Masters fans are a burdened lot: burdened with binoculars that grow heavier as a hot spring day advances, with shooting sticks and folding chairs for when the hilly distances have taken their toll, with hats and sunglasses and pairing sheets and paper cups of melting ice and maybe a raincoat because "you never know about April in Augusta." Like a perambulating Abercrombie & Fitch they trudge miles uncomplainingly in the wakes of their favorites. Most of them know the course well, there being small turnover in ticket-holders from year to year, and accordingly they plan their golfing days around the course's major oases, those favored confluences of shade, refreshment and good spectating.
The perfect oasis, the place on the course that can transform even a Masters masochist into a sybarite, at least temporarily, is the glen that surrounds the 16th hole. Here, no matter how large the crowd, he can find an unobstructed spot to sink his shooting stick, have a beer and rest a while before climbing the long hill to the 18th green.
The rewards for those who have paused beside the 16th green have been startling in their variety. Young Englishman Clive Clark, playing his first Masters in 1968, made a hole in one at 16, yet finished his round at 81. Herman Barron set a record in 1950 when he hit his tee shot into the lake three times and holed out with an 11. "That's a record you can keep," he said.
Jack Nicklaus claims he lost the '64 Masters at 16 on a 12-foot birdie putt that failed to drop. It was Nicklaus who dropped, right down onto his then-chubby knees, as the ball slid by the cup. Gene Littler says he, too, lost a Masters there, to Billy Casper in 1970, when in the final round he pushed his tee shot into a bunker and made a bogey 4. That led to a playoff, and the playoff led Casper straight into the sleeves of the champion's green coat.
"Sixteen is a 3 par where you can score a 4 or 5 so quick it would make your head swim," says Miller Barber. Statistically it is the second hardest to birdie of the four par-3 holes. Once 150 yards long, it was remodeled in 1947 by architect Robert Trent Jones to 190 yards, and takes anything from a four-to an eight-iron. The water guards the front and left of the green but rarely comes into play, Herman Barron to the contrary. More hazardous are the three bunkers, one on the left and two on the right, and the pin placements. The most difficult pin, according to the players, is the one set in the back right-hand corner. "If you hit the trap back there, you have no room to work with," says Dave Hill.
Time after time the 16th hole has proved the turning point on the final day of the tournament. Leaders who were mentally preparing their acceptance speeches have relaxed for a fatal moment while pursuers have watched helplessly as the tee shot that should have turned the tide buried itself in a bunker. Ben Hogan hit just such a shot in the most dramatic round of golf Augusta has ever seen.
It was 1942 and the Masters, in only its ninth year, had already matured to an importance second only to the U.S. Open. Hogan and Byron Nelson had finished play on Sunday tied at 280, and almost every golfer in the tournament stayed an extra day to witness the playoff on Monday. There is no record of Hogan's preparation for the match but Nelson, as was his habit in those days, spent the night and early morning hours throwing up. He approached the first tee that spring morning looking paler and skinnier than usual, and his drive, far right, was the worst of his life. He had to backhand his second shot from the base of a tree and hit over the green with his third. When he reached the 2nd tee Nelson was already two strokes down. After the 4th he was three.
Then Nelson, feeling better, began a remarkable comeback. Hogan played the 6th through 13th in even par, yet lost six strokes to Nelson, who went birdie, par, eagle, par, par, birdie, birdie, birdie. Now Nelson was three ahead. At 14, though, it was Hogan's turn. Two straight birdies brought him to the 16th tee only one stroke back of Nelson, and the gallery knew it was getting more than just a good match. Hogan was hot and there were three holes to go.
No one, however, not even a Hogan, can count on a birdie at 16, and Hogan didn't even make par. His tee shot caught a bunker and he took three to get down. That was it. Nelson's two-stroke lead was enough to allow him a cautious bogey on 18 for a 69-70 win.
It was 16 that also finished Ben in another playoff, against Sam Snead in 1954. A one-stroke lead had flown back and forth between the two throughout the match as Hogan strode the fairways, chain-smoking and silent, and Snead joked with the crowd. By 16 it was Snead who was a stroke ahead. Fourteen thousand people were there to watch Hogan take three putts on the 16th's sloping green and seal himself off from a victory that would have made him the Masters' first back-to-back winner.