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How the Masters grew to what it is today
For a golfer, there is no springtime rite more dear than that of the Masters.
It is fitting that the first Major of the year is held at a place as perfect as Augusta National Golf Club. Part golf course, part cathedral, the layout holds past history and will produce future records to continually enhance the foundation of the game we love.
Augusta’s famous azaleas in full springtime bloom, just in time for the Masters.
Having attended the event half a dozen times (once with a clubhouse badge passed on to Spalding Sports by Bobby Jones himself), I have a fondness for this tournament over all others.
The Masters has grown into this utopia of golf over its many years, but certainly the founding of the club by Jones was the most instrumental of all things that led to this.
After winning the Grand Slam in 1930 and promptly retiring from competitive golf at age 28, Jones was looking for a place where a true national (or even international) golf club could be formed and built.
The Great Depression didn’t help matters, but with Jones’ stellar reputation and his investment partner, Clifford Roberts, working his contacts, the start-up money flowed in.
With noted golf course architect Dr. Alister Mackenzie, Jones had the course ready for the inaugural Augusta National Invitation in the spring of 1934, won by Horton Smith.
Inaugural Augusta National Invitation winner Horton Smith in 1934.
Already journalists were referring to the tournament as the Masters, but Jones and Roberts resisted calling it that until 1939.
The champions and the style in which they won the event over the years helped build its reputation.
On the way to his 1935 win. Gene Sarazen struck the “shot heard round the world” — a double eagle two on the par-5 Hole 15 to start things off. The Augusta National members were so impressed that they named the bridge at the 15th green in honor of Sarazen.
Masterful play firmly planted Masters’ lore early, such as Sarazen’s double eagle two on a par-5.
Byron Nelson got his first of two wins in 1937. The members named the bridge at the 13th tee after Nelson for his first-round 66 — a record that stood for 39 years.
Ben Hogan started his best year of golf in 1953 by winning the Masters with a record score of 274. That stood for 12 years. Hogan called it the best four rounds of ball striking he ever produced. Yes, the members named a bridge for Hogan also – perhaps the best one, it goes over Rae’s Creek on the picturesque par-3 Hole 12.
These bridges are part of the Masters’ mystique.
Hogan’s record four-round 274, which stood for a dozen years, earned him a bridge.
Want more history?
How about in 1958 when Arnold Palmer won his first Masters? The event was on television, and millions of fans were recruited to a fresh new “Arnie’s Army.”
This was the same year that golf writer Herbert Warren Wind coined the phrase “Amen Corner” for the pivotal holes 11, 12 and 13 in the valley and bend of Augusta National. That year Palmer took his storied drop from a plugged lie in back of the 12th green to make par and then eagled the par 5 13th to secure his first of four green jackets.
Amen Corner courtesy Frank Fenton for 2nd Swing Golf Blog.
A tradition started in 1960 with the wonderful diminutive Par-3 Contest first being played. Like a happy little tune being played before the symphony of the actual tournament, the Par-3 Contest gives the players and the spectators a chance to get up close and personal with one another.
You can see, hear, and almost touch the players as they romp through the wee course. Just don’t sit too close to the greens. Even the world’s best players spray a short iron shot from time to time. But this too is part of the fabric of the Masters.
The Masters Par-3 contest is a chance for fans and players’ families to interact before the real game begins.
In my opinion, the best golfer to ever play the game is Jack Nicklaus, who got his first Masters win in 1963. Who can forget when in 1986, with Nicklaus supposedly well past his prime, he fired an incredible final-round 65 to win his record sixth green jacket and his 18th professional major?
Exciting rounds by Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros (both with two wins each) from 1977 to 1983 painted history in our collective minds. Or how about Nick Faldo’s string of wins in ’89, ’90 and ’96?
And remember him beating the unbeatable Greg Norman that year?
Speaking of Norman, his unlucky streak was well documented in 1987 when former Augusta local Larry Mize holed out his impossible chip shot from over the hill to the right of the Hole 11 green in their playoff. The stunned Norman had no chance of holing his tying putt after that miracle. What TV excitement that was!
Who could forget the very lucky Fred Couples getting the break of his life when his tee ball hung up on the steep bank of the 12th green? Couples then took full advantage and won the tourney.
In 1995, another past-his-prime player Ben Crenshaw had just buried his mentor, teacher and friend, Harvey Penick. Crenshaw came to Augusta with a heavy heart, but kept remembering what Penick had taught him. Phenomenally, Crenshaw kept his mind on the job and when he holed out for the win on the 18th green, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
That’s the Masters.
Crenshaw with his emotional 1995 Masters win shortly after losing his friend, teacher and mentor, Penick.
Tiger Woods broke a scoring record that stood for 32 years with his historic 270 score in 1997. The vault is filled with steady, great shots struck by Woods on his way to his four Masters wins.
His rival, Phil Mickelson, has three wins, the last in 2010. Do you remember the gambling shot that Lefty hit out of the right woods, off the pine straw on the par-5 13th?
His ball narrowly missed the trees in front of him and stopped about four feet from the hole as a loud cheer went up from the patrons. (Oh yeah, that’s another reason the Masters is special. The crowd is not a group of spectators, but rather they are “patrons.”)
One of the more recent historical shots has to be that of Bubba Watson in the 2012 playoff. In jail, out of the right trees on Hole 10, Watson hits it close. Unbelievable! I went to the exact stop he hit the shot from, and I can tell you this — not many Tour players on this planet could have curved the ball that much with a short iron to get anywhere near the hole. A true Masters moment.
Watson’s 2012 Masters genius curved strike in the playoff is known forever now as “The Shot.”
The quality of the small field of players from around the world invited to the Masters, the admiration of the past champions, and the history that takes place year after year are some of the reasons that I call it the best and most prestigious tournament in golf.
Most of the players would agree.
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