Robert Wieferich's evocative watercolors of the Par-3 Contest, played at Augusta each year the day before the Masters begins (page 56), represent not only many hours in the studio but also some impressive legwork. The first step came in February 1988, when Wieferich, who lives in Gaithersburg, Md., packed up his portfolio, caught a train to New York, and walked into the office of SI design director Steven Hoffman. "They had told me just to send slides," says Wieferich, 38, who had never been published in a major magazine, "but I wanted to show the originals."
What he showed were 15 large watercolors, some of which measured three by five feet, of baseball spring-training scenes. "They were huge impressionistic paintings," says Hoffman, "and they had this wonderful sense of light, of spring and of the outdoors."
A month and a half later Hoffman and deputy design director Peter Herbert were looking for an artist to undertake the Par-3 picture essay when, says Hoffman, "Robert and his paintings popped into my head. The relaxed atmosphere of spring training reminded me of Augusta. I felt Robert could capture that feeling again."
A longtime sports fan, Wieferich was thrilled with the assignment. There was just one catch. A week after visiting the magazine he had had surgery on his left leg, and he was still on crutches. "But I was not about to pass up the trip," he says.
So on Wednesday, April 6 of last year, Wieferich found himself propped up at the first tee, his camera around his neck (he paints from photographs), facing an especially tough nine holes at Augusta. Then came the rain—intermittent downpours throughout the day. Says Wieferich, "I remember thinking, The contest will be rained out and that's it—no paintings."
But play was completed, and Wieferich, along with Herbert, made his way around the course, battling the hills, the water hazards and the crowds. "I was exhausted at the end of the day," recalls Herbert. "But Robert was still out there, walking all over the course on those crutches."
Wieferich returned to his studio with almost 100 photographs. Six months later, the crutches long gone, he walked into Hoffman's office with another packed portfolio. This one contained the paintings that appear in this issue. Wieferich has been in good standing with us ever since.