As any of the touring professionals will confess, the time to start thinking about winning yourself a Masters championship is January, when the winter tour has hardly begun. Along with the U.S. Open, the Masters is the most prized championship in golf. It is a tournament worth planning for, played on a golf course that demands planning. I was well aware that I had played in four previous Masters championships without much success. So this January I did some thinking. The result was one major decision and two lesser ones that ended with my having the great privilege of wearing the green jacket that is given to each Masters winner.
First, I decided that I would pace off the course, something I had done at many other tournaments but never at Augusta. This would enable me to judge my distance from the green quite accurately on every shot. Second, I felt it was necessary to attack the course from beginning to end—and very seldom hit a conservative shot. Finally—and this was by far the most important element in my pretournament strategy—I decided to revise my game to suit Augusta National. I had not been able to beat the Augusta course the way I played golf, so now I was going to play a different kind of golf, designed just to beat Augusta.
When the 1963 tournament season started I was in better physical condition, and my game was sharper than it normally is in January, largely because my fall layoff had been brief. I played average golf in the Los Angeles Open and played almost well enough to win the Crosby. Almost. It will be a while before I forget how I three-putted the last hole to lose. It was just about this time that I began my pre-Masters preparations. My normal game has always been to hit my shots so that they come down with a slight left-to-right fade. I have been able to get plenty of distance this way, as well as accuracy. But now I decided that this game simply was not right for Augusta. I had been playing the course the wrong way.
After all, Bobby Jones, who helped Alister MacKenzie lay the course out, played most of his shots to hook from right to left. Arnold Palmer, who plays the course as if he owned it, normally hits a slight hook. Hogan, before he changed over to the fade, used to hook, and he won at Augusta twice and finished second four times. Snead, who has won the Masters three times, has always drawn the ball from right to left. I thought, my gosh, Augusta National is practically all doglegs to the left. I had never been able to draw the ball properly, but I decided it was time to learn.
Learning to hook, however, was to be an even more difficult process than I had anticipated. In late January, while playing in a pro-am event just before the San Francisco open, I suddenly suffered a sharp pain in my left hip. It was so bad I could hardly walk. I went to a doctor there, and he diagnosed it as bursitis. The only thing that could help it was rest. I played badly at San Francisco, missing the 36-hole cutoff, and only the warm weather made it possible for me to play well at Palm Springs and win that tournament. But through all the tournaments that followed—Arizona, Louisiana and Florida—I could never practice without inflaming the hip. I rested, I took injections to ease the pain and I was able to play tournament rounds. But even my usually light preround warmups had to be cut in half. It was not until the Friday before the Masters that I was able to practice at all. By then I must have gotten enough rest and treatment, for the pain in the hip vanished as quickly as it had come.
As a result of not being able to practice, I was forced to learn my new hooking technique during tournaments. Developing the new shot was mainly a question of timing. Learning it while in competition was pretty slow work. I made absolutely no change in my grip or my swing. I simply began to hit the ball differently by rolling my wrists slightly to the left, thus producing a hook. I went ahead and hit these right-to-left shots in tournaments, even on holes that should not have been played that way.
Just at the time I went up to Augusta I started getting better at this shot. I began to have confidence that I could repeat my swing time after time and draw the ball the right amount. The only trouble was that I had not been playing very much or practicing at all, and my game was not, on the whole, as sharp as it might have been.
In my practice rounds at Augusta I shot 69, 70, 67 and then 32 for nine holes. Judging from these scores, it looked as if I would shoot out the lights once the tournament began. But I did the same thing before the Masters last year, and then started out 74, 75. It is not uncommon for pros to shoot great scores in practice rounds and then poor ones in a tournament. It is not necessarily that we start playing badly, it is more often that the tournament, especially one like the Masters, scares us a little and we begin to play defensively. But I had already made up my mind about attacking the course. That's how Palmer plays Augusta, I figured. Why shouldn't I? With my hook working nicely, the distances on key holes paced off and noted on a scorecard (see page 22) and my attitude pretty bold, I was ready. No one who has played in the Masters can be surprised at the weather. Augusta can be without a breath of breeze for a month, and the first day of the tournament will come up windy. It never fails. They say you will have four different days there: one day of rain, one day of wind, one day when the greens are like marble and one day when they are squishy as sponges. That's how it was this year, too. On opening day, Thursday, Augusta greeted us with a gale.
I was a little surprised, however, to find myself 3 over par after 13 holes. I had played a lot better than 3-over-par golf. I had missed some short putts, and I had bogeyed the 13th after a good three-iron trickled off the right side of the green into the creek and gave me a 6 instead of a possible eagle 3.
But on the next hole, the 420-yard 14th, I began to get going. In previous years, because I was fading the ball, I had always found this par-4 hole particularly difficult. It doglegs slightly around a clump of pine trees on the left, and the fairway slopes down into trees on the right. My tee shot had usually landed on the right side of the fairway and then kicked down toward or into the trees. But this year I was able to hook my drive right up the center of the fairway. I hit a seven-iron 20 feet from the hole and knocked in the putt, my first birdie of the tournament. I birdied 15 also, and then made a real good chip for my par on the watery, par-3 16th hole. The pin on the 16th green was located at the back right, and my shot went to the right of the trap on that side. I had a downhill lie in sand and pine needles, but I hit a very touchy chip over the trap, against a bank and up onto the green close to the hole.