1935: In the second year of the Masters, Gene Sarazen hit what has turned out to be the most historic shot in golf. At the 15th, a 485-yard par-5, Sarazen needed three birdies in the last four holes to tie Craig Wood, who was already in the clubhouse. After a good drive he hit a four-wood over the pond toward the hole. When the ball rolled in for a double-eagle 2, Sarazen had, in effect, made all three birdies with one shot. Sarazen tied Wood, then beat him the next day in a playoff to complete his remarkable comeback.
1954: Billy Joe Patton, a flamboyant 31-year-old amateur from North Carolina, had the pros by the throat and the gallery by the heart as, from start to finish, he did everything but win. With the help of a hole in one on the 6th, he moved into the final nine on Sunday fighting Ben Hogan and Sam Snead for the lead. By the 12th he was ahead. Then, at the infamous 13th, came this calamity. Bold when caution might have served him well, he hit into Rae's Creek, waded after his ball, sloshed around, and came away with wet feet and a soggy 7. "I went for the green," he said later, "because that's what the crowd wanted." His effort to please his gallery cost him the Masters—he lost it by a stroke.
1961: "I was in too big of a hurry to win it," Arnold Palmer said. That was the story of the worst hole he ever played, and the most enjoyable Gary Player ever watched. Members of Arnie's Army thought it was going to be a cinch. Their hero had a trifling seven-iron to the 72nd green for a par 4 and victory over Player. When Palmer got too hasty and bunkered the shot, the Army thought, oh well, at worst a bogey 5, a tie, and we win it tomorrow. But there was no tomorrow, for Palmer hit this shot over the green and wound up with a double-bogey 6.
1965: Jack Nicklaus was unstoppable and almost unbelievable. Tied with Palmer and Player after 36 holes, he crushed them both with a third-round 64 that matched the course record. When he picked this putt out of the hole on Sunday he had won by a stunning nine-stroke margin and set a Masters scoring mark of 271.
1967: Up the last fairway trudged the familiar figure in the white cap, and the decades rolled back. It was 54-year-old Ben Hogan finishing the back nine in 30 for an astonishing 66. The roars of the gallery were deafening, and for just a fleeting moment golf's great champion permitted himself an uncharacteristic grin.
1968: It was his birthday, and when Roberto De Vicenzo eagled the 1st hole and birdied the 2nd and 3rd, it looked as though the Masters would give him a green jacket as a present. He finished with a 65 to tie Bob Goalby for the lead and force a playoff. But such was his excitement that Roberto failed to notice that on the scorecard his playing partner, Tommy Aaron, had written down a 4 for him instead of a 3 for the 17th hole. When Roberto signed his card, the score became law, leaving the charming Argentine to ponder the cruelness of the rule.
HEROES AND STUPIDS
It is commonly known among a select group of Masters goers that many of the best shots of the tournament are served in tall paper cups on the upstairs porch of the Augusta National Golf Club. The truly great moments occur out on the course, to be sure, but you have to wait for those, and the porch outside the upper grillroom is a very pleasant place to wait. There one can sit where corporate insurgents sit and mill where double-eagle makers mill. There, too, a man can listen to the Masters, not only from the logy, anecdotal mumbling around him, but from the mighty braying of the crowds in the valley below. Off on the fragrant horizon there stands a big, faintly readable leader board reacting to the roars, and near the white porch rail is a contemplative wistaria, and down on the umbrella-dotted veranda there is an ever-present cluster of Conni Venturis and Susan Marrs to holler at. In the whole Renoir of the Masters, there is really no better place to await the premonition that Gene Sarazen will hole out a four-wood, or that Billy Joe Patton will slice a spoon into a creek, or that Roberto De Vicenzo will shank his scorecard.
An Augusta premonition can come in several different forms, of course. It can be a whoop from up around the 8th green, where, according to one's watch, Arnold Palmer's gallery ought to be. It can be an ominous wailing from down near the 10th, where, perhaps, Jack Nicklaus is. It can be a series of red numbers going up on the leader board for someone who was out of it—say, Bert Yancey—but who now, suddenly, is back in it. Or it can sometimes merely be an intelligence report. A sunburned soul will hike up the stairs to pant and puff the news that H-Hogan...has...b-birdied four holes...in a r-row. J-jay and b-bee...and water, please...t-tall...ice...t-twist...aaaaaiiiii, whew.
In all of its years since the beginning in 1934, the Masters has been a tournament of premonitions closely followed by explosions. One simply knows that every afternoon something cinemascopically dramatic is going to happen, as in no other championship, for the Augusta course is laid out to make things happen, to entice the field into grandiose delusions. These explosions can be of the mild kind that only makes the ice cubes swirl, but they can also be violent enough to rattle the porch and send everyone scrambling out onto the course like Hollywood-styled Spitfire pilots darting toward their planes.