There are stories from the year’s first major golf tournament which stay with you forever if you have ever loved the game of golf. One of the best that has withstood the test of time, was when Gene Sarazen (born Eugenio Saraceni) hit "The shot heard 'round the world" in the 1935 Masters. It was a final round 225-yard 4-wood on the par-5, 15th hole that went in, giving him a very rare double-eagle 2 on the hole, and led to him later winning the tournament in a playoff. Or 1986, when the Golden Bear came out of a long hibernation to win his sixth championship. Or when Tiger made his first appearance as a pro, and shot a 40 on his first nine holes, causing many to likely think, "the kid’s not ready." Tiger may have sensed those thoughts and posted a 30 on the back that first day. He would go on to win by 12 shots. On day three he shot a 65. Colin Montgomery was playing with him and commented after, "This is a game that I had not seen before... none of us had.”
Augusta National over the decades has given its fans tales of impossible shots leading to improbable victories, and heartbreaking collapses followed by maddening thoughts of what might have been.
My experience going to the great tournament came in 1999, when on Sunday, Jose Maria Olazabal capped Greg Norman’s eagle with one of his own on No. 13. Norman was doomed again when his bogey on 14 knocked him out of the lead for good, while Olazabal went on to wear a second green jacket.
The year 1999 must seem like forever ago to David Duval, who was then the hottest player on the planet and ranked No. 1 in the world; he finished 6th that year. Seven years later it took me awhile to find Duval’s current ranking at 433. It’s a cunning and baffling game.
There are also memorable stories that come from outside the ropes, and one I heard from a friend many years ago never gets old. Dabbs Cavin and his son Will, who was 11 at the time, were at the tournament for Saturday’s round. Dabbs was there because of his mother's persistence for so many years in applying for tickets. She was the one that actually got me interested in the game by taking Dabbs’ older brother Trey and I out to the local muni golf course when we were boys.
Anyway, that Saturday morning, Dabbs and Will were walking around and ran into their friend Mike, who is a member at Augusta, and who invited them for a tour of the clubhouse.
They eventually made their way upstairs to the heart of the Club, where the Grill and locker rooms are. The Grill is where the Champion’s dinner is held on the Tuesday night during tournament week. After looking inside the locker room Mike pointed out a closed door nearby and said, “I can’t take you in there because that’s the locker room for Master’s champions only.” Just as he finished saying that the three heard an elderly voice coming from the stairs saying, “Well he might not be able to take you in their youngster, but I sure can.”
The old gentleman came over, put his hand on Will’s shoulder and led him through the hallowed door, leaving Dad and Mike behind.
Inside, the man pointed to a locker and asked Will to read the name on the brass plaque. “Jack Nicklaus,” came the boy’s excited reply. He pointed to another locker where Will read the name of Arnold Palmer. They also saw those of Woods, Player and Snead.
They came to to another locker the man said was his favorite. “This locker belongs to me,” he told Will. The boy looked up and read the name of the last Master’s champion who won it in an 18-hole playoff, against Gene Littler in 1970, and had also included in his 51 PGA tour victories, two U.S. Open titles, the second of those coming in 1966 when he was seven shots down with nine holes to play against Arnold Palmer, forcing a playoff and winning the next day.
Will looked at the plaque and slowly said the last name first -- “Casper.”
Then the great old golfer and family man who had raised 11 children of his own, put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and led him back out into the hallway of mortals.
He looked down at his young guest and offered him a hand. Will took it and said, “Thank you Mr. Casper.”
“You’re welcome Will,” Billy Casper said, grinning back at him before turning and walking away.
Jay Edwards is a freelance columnist who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.