SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
April 21, 1969
Grateful George Archer had the Masters' green coat—and the last word—when an anguished leader, Billy Casper, and his pursuers lost their way in the Augusta pines
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April 21, 1969

Sorry, Billy

Grateful George Archer had the Masters' green coat—and the last word—when an anguished leader, Billy Casper, and his pursuers lost their way in the Augusta pines

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For three days the Masters enjoyed a great inner peace. Billy Casper and his good friend, the Lord, strolled hand and hand through the valleys and pines of Augusta, stamping out petroleum-based pesticides, gas heating, foam-rubber pillows and assorted sausages that offend his allergies. They also played safe a lot on the par-5 holes while half of Georgia made birdies and eagles. But it was tranquil. Billy had the Masters pressed between his numbed fingers as a result of this careful, calculating golf, and all of his major adversaries, the Jack Nicklauses and Arnold Palmers, were lost in the azalea bushes, perhaps looking for a religion of their own. Billy would go out Sunday, one felt, and wander over that beautiful course, smiling and shrugging as always, hit a good chip when he needed it, sink a putt when it was necessary and hum a few of his favorite hymns by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. In a matter of a few more hours the Masters would be in heaven. There was only one thing wrong with all of this, of course. By the time Casper got around to playing some golf, the Lord was something like six down and five to go—and suddenly Augusta, for the third straight year, had another of those mystery men from the PGA tour as its champion.

In the proud tradition of Gay Brewer Jr. and Bob Goalby, who preceded him in 1967 and 1968, George Archer (see cover), white man, 29, Gilroy, Calif., was last week's winner. It was his first major championship, just as it had been for Brewer and Goalby, and he won by battling down the stretch with a ragtag group of escapees from some distant Citrus Open on the regular professional tour. What ever happened to the Masters we all knew and loved? Only the gurus can tell.

Toward late afternoon on Sunday, here came this astonishing lineup of contenders staggering and stumbling down the stretch. Besides the big, friendly Archer, who, at 6'6", must be the tallest winner of a major title since Abraham Lincoln, there were quiet George Knudson, hiding behind his shades, bewildered Charlie Coody and powerful Tom Weiskopf, none of whom had played at Augusta very many times. It was a cluster of relatively young guys who had never been this close to a big one before and didn't quite know how to handle it.

History must note that Archer played one over par on the last five holes for his closing 72 and his winning total of 281. Ordinarily, George's performance on those holes—he sliced his tee shot and bladed his second at the 14th and splashed into the water on the 15th—would have been good enough to lose the Masters any old time. And the way Weiskopf played was certainly good enough to lose. Aside from all of the closeup birdie putts he missed, he managed to slice his tee shot on the 17th, bunker his second and miss a short par effort to toss it away.

Perhaps the biggest loser of all, however, was Charlie Coody. A fine golfer who just never seems to win, Coody took total charge of the tournament on the three most dangerous holes. While several in the enormous gallery were asking, "Is a Charles Coody anything like a Spiro Agnew?" the rangy Texan bounced an iron into the 11th for a birdie, drove another right into the flag on the 12th for a birdie attempt that just curled away, and then put a two-iron over the creek and onto the 13th in two for a 20-foot eagle putt that died at the hole and dropped. He suddenly had gone from five under to eight under and was leading the tournament. A bogey and a birdie got him to 16, still eight under and still leading, but Coody didn't know how to win.

"I really don't feel like I choked," he said later. "I just remember holding a five-iron in my hand on the 16th tee and wishing I could make myself hit a six."

Coody's five-iron hooked into a bunker, and he bogeyed the hole. He then bogeyed the 17th because of a poor chip shot and bogeyed the 18th after his approach took a bad bounce and ran down an embankment off the green. Thus, he finished with three straight bogeys, and no one behind him, not Archer or Weiskopf or even Casper could play badly enough to let Charlie win after that.

"The shot on 16," said Coody, "was kind of like a shot I hit earlier in the week on 13. You can't hit a good five-iron if you're thinking about a six-iron on your backswing. On 13 the first day of the tournament I hooked a drive into the trees because when I addressed the ball I wanted to fade it. But sometime between the time I took it back and the time I brought it down I decided to try to hook it."

Only the Lord knew what Casper was up to all week. His opening 66 on Thursday was a thing of pure perfection. He simply played the way a man ought to who has won nearly as much money as Arnold Palmer (close to $1 million) and more tournaments than anyone except Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Palmer. He took no chances and explained, "Golf is a game of decisions. I try to keep my mind fresh for the decisions and play my own game."

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