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8 The Pond at 15
Things always change at Augusta National. Mr. Roberts used to refer to the changes as "improvements." There used to be rough terrain on the edges of some of the fairways. Then everything became fairway, until the club began growing its "second cut." On 15, spectators used to stand behind the green and would sometimes backstop balls that might otherwise go into the water behind them. There are no spectators there anymore, and now players cannot safely overclub when approaching the 15th green. As for the pond in front of the green, there used to be a narrow rock-and-grass causeway, as I thought of it, which separated the pond into two parts. I paid no attention to this little path until the round in which my approach shot came to rest right on it. I'd never heard of that happening to anybody else. I could make only a lefthanded swing at the ball, which I did with a wedge held upside-down. Standing unsteadily on rocks in unfamiliar terrain, with water all around you, making a swing you seldom make, is a recipe for failure. But I struck the ball cleanly and nearly holed the shot. If I were to compile a list of the best shots I played at the Masters from places that no longer exist, it would be first. In fact, of the shots I hit in the Masters, I regard it as the most memorable.
When Ben Hogan died in 1997, the obituaries made reference to his nickname, the Wee Ice Mon. I wrote to his widow, Valerie, to say that was not the person I knew. I was paired with Ben and Jimmy Demaret in the 1952 Colonial Invitational. I had just lost a Democratic primary race for Congress, and I was playing like it. My first tee shot was right off the heel of my driver and nearly hit a woman. My progress on the 2nd and 3rd holes was modest. On the 4th hole Ben put his arm around me and said, "Bill, you have as much right to be out here as Jimmy or myself." Hogan won the tournament, and I was low amateur.
Hogan would prepare for the Masters by playing at Seminole, in South Florida, where I started playing as a guest in the early 1950s and which I joined in '69. I played several times with him there. Once I brought my children to the club to watch him practice. As you'd imagine, he was preparing shots that he would play at Augusta. I told my kids, "Don't ask him anything. Just watch. You don't have to have a good time. Just remember it."
10 The Upstairs Dining Room
My favorite place to eat lunch during the Masters was in an often-crowded dining room on the second floor of the clubhouse, where there were TVs carrying the golf and the tables were filled with golf people talking about golf and eating peach cobbler. A nice combination. One day during the 1975 tournament, Joe Wolfe, a well-liked and respected Tour rep and executive for Wilson Sporting Goods, came into that dining room. West Virginia was Wilson country because Denny Shute and Sam Snead played Wilson. Joe would get me clubs (for which I paid) made to my unusual specifications. I played with very heavy clubs, an E-5 swingweight all through the bag. In my day golfers often had a personal connection to their clubs and the people who made them and sold them. I saw my old Wilson friend across that second-floor dining room and said, "Joe, how are you?" He said, "Bill, didn't you hear? I'm dying." The room went silent briefly until I managed to react to the surprise of this terrible news. I said, "Joe, we all are. It's just a question of how much time we have left and how we use it." Sadly, a month later, Joe Wolfe was dead. At Augusta the golf world gets together for a week, and you see some people there and nowhere else. At the Masters, whenever you say hello, you might be saying a final goodbye too. At least you are doing it in a beautiful place.
It's hard to imagine a more charismatic person than Arnold Palmer. You saw his charisma most especially at the Masters, where Arnie's Army originated. He had the rare knack, when looking into a gallery, of giving the impression that he was looking right at you. One year, when Arnold was past his prime but still a force, I was the rules official assigned to the 7th hole, stationed behind the green. In those days the 7th was considered a potential birdie hole, but on this occasion Arnold made a bogey. He could not have been happy. But as he came off the green he looked up and saw two women in their mid-30s watching him. He smiled and winked. The ladies were swooning. One turned to the other and said, "I'd give my right arm for 45 minutes with him." Men, of course, have always responded to him too. To this day, if you ask male golfers to fill out their dream foursome, Arnie is in the group again and again.
12 The Short 12th