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If I had to pick one phrase that would best characterize the 1966 Masters, I think I would call it the Masters of Mistakes. There were plenty of actual mistakes; the high scores show that. And there were things that seemed to the gallery and golf fans to be mistakes but really were not. It was a good Masters, and nobody could want a more exciting one—I wouldn't, anyway—but I think the most interesting things about it centered around what went wrong, or at least seemed to.
All of the players on the tour would agree, I am certain, that one big championship is worth half a dozen lesser titles. Consciously or unconsciously we all train for these major events. But the methods we use are different. Some pros think they must play themselves into peak condition by competing in tournaments every week. Others retire from the tour and spend days on the practice tee working on the specific shots they feel will be needed to win. I am aware that many people thought I was making a serious error when I took a long vacation from the winter tour. They felt my preparation for this year's Masters was haphazard. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that I badly wanted to be the first man ever to win the Masters two years in a row, and I was getting ready the best way I knew how. Since January I had been preparing myself and my game with nothing but the Masters in mind.
By last December the one thing my golf most needed was a rest. I had played in so many tournaments I was having trouble getting myself up week after week. Except for the Crosby, I decided not to enter any tournaments until I could regain my enthusiasm for the game. In February I visited Gary Player in South Africa, a trip that filled my needs perfectly. I was able to play a few rounds of golf, but not under tournament pressure, went fishing, hunting and generally enjoyed Gary's warm hospitality. I returned to the United States in time to play in three events leading up to the Masters—at Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville. I felt these were sufficient for me to regain a competitive edge, something I could not have done just working on a practice tee. A golfer should practice, of course, but too much practice and too few tournaments often make for a sloppy game. When you are playing a lot of golf where winning is not the main concern, your game can deteriorate pretty quickly. You hook a drive out of sight into the woods and then simply tee up another ball, saying to yourself: "Hmm. Maybe a little too much right hand in that one. Lemme try again." Playing under pressure, where every shot counts, is the best way to firm up the swing you have been grooving on the practice tee.
As far as competition went, Jacksonville ended my preparations for the Masters. I decided to spend a day with Jack Grout, my old teacher from Columbus who is now at La Gorce in Miami, and then go north for some practice rounds on the Augusta National course the week before the tournament.
Grout picked out a flaw in my stance that my old friend Deane Beman had noticed exactly a year earlier. At address my alignments were bad. My feet were squared along the line to the target, but my hips and shoulders were aiming to the right of it. Such a mistake makes it difficult to come through the ball properly and causes a lot of erratic shots. I corrected this.
When I got up to Augusta, Deane was there again, and for the second straight year he saw something in my swing that bothered him, rightfully. We were playing the 8th hole. I hooked my drive into the trees and Deane said, "You are taking the club back slowly but you are speeding up too much as you start your downswing."
A valuable tip. My tempo had been bad, and now I knew why. The speed of the backswing should always be the same as that of the downswing. I was lunging into the shot so fast that my shoulders were starting on the downswing before I completed the backswing. As a result, I was not only consistently pulling my shots off to the left, but hooking them as well. I slowed my downswing and suddenly began to hit the ball about as well as I had at the Masters a year ago.
On the Saturday night before the Masters I went home to Columbus to relax with my family. Then on Monday I returned to Augusta with my wife Barbara, my father and a couple of friends. We moved into the house we had rented about a mile from the course and I got in a practice round on Tuesday and nine more holes on Wednesday. I felt good about the way my game had worked into shape and I was eager for the action to begin.
However, I very nearly did not play at all. The night before the tournament started we heard the terrible news that four friends of ours from Columbus, Bob and Linda Barton and Jim and Jeretta Long, had been killed in the crash of a chartered plane that was bringing them down to watch the Masters. This was such a tragedy for everyone who knew them that playing in a golf tournament somehow seemed like a ridiculously unimportant thing to be doing. Barbara and I knew the Longs only casually, but Bob and Linda had been close friends of ours for years. I had played golf with Bob since I first took up the game at Scioto Country Club. News of the crash shocked us severely. To tell you the truth, I just did not want to go out and play in the Masters the next day, and I considered withdrawing, but Barb and our friends told me I should play.
I guess all of us in this year's Masters had a pretty good idea before we teed off Thursday that scores were going to be high because of the condition of the course. Augusta had experienced an unusually cold, dry winter and the Bermuda and rye grass that normally make the course so lush had not come in well despite the best efforts of Augusta National's greenskeeping staff. The fairways were hard and so were the greens. Because of this the tournament committee decided it would be best not to mow the greens and the fairways too closely, for fear the dry wind that was blowing across the course each day might kill what grass was left. As a result, we seldom had a good lie in the fairway. Not only was the ball not sitting up on good turf, it frequently was in a grassy lie that tended to take off any backspin we tried to put on our approach shots. I know the gallery thought it saw a lot of bad golf shots, but often they were the best that could be hit under the circumstances. Many players felt the pin placements were as demanding as they had ever been. Possibly this was a factor too, but I think the condition of the course was really what made the scores so high.