Now the sun is a red ball on a wooded ridge. The Cadillac slides onto Interstate 77 and searches for a constant speed amid the cars and big rigs finding their way out of Akron. In the passenger seat the old man sits contentedly, wiggling his toes in his brown leather shoes. His son, one of the old man's four children, tends to lead the conversation. They talk about the son's teaching job at a golf school in upstate New York. They talk about the old man's daughter, son-in-law and three young grandsons, who left for Augusta two days ago in a van. They talk about raccoon hunting and the old man's dogs.
But the conversation always comes back to 1946 and Augusta. For a half century the old man has replayed that week—the funny conversations with bookies and chums, the angry exchanges with club members and tournament officials. Ben Hogan, his implacable and awe-inspiring foe, has few lines in these remembered dialogues, but the legendary Bobby Jones and the imperious tournament chairman, Clifford Roberts, loom large.
Some memories are so sharp they could have happened yesterday: his final-round approach shot around a pine on the 10th that missed the trunk by an eyelash and wound up six inches from the hole...the two bookmakers ("the fat guy from New York and the little guy from Texas") who lent him money on the weekend so he could bet on himself...his run-in with sportswriter Grantland Rice, who said he was playing too slow, in the third round, which ended, the old man says, when he threatened to wrap his putter around Rice's neck....
Welcome to west Virginia, interrupts a sign at the Ohio River bridge. A few minutes later the Cadillac exits the freeway and rolls into Parkersburg for gas. "You have to understand," his son says, working the pump. "There was big money on Hogan at 4 to 1, and Dad was five strokes ahead after two rounds."
And you have to understand, too, that the Masters, in those days, was less a solemn major-cum-flower-show and more a high-stakes Calcutta. Club members, some with up to $50,000 on Hogan, might have been hoping that the leader, a 20-to-1 long shot from Springfield, Mo., would have car trouble or contract food poisoning. Unseen forces did, in fact, switch his third-round starting time without telling him—he almost missed his tee time—and someone arranged a change of caddies.
"Oh, yeah, they gave me a 13-year-old kid," the old man says, returning to the car with a bag of potato chips and a can of Dr Pepper. "By the second hole he was dragging my clubs. I stopped and demanded a real caddie."
No experienced caddies, he was told, were available.
Opening the passenger-side door, the old man says, "I am going to drive some. If not, let me out, and I'll hitchhike."
It's not like the old days. I-77 has tamed the mountains and bypassed the coal towns, making West Virginia safe and scenic. The Cadillac growls up grades with no effort, leaving the father and son with little to do but listen to LeAnn Rimes on the radio warbling her admonition not to lose "the light in your eyes." The younger man says, "That Bobby Locke must have been the greatest putter who ever lived." The old man says, "I might have put Horton Smith ahead of him." And the old man pictures Locke, the great South African player: "Knickers and long hair, called everybody Laddie. From the sand he'd pick the ball off like it was on a tee. He said, 'I don't like the splosh"—Locke-talk for the explosion shot.
As the sun climbs, you almost expect to see a vintage Plymouth or Packard roar by in the passing lane, an adult arm out each window, cigarette sparks bouncing on the pavement. The Tour moved by automobile in the old man's day, and the names of cherished travel companions are always on his lips—Johnny Bulla, Duke Gibson, Bob Hamilton, Chandler Harper (who teamed with the old man to win the 1942 Miami Four Ball), Jug McSpaden, Byron Nelson, Henry Picard. A family friend back in Akron had spoken with feeling of those pioneers, telling how they doubled up in dollar motels and crossed deserts in caravans. "One time," the friend said, "Herman and Ky Laffoon and Bob Hamilton drove from the West Coast to Miami and had 15 flats along the way."