Augusta National is the best spectator course I've ever walked. My favorite hole for watching is 12, the short par-3 fronted by Rae's Creek. From the tee you can see everything that happens on 12, the approach shots to 11 green and the drives from 13 tee. Twice, I was a rules official assigned to the 12th hole. In the first round of the 1978 Masters, 17 players on my watch hit it in the water on 12. In the first round of the '79 Masters, 18 players found the water. It's odd, I admit, the things a golfer will remember, but that's a hole where more bad things seem to happen than good. Gary Player made a bogey on 12 on Thursday in '78 and went on to win. In '79, Fuzzy Zoeller made a 5 there—and he went on to win too.
No amateur has ever won the Masters, but between 1947 and '61, four were runners-up or close to it. Frank Stranahan had a second in '47, as did Kenny Venturi in '56 and Charlie Coe in '61. Billy Joe Patton was a stroke out of the Snead-Hogan playoff in '54. Harvie Ward, a good friend and an immense talent, never played his best in the Masters, but he still had a solo fourth in '57.
We amateurs were a small group and knew one another well. I traveled with Frank to a few tournaments. He was an heir to the Champion Spark Plug fortune, Hollywood handsome and a fitness enthusiast. Billy Joe was smart and also a blithe and amusing spirit. Knowing how frugal I was about using new golf balls, he'd sometimes say, "You know, Bill, there's no ball washer on the 1st tee at Augusta National." (And there's not.) Charlie Coe's tie for second was even more remarkable when you consider that Arnold Palmer, then the reigning U.S. Open champion and the game's dominant player, shot the same score that Coe did.
Venturi—Ward's partner in the famous match against Hogan and Nelson captured in Mark Frost's book The Match—had the best chance of them all, but he closed with an 80. The tradition then was for the 54-hole leader to play the last round with Byron Nelson. But Byron was Kenny's teacher, and Mr. Jones and Mr. Roberts felt it wouldn't be fair to put them out together. They invited Venturi to name his playing partner, and he chose Snead. People have often said that Sam did nothing to help Ken that day, but Ken has said otherwise. Sam was respectful, not chatty, and gave Ken room. I know from experience that it's hard for an amateur golfer to play his usual game when competing in the Masters, especially when paired with a pro in the first round—or in Ken's case, as the 54-hole leader. You're playing in front of big crowds on a demanding course with the best players in the world in the field. Ken was enduring all that, plus trying to become the first amateur to win the Masters. A tall order.
14 The Driving Range
My favorite place at Augusta National off the course is the driving range. I'd watch all the greats there: Snead, Nelson, Hogan and Nicklaus in my playing days; Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer when I returned later in one role or another. The spectator is close to the players at the range, and you can make a study, as I did, of the player's transition from backswing to downswing, or whatever particular thing that may interest you. One year Snead tried to change Moe Norman's grip on that driving range, and Norman stayed out there until his hands were raw. The Masters is the most intimate of the four majors, in part because the field is small and also because the club is not immense or sprawling. On the practice tee you see players stand near one another, sometimes chirping away happily, like spring birds. Part of that chatter is nerves, a way to release tension. And part of it is just the opposite: They're playing in the Masters; they're playing at Augusta National; it's the colorful spring of a new season. Why fight it?
I think it's fitting that Jack Nicklaus, of all golfers, has accomplished the most at Augusta National, with his six titles, because he's been so loyal to the amateur ideals of the game that Mr. Jones held dear. That might sound strange, as Jack's wins at Augusta were all as a pro, but I believe it. Jack's father, Charlie, admired Bob Jones, and he raised Jack to follow Mr. Jones's example of sportsmanship. As a young man Jack expected he would play golf only as an amateur.
I knew Jack then, and I had something to do with his turning pro. In 1961, when Jack was still at Ohio State, I had dinner with him and his college coach, Bob Kepler. I told Jack, who had recently won his second U.S. Amateur, that if he turned pro he could become a dominating and great golfer, but that if he remained an amateur, he would never realize his potential as a golfer or as a businessman. His employers would want to use his golf skill in the name of building relationships, and that would prevent him from ever really learning a business from the inside. And his golf would suffer because he wouldn't have enough time or concentration to devote to it. "Playing golf as a pro is the only way you'll really be able to call your life your own," I said.