garrity

COLOR PHOTO OVERNIGHT SENSATION After Nicklaus's triumph 300,000 golfers bought a Response.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)