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No matter how many times they tell you, the only way to fully appreciate why the Masters championship is so special is to play in one yourself. And no matter how many times they warn you, the only way to learn that the U.S. Open is a torture chamber disguised as a sports event is to have a chance to win it. And finally, no matter how many times you told yourself in the bad years that the rewards could never be worth the effort, all you have to do is have the vantage point of one good season to understand that this is truly a splendid life we lead "out here." I managed to come by all three of these major personal discoveries in one year—last year. I am going to tell you about them, not because I am writing any autobiography of Tony Lema, golf semistar, but because once you have read what a competitor thinks and feels about the Masters and U.S. Open you will more fully enjoy what you see and read about these events.
I faced the 1963 season with a certain amount of understandable apprehension. I felt reasonably sure that it was my five years of hard experience on the tour and my more mature attitude toward competitive golf that had finally made me a winner in the fall of 1962, but I could not be absolutely sure. At the outset of 1963 I felt that I had to keep winning to prove myself. Strange to say, it was not a win at all, but a second-place finish—in the first Masters I ever played in—that gave me the confidence to make the year a truly successful one.
I was without a win, but I was fourth on the money list with a total of $14,831 as the tour came into Augusta, Ga. Ahead of me were golf's so-called Big Three: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
In addition to the money I had won, I also found that I had reached a high, if not exalted, station on the tour. Now tournament sponsors would come after me, trying to make sure that I would be playing in their event. All of a sudden people were doing favors for me: making plane and hotel reservations, meeting me at the airport when I arrived in town, seeing to it that a new car was at my disposal while I was there. This is standard treatment for the top players on the tour. If we felt so inclined many of us would never have to lift a finger as we traveled the whole circuit. We could be wined, dined, praised, chauffeured, flattered, partied, toasted, served, adored, caressed, coddled, pampered and spoiled. I was impressed by the fact that even once-negligent locker-room attendants suddenly had a big bright smile and a big bright locker for me every time I checked in at a club.
National publicity and some solid performances had placed me among the favorites as the 80 players invited to the Masters began to collect in Augusta early last April. Being one of the favorites is a role that no touring pro much enjoys. To someone unaccustomed to it, like myself, it creates the sensation of being out in front where everyone can take a shot at you. One trick I resort to that probably doesn't do any good at all, but at least makes me feel good, is to tell any reporter who asks that I have shot abnormally high practice-round scores. "A bunch over par," I say.
While everyone playing at Augusta feels the pressure, the first thing I discovered as I began to learn my way around is that the Masters is fun. The stakes are high, but the pleasure of playing the Augusta National course is so acute that it almost completely submerges the nervous tension.
From the moment I turned off the main highway and into the long, magnolia-lined driveway that leads to the white Colonial clubhouse, I felt I was entering the Old World life of a southern plantation. The main building looks like a tobacco baron's mansion, and when a player arrives he is treated like a visiting diplomat or an honored guest. A doorman took my clubs and rushed them off to the caddie house. I stepped inside the door, registered at the front desk and was led upstairs to my locker. It was located smack under four pictures of Bobby Jones, the club's president, sinking the four putts that won him the Grand Slam in 1930. Around the clubhouse were framed photographs of past Masters' winners: Horton Smith, Gene Sarazen, Craig Wood, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and all the others. And—amazingly, it seemed—you would look around you and there would be these very people. It was as if a picture history book of golf had been brought to life.
Nor was my first look at the course itself any less exciting. In fact, it is the finest course I have ever seen or played on. When you get out on it you feel you just cannot get enough of it. I wanted to lie down and roll around on the fairway, it looked so beautiful.
The Venturis, Ken and his wife Conni, had invited Bo Wininger and me to share the three-bedroom house they had rented near the course. This made it convenient for Ken and me to play our practice rounds together, and we would often be joined by Byron Nelson. It was these sessions that made it possible for me to do as well at Augusta as I did.
When I got on the first tee the day the tournament began I was pretty tense. I was actually wondering if I would be able to get the ball off the tee and down the fairway. So I teed my ball up, stepped back from it for a moment, took a deep breath, then stepped up and just hit it as hard as I could. When I looked up I could see the ball soaring way out, right down the middle. I have heard that there is a Peanuts cartoon that says, "Happiness is getting off the first tee without making a fool of yourself." It sure is—at least at Augusta. I was paired with Tommy Bolt and, while he has a reputation as a hot-tempered, explosive player, golf with Tommy is something I enjoy. Tommy responds to compliments as warmly as most people do. So I always tell him what a great player he is, how great he is looking that day or how many great shots he is hitting. Tommy knows I am laying it on pretty thick, but nothing I say is not based on fact. And it puts us both in a good mood. The round becomes a distinct pleasure, and I was pleased with my 74.