SI Vault
Sarah Ballard
April 20, 1987
Augusta's own Larry Mize sank this 140-foot chip shot to win a Masters playoff over the snakebit Greg Norman
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April 20, 1987

My, Oh Mize

Augusta's own Larry Mize sank this 140-foot chip shot to win a Masters playoff over the snakebit Greg Norman

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"I still don't know how the putt stayed out," Norman said an hour or so after he had watched his ball trickle over the left lip of the cup. "When it was about a foot, foot and a half out, I said to myself, Don't say a word, because it's going in. I just couldn't believe it missed, nor could my caddie, Pete [Bender]. He was just as taken aback as I was. But it was a good tournament, I suppose. We made it exciting again this year."

Mize, who stirred the galleries to the verge of frenzy through the last regulation holes and the two holes of the playoff, was born in Augusta and played his junior golf on the course of Augusta National's next-door neighbor, the Augusta Country Club. His father, a retired telephone company executive, took up golf at 35 and led his three children, of whom Larry is the youngest, into the game. "He was 13 when he first beat me," says Charles Mize. "I shot 75 and he shot 74, and I haven't beaten him since." For Mize, golf was it. "Larry never had to mow the grass because he might get a blister that would affect his golf," says Mize's sister, Lisa, who was in his gallery Sunday, along with Larry's wife, Bonnie, and their year-old son, David.

When Larry was 14 he got his first job, working the scoreboard at the third hole during Masters week. In those days Nicklaus was usually at or near the lead of the tournament and frequently played in one of the last pairings. As soon as the last group had finished playing No. 3, Mize would hop down off the scoreboard and follow Nicklaus through the remainder of his round.

After three years at Georgia Tech, Mize quit college to turn pro and join the Tour, something he had wanted to do since the age of 10. He won his first tournament, the Danny Thomas-Memphis Classic, in 1983, his second year on the Tour, and has improved each year. Last year he came close to winning three times, including the Kemper Open, where Norman caught him and then beat him on the sixth playoff hole.

Of his second win as a professional, Mize said, "I picked a doozy." Of his childhood at Augusta National's back door, he said, "Peeking through the fence is about as close as I got." Of leaving college without a degree, he said, "I was a stupid little kid." And finally, when asked if he was trying to hole his now historic chip shot or merely trying to get it close, he said, "Both.... But when you're playing somebody like Greg Norman, you can't be trying to make pars."

Mize, it seems, is the boy next door who knows when to go for the jugular.

Nicklaus's spectacular victory last April was a tough act to follow, but the 1987 Masters turned out to be a worthy successor, producing the 16th different winner in as many major championships. As Robert Trent Jones Jr. the golf course architect, said after watching the finish, "You know, you just can't get cynical about the Masters."

As the tournament began, it appeared as if the greens might end up winning. Dry weather, warm, sunny days and the late-afternoon wind contributed to the treacherous condition of the putting surfaces. In an effort to bring the speed of the greens back to what it was 20 years ago, Augusta National had switched from Bermuda to bent grass in 1980. But it wasn't until this year that the greens had the right combination of firmness and hardness, thanks in no small part to the magic of new greens superintendent Paul Latshaw. His previous job was at Oakmont, near Pittsburgh, a course with notoriously fast greens.

On Thursday players were stumbling in off the course hollow-eyed, like survivors of a natural disaster. John Cook's three-under-par 69 was the low score of the day, due, no doubt, to the fact that he played early, before the wind came up and dried the greens even more. Only 13 of the 85 players in the field shot par or better, including Mize at 70.

The greens were hand-watered following Thursday's round—"just enough to keep [the grass] from dying," said an official—and scoring improved somewhat. Maltbie shot a 66 for the low round on Friday, and Norman matched that on Saturday. By Sunday, however, continued dry weather and gusting winds had firmed the greens almost to the ferocity of the first day. So it was more than coincidence that the leaders included the game's best putters—Crenshaw, Norman and Ballesteros.

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