In the days leading up to this year's Masters there was merry chatter about Tiger Woods—and his gigantic Scottish counterpart, Gordon Sherry—contending for the title, something no amateur had done in Augusta since 1961. But then the tournament began and the three-putts with it, and the chatter stopped. In the end Woods and Sherry and the three other amateurs in the field had no impact on the competition. Still, they fulfilled their solemn purpose. The nonequity fivesome carried the torch of Bobby Jones, the peerless and lifelong amateur who began the tournament as a get-together for his golfing friends, including professionals. Despite a combined score of 63 over par, the five men kept amateurism alive.
They showed up for the amateurs' dinner—the pep rally, the old-timers call it—the night before the tournament. They bunked down, two of them did, in the Crow's Nest, the cupola atop the Augusta National clubhouse, reserved for amateurs and, at $10 a night, the best value of Masters week. And they spoke with reverence about the course. When Chris Wollmann, who earned an invitation by winning last year's Public Links championship, was asked to compare Augusta National with the Parma, Ohio, muni he grew up playing, he said, "What kind of question is that? Ridgewood is weekend golfers and work leagues. This is Augusta National. There's no comparing the two."
The only thing the amateurs didn't do is play very well, thereby costing the club's engraver in Atlanta some work. The silver cup for low man and the Butler Cabin interview that goes with it require the completion of four rounds, and none of the amateurs made the cut. Last year Woods was the lone amateur to play 72 holes. This year he shot a pair of 75s and missed the cut by four strokes, even though he seemed to be playing half the par-4s with 350-yard drives followed by pitch shots. Sherry, red-haired and amiable, opened with a 78, closed with a 77 and flew off to Italy, red-faced and bewildered, to play in his first tournament as a pro.
Wollmann, a junior at Ohio State, broke 80 twice, each time by a shot, not the standard by which he usually measures his successes. But when you're playing in your inaugural Masters, you use nonstandard accounting methods.
Consider the case of George (Buddy) Marucci Jr., a 44-year-old investor from Pennsylvania who played his way to Augusta by finishing runner-up, to Woods, in last year's U.S. Amateur. He was paired in the first round with another Pennsylvanian, Arnold Palmer, his lifelong golf hero. "It was the greatest day of golf I've ever had," Marucci said, even allowing for his 79 swings. On Friday he needed two more.
Finally, there's Jerry Courville Jr., 37, the 1995 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion from Norwalk, Conn. As Courville played shots off Augusta's hallowed turf, his father, Jerry Sr., an accomplished amateur in his day, was up against the gallery ropes, his eyes trained on his namesake. The contestant's father, who is 61, is racked by cancer, and his doctors have told him he is facing his final days. "I think he hung on just so he could see Jerry do this," said the junior Courville's wife, Janet, her eyes filling. The triumph of the Courville family will never be listed in the Masters record book. All you'll see is 78-82, failed to qualify.
With Woods all questions ultimately come down to this: What does his future hold? Jack Nicklaus and Palmer have a prediction. "Arnold and I both agree that you could take our Masters victories and add them together, and this kid should win more than that," Nicklaus said after playing a practice round with Palmer and the Stanford sophomore. Palmer has won four green coats, Nicklaus six.
For Woods's two days in the tournament, his driving was like nothing Augusta National had ever witnessed. On Thursday on the 360-yard, par-4 3rd, Woods's tee shot finished 17 paces short of the green. On Friday on the 405-yard uphill home hole, Woods let out some shaft—steel, by the way—and was left with a 70-yard pitch from the middle of the fairway. He's very long and very straight. "Playing with him, I probably felt like you would feel playing with me," Greg Norman said to a roomful of duffer-scribes, recalling a practice round with Woods. "He was 50, 60 yards longer than me. I felt very inferior."
So why didn't Woods open with a pair of 65s? Because, despite all the demands it makes on a player's long game, Augusta National is ultimately a golf course of little shots, of chips and pitches to the correct side of the hole, of perfectly lagged eagle putts that leave you with tap-in birdies. Augusta National takes patience and wisdom, and even the great man himself, Bobby Jones, did not have patience and wisdom at the age of 20.
"He's still learning the game, and that takes time," Ben Crenshaw says. "He played the wrong club a few times. He needs to know when to go at it and when to lay back. With just the littlest of help, there's no telling what he could do. The smaller shots from around the green, his short irons and wedges, that's where he has to get razor sharp. But his talent is out of this world."