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3 Bobby Jones
The greatest delight of playing in the Masters when I did was getting to know Robert Tyre Jones Jr. (He was Bobby on the sports page, Bob to his close friends and Mr. Jones to most everybody else. I called him Mr. Jones.) I would occasionally visit him in his cabin, which is where he spent most of Masters week, more so after he was confined to a wheelchair.
One April I went to call on Mr. Jones in his cabin. Gene Sarazen was visiting with him. They were discussing how you identify the best player ever. Mr. Jones said, "All you can be is the best player of your era. You can't compare players of different eras." Gene said, "I agree, Bob."
It wasn't an epiphany, but I've remembered the comment all these years because there's a lot to it. It's useful to remember when the discussion turns to, Who is the greatest golfer of all time? To my thinking, shaped by what Mr. Jones said that day, you have to consider Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods separately. They are golfers of two different eras.
4 The Crow's Nest
A few amateurs in the Masters are allowed each year to stay in the Crow's Nest, five small cubicles each with a bed and one shared bathroom, on the third, and top, floor of the clubhouse, above the champions' locker room. You can't find a more reasonably priced bed in Augusta during Masters week, or a more convenient one. And it gave us a special "insiders" sense of things, with our full-time exposure from the epicenter of golf's ultimate celebratory week.
In 1954 I played four rounds and then went out with some local friends on Sunday night in their car. When they returned me to the club, around midnight, the front gate was locked. I climbed over the gate and walked down Magnolia Lane. (I'd never seen anybody walk down Magnolia Lane, and haven't since.) I got to the clubhouse and found that all the doors, front and back, were locked. So were the windows. Such security precautions were unusual in those days. I took the outside steps to the second floor porch and found one unlocked window, in the shoeshine room. I crawled through it and slipped into my bed in the Crow's Nest.
Later, I think I figured out why the clubhouse was so secure that night. President Eisenhower was supposed to come to the club on the Monday after the tournament for a visit and some golf. But he didn't. The course was busy that day, for an 18-hole playoff, with Snead defeating Hogan. I heard it on the radio of my plane, flying home.
I was a teenager in Huntington when Byron Nelson won his first Masters, in 1937, and I was a freshman in college and about to join the Army when he won his second, in '42. The way I saw golf in those days, there was Denny Shute, who was from Huntington; there was Bobby Jones, a native Georgian; there was Sam Snead, from the Virginia hill country; and there was Nelson, a Texan. (You didn't hear as much about Ben Hogan back then.) By '42 the Masters had established itself as one of the prestigious American pro tournaments, along with the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship. Those older events were played in summer and typically held in the Northeast or the Midwest. The South could claim Snead, Nelson, Jones and the Masters. I never played with Byron, but I was lucky enough to know him. I went to visit him in Texas, at his Fairway Ranch, in '50. He was modest, but not unduly so. Sitting in his kitchen, he admitted that in his prime he expected to hit 18 greens per round and often did.