In addition to the difficult conditions, I was having problems with my own game that made scoring tough. After the first round my putting stroke completely deserted me, and I had serious problems with my concentration that stayed with me until the last nine holes of the playoff.
The putting problem I solved—in the world's luckiest way. On Sunday afternoon more millions of people than I care to think about watched me blow a three-footer on the 17th hole that could have won the tournament and retrieved all of my earlier mistakes. I had aimed the putt just inside the right-hand corner of the hole, but when I hit it the ball broke so far to the left, even though I stroked it firmly, that it never came close. To be frank, I looked like a duffer choking up with a $1 Nassau at stake. But I knew nerves had nothing to do with it. For some reason I had hit the putt miserably.
A little while later I was watching as CBS did a video-tape replay of the putt on television and I spotted what was wrong. On Thursday I had putted well. On Friday I needed 38 putts, and I missed seven of them from five feet or less. On Saturday and Sunday my putting was almost as bad as Friday's. What I saw in the TV picture was that I was lined up incorrectly. My head was bent too far forward, so I was actually looking back at the ball and the blade of the putter (page 36). I thought I was squaring the blade to the line along which I wanted to stroke the ball, but this was only an illusion. In reality I was lined up too far to the left. I went to the putting green Sunday night and practiced with my head in the correct position. During Monday's playoff I did not hit a single bad putt.
There was no easy remedy, however, for my mental lapses. A mental lapse should not be confused with a poor shot caused by a bad swing, of which I made a few, too. They are more annoying than bad shots and can cause as much trouble. I think three shots I hit during the playoff with Tommy Jacobs and Gay Brewer were typical of what I had been doing all week and offer an interesting insight into what happens when a pro golfer stops concentrating.
The 3rd hole at Augusta is a short par-4 (355 yards), but the green is small and there is a deep hollow just in front of it. You must hit the approach shot firmly so that it will land well into the green, or else it might draw back and roll down into the hollow. I had only a pitching wedge to the green, but I simply forgot to hit it far enough. The ball struck the upslope at the front of the green, then came back down the hill. I had to chip up and sink a nine-foot putt for my par.
Now this should have warned me, but it didn't. I made the identical mistake on the next hole. The 4th is a 220-yard par-3 that has a big, deep trap across much of the front of the green. The first thing to remember on the hole is to be over the trap, for shots into it often bury themselves in the sand. I hit a perfectly good six-iron, but again I had forgotten to allow the needed safety margin. The ball hit into the sand so hard that it practically disappeared. I was fortunate to get it out and onto the green. I bogeyed the hole and fell a shot behind Jacobs.
My last mental lapse of the Masters came at the 9th hole. I had hit my best drive of the day on this 420-yard par-4. I was 100 yards short of the flagstick and I seemed sure of taking at least a stroke lead over Jacobs because he had driven into the trees between the first and 9th fairways. But the 9th green slopes sharply from back to front, and I did it again. I hit an excellent sand wedge, but not far enough into the green. The ball hit on the putting surface, skipped forward and then the backspin took effect, pulling the ball off the green. I was left with a chip shot, and instead of a chance at a birdie I made a bogey.
Right there I got a grip on myself, and about time. I hit some bad shots after that, but no dumb ones. My determination to win finally helped get me in front. On the 10th I missed the green with my approach, but almost rolled my chip shot into the hole and made the par that put me ahead. I birdied the 11th to go two shots ahead of Jacobs (Brewer was now five strokes behind) and held this lead through the 12th and 13th when Tommy missed putts of six and eight feet.
On the par-5 15th Jacobs cleared the pond in front of the green with a wonderful wood shot that finished only about 30 feet to the right of the hole. He was playing excellently and certainly was not about to give up. When my two-iron bounced over the green I was confronted with the possibility of Tommy wiping out my two-shot lead on one hole. What happened instead is that we both made birdies. My chip was too strong, but I sank the putt from 12 feet or so.
On 18 Tommy got another chance. His second shot was just off the green about 30 feet from the cup. In trying to steer my seven-iron approach away from the trap at the right of the green I pulled it too much, and the ball bounced down an embankment on the left side of the green. I knew the first thing I had to prevent was any possibility of a double-bogey 6. I had to get the ball somewhere on the green so that if Tommy sank his putt for a birdie I would at least have a chance at the winning par. There was not enough grass under my ball to risk flicking it on the green with a pitching wedge. I was afraid to try to punch it up the embankment with a five-iron or six-iron because the ground around the green was riddled with pockets of dirt that might throw the ball up into the air and right back to where I stood. The only club that was sure to do the job was a putter. I hit the ball hard enough and well up to the left so that it would not break down to the right on the sloping green and possibly go off the putting surface entirely. The shot worked, and the ball stopped five feet from the hole. Fortunately for me at least, Jacobs missed his putt. I made mine, and Tournament Chairman Cliff Roberts did not have to decide if it was too dark to start us right off on a sudden-death playoff. It was, all told, a strange Masters, and one that I was fortunate to win.