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I can't walk 18 holes anymore - my legs won't take it," says Doug Ford, who has played every Masters since 1956. "I figure this will be my last Masters."
Ford's life changed forever on April 7, 1957, when he beat Sam Snead to win at Augusta. Ford was the '55 PGA champion and a four-time Ryder Cupper with a magical short game, but from that Sunday forward his name has been linked to the Masters. For 40 years he has attended the annual Champions' Dinner with Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus et al., all of them wearing the green jackets they put on once a year. But "walking around like a big shot, like you belong" among golf's grandmasters, as Ford puts it, is only one perk the champs enjoy. Another is a lifetime exemption into the tournament's select field. That's why dozens of players who might win the '98 Masters won't be invited while Ford, who has no chance, will.
"Galleries love us old guys," says Ford, 75, who has given fans plenty to love in his record 45 appearances. It doesn't bother him that he has finished last four years in a row, has broken 80 only twice in his last 10 Augusta appearances and hasn't shot par there since the Nixon Administration. He didn't brood over missing the cut by 30 last year, finishing with a 94 that was the tournament's second-highest score ever. "I had a bad day," he says.
He was the Lanny Wadkins of his day, a fiery competitor who played fast. "A Harley-Davidson golfer, that's me," he says. Yet his most vivid Masters memory is of a lull in play. In 1957 at the par-5 15th, he decided to go for the green in two. "I'd done the same thing the day before and knocked it in the water, but I had Snead behind me, and I was never any good at playing safe," he recalls.
His caddie George (Fireball) Franklin said, "Use your four-iron. It'll cost me $100 if you go in the water."
"Give me my three-wood," Ford said. "They only remember you around here if you win." His ball cleared the water by inches, and he birdied the hole. An hour later, watching his bunker shot at 18 roll into the cup, the new Masters champ threw his sand wedge so high it may still be spinning among the dogwoods.
He nearly won again in '58, when Arnold Palmer beat him by one. Ford went on to win the Canadian Open in 1959 and 1963. He earned $335,886 in 13 winless years on the Senior tour, and today he plays and teaches in Lake Worth, Fla. Still, his trademark has been his annual return to Augusta, where his sputtering game can resemble a Model T on a freeway. Some fans ask why such an antique plays on with no hope of making the cut.
"Bob Goalby would needle me, too. 'Why don't you quit?' he'd say. But I love the tournament. I love the nostalgia," Ford says.
Nostalgia is a tangible part of his life. He keeps Masters mementos, including a silver cigarette case dated 1957 and etched with the players' names, on his mantelpiece. "I treasure it," he says. Another souvenir stays in Georgia: "The jacket's a little tight. It's still a 42, but I'm a 43 now."
This week he will play at the Legends of Golf in Summer Beach, Fla., then return to Doug Ford's Lacuna Country Club in Lake Worth. A lacuna, of course, is an empty space, a hollow. Ford will have one on his calendar if not in his heart when the Masters goes on without him in 1999. But if you say his poor scores might be a reason to bow out, you'll start him fuming. "I'm not embarrassed to shoot 80," he says.
What about last year's 94?
"Too much gambling, that's all," he says. "I was shooting for the pins on the back nine."
Issue date: March 23, 1998
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