Some things cannot possibly happen, because they are both too improbable and too perfect.
The U.S. hockey team cannot beat the Russians in the 1980 Olympics.
Jack Nicklaus cannot shoot 65 to win the Masters at age 46.
Nothing else comes immediately to mind.
Other periods have their Louis-Schmeling memories and the like, events that require only shorthand phrases for total evocation. For those whose frame of reference begins at World War II, few events in sport will command a higher place -- for drama, for sentiment and for value -- than Nicklaus' triumph this evening in the 50th Masters. A golden victory for a Golden Bear.
Now, we have a new benchmark for ennobling emotion in games. What Nicklaus achieved, deep in the dogwood, goes beyond mere excellence. His superiority at golf was established long ago -- five previous Masters victories, five PGA titles, four U.S. Opens, three British Opens and two U.S. Amateur crowns.
This afternoon was special because Nicklaus called on reserves of poise, of strength, of judgment under enormous pressure, which go to the heart of human dignity. When the youngest and strongest of athletes would have given up, five shots behind the leaders with just 10 holes to play, Nicklaus said to his caddie -- son Jack Jr. -- "If I'm going to do anything, I better start doing it."
So, he played the last 10 holes seven strokes under par and finished eagle-birdie-birdie-par.
Even rarer than his golf shot-making, Nicklaus brought, as he has always brought, a regal sense of joy in combat that is the core of great sportsmanship. Where others suffer in the creation of their athletic deeds, Nicklaus exudes both utter concentration and complete pleasure.
Others say their prayers in Amen Corner. Nicklaus sings Hallelujah.
"It's so much fun to be in the hunt," he said after both Greg Norman and Tom Kite had missed putts of four or five paces on the final green that would have forced a playoff. "I haven't had this much fun in six years."
Nicklaus, the mature adult who knows deferred gratification to the bone, will wait and work years for one long vital day of the purest adrenalin-filled life.
It's been a long bitter drought for Nicklaus since his last major title -- the 1980 U.S. Open at age 40. As the last precious seasons of his career escaped him, more and more friends, even family, hinted that retirement would be wise. Finally, just a week ago, he vowed: "I'm not going to quit, playing like this."
Golf is the game of failure. More than any of our other sports, golf incorporates both the capricious and the cruel. Ted Williams once said to Sam Snead: "Golf's not that hard. The ball doesn't move." "No," replied Snead, "but we have to play our foul balls."
In the last six years, during which he has won only two tournaments out of nearly 100 attempts, Nicklaus has had to play many foul balls. Only those who follow his career meticulously know how many crucial short putts he has missed, how many shots that he once depended upon have failed him, how many chances to win he has kicked away.
And only those who know him can have seen the pain of self-inflicted mediocrity. Playing tournament golf without sufficient practice is like walking downstairs in pitch darkness. And finding time for golf is often nearly impossible for the man who Chi Chi Rodriguez said "is a legend in his spare time."
Devoting days to his family and five children has been a joy. Nicklaus gave much of the credit for his victory to the moral support, and even coaching, of Jackie. "To have your own son with you to share an experience like that is so great for him, so great for me," he said. "I have great admiration for him. He's done a wonderful job of handling the burden of my name."
Typically, Nicklaus' first phone call this morning was from his son Steve, who said: "Whaddaya think, Pop? 'Bout a 65 wins it?' " "That's the number I had in mind," replied the old man. "Then let's go shoot it," said Steve.
Less pleasure to Nicklaus has been the building of a $400-million empire, based on golf course design, club manufacturing, clothing lines and dozens of subsidiary businesses. In the last six months, Nicklaus increased his burdens by becoming his own chief executive officer in the wake of some overseas losses. He put his hands on the machinery every day. But not always on his golf clubs.
The result: the most embarrassing slump of his career. His 1986 winnings before today were $4,004.
To what depths of talent and temperament did Jack Nicklaus reach this warm breeze-swept afternoon on the course that his hero, Bobby Jones, designed? Two weeks ago, he pronounced his game a wreck. One week ago, he said: "I've finally started hitting the ball solidly again." One day ago, he said: "I haven't made a putt all week."
Yet, when the moment presented itself, he grasped it, felt its texture, turned it to his advantage, fed off it while others were being devoured.
"This is a young man's golf course," he said. "Greens fast as glass. Pins on the knobs. Every putt breaks two feet. It's long and hard to walk. The crowds make for lots of emotion, which drains you."
Nicklaus paused. He had no explanation. Something so improbable and so perfect that it could not possibly happen had actually come to pass. He was the center of it, yet could not fully understand. He could only fall back on that boyish high-pitched giggle and wry smile.
"Obviously," he said, "I'm just tickled pink."