One less drop of rain. One more run of the mower. A cup less of fertilizer last fall. One more breath from a nearby butterfly. A blade of grass with weak knees. An eyelash less luck. Any of these things could have cost Fred Couples the Masters. But somehow, some way, Couples's golf ball hugged the steep slope at Augusta National's 12th hole, clung to it the way a sock clings to a towel fresh out of a hot dryer. The ball steadfastly refused to fall into the water. Does Maxfli use Velcro?
Lookee here now, there are laws at the Augusta National Golf Club, and they will not be trifled with. No tipping. No women upstairs in the clubhouse locker room. The green jackets never leave the property, except the one belonging to the reigning Masters champ. The azaleas are even told when to blush. And the No. 1 law of the par-3 12th hole, the edict that never gets broken, is that any spheroid that hits the bank in front of the green rolls back into Rae's Creek, and you're wearing at least a 5, bucko. No exceptions. It was that way for Gene Sarazen. It was that way for Ben Hogan. It was that way for Tom Weiskopf, who spun five balls into that creek, two of them bank jobs, in the first round in 1980.
A ball has about as much chance of stopping on that bank as a marble docs of stopping halfway down a drainpipe. Does not happen. This is where Henry Longhurst often used the term a watery grave. Said Furman Bisher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who has been coming to Augusta since 1950, "In all my years of coming here, I can't remember one staying on that bank."
But on Masters Sunday 1992, on the biggest day of Couples's 32½ years, with Ray Floyd and Corey Pavin breathing hot down his neck and with a brilliant career waiting to bloom, one finally did. "The biggest break, probably, in my life," said Couples.
Well, why not? Why shouldn't all the laws of physics come to a halt? Practically every other precept at staid Augusta was folded, stapled and mutilated last week.
For instance, at Augusta no business is allowed to be conducted on club property. Business is not even to be discussed. However, while walking between the 9th and 10th holes during a practice round on April 8, the day before the tournament started, hunky chunk John Daly got a piece of paper stuck in front of his face for the nine millionth time that day. This one, though, wasn't in search of an autograph. It was an envelope. Daly didn't grip it, didn't rip it, didn't even want to look at it. "Hell," said Daly, who ended up tied for 19th in his first Masters, "it could have been a love letter."
It was, sort of. It was a notification that he was being sued for paternity and breach of promise by his ex-girlfriend Bettye Fulford. Dear John: Your hull is sued. Enjoy the hack nine.
At Augusta no running is allowed. But on Saturday, Ian Baker-Finch and Jeff Sluman, who were a twosome that day, literally ran to their shots on the 17th and 18th holes. Double-parked on Magnolia Lane? No. A three-hour rain delay earlier in the day meant that, to finish before play was called for darkness, Baker-Finch and Sluman had to sprint between shots as fast as their little spikes could take them. At one point Sluman was putting out on number 17 as Baker-Finch was madly planting his tee at 18. They made it.
At Augusta no littering is allowed. However, all tournament long Ray Floyd kept leaving balls lying in cups. You would think that, at five months short of 50, he would know better, but he kept dumping balls into Augusta's holes and then just walking away with that gunslinger strut he has. At 43 Floyd won the U.S. Open and told us it was wonderful because he wasn't sure when he would ever get another chance at a major. At 47 he nearly cried after losing the 1990 Masters in a playoff to Nick Faldo and told us he wasn't sure he would get another chance to win a major.
Now here he was on Saturday night, sixth on the PGA Tour money list, winner of the Doral Ryder Open earlier this year, two shots out of the lead at the Masters and making the world wonder how you can Retin-A a golf swing.