Tripping Down Magnolia and Memory Lanes for SportsEdTV Golfers
Finally, it’s here. The Masters!
Usually it’s the time of year when we long for the colors of azaleas, crisp mornings, swaggering pines, blooming dogwoods, green jackets and golf shots struck from the anvil of greatness.
But this year will be different. No azaleas. No blooming.
The season of play will be different but the magic will be the same.
The Masters or what has been lost to time as Bobby Jones’ Invitational, has presented itself to us since 1934 when Horton Smith beat out Craig Wood by a single stroke. Horton’s take home pay for his 284 total was a mere $1,500.00 some 1% of today’s winning glory.
In 1935 the first great shot came from Gene Sarazen when on the final round he struck the perfect 4 wood on the 15th hole and his Wilson Hol-Hi ball made the first double eagle at the Masters. It was also the last to be made there. That one shot propelled him into a playoff with none other than Craig Wood and for Craig the outcome was the same as 1934. Wood eventually donned the green jacket in 1941 besting Byron Nelson by two.
The very next year a great battle ensued between Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan. It ended as great contests should between giants, in an eighteen-hole playoff that displayed nothing less than phenomenal play with “Lord Byron” on top by a single stroke. Eight years after the first Masters and the winner still received $1,500.00. In comparison, the 2004 Masters found a first time winner in Phil Mickelson and a winner’s purse of $1,170,000.00. The 2012 championship handed winner Bubba Watson and his famous snap rope hook wedge from the right trees in the playoff a check of $1,440,000.00. In 2019, Tiger took home a portly $2,070,000.
In 2003 yet another great event took place at Augusta National. It is less known to golf historians and in fact not known at all by any golf enthusiast other than my friends and family. I stepped to the first tee of Augusta National with my dear friend Kelly Childs, PGA, and thanks to his friend and member Mr. Peter Menk, who was ever present as required by club policy to look upon our adventure. And it was…quite the adventure.
I experienced the drive down Magnolia Lane, a road that is without a doubt properly named. The huge statuesque magnolia trees of 150 years create a canopy for the members and guests leaving the first impression of an indelible memory that certainly should include a cold glass of sweet tea adorned with a mint leaf accompanied by an egg salad sandwich.
I saw the locker room, the Champion’s Locker Room, the Crow’s Nest, the club house and Cliff Roberts’ eyes watching every move I made in the dining room. I sat at Dwight Eisenhower’s desk. I experienced the driving range, the par three course better known as the “Little Course” and when we walked to the first tee of the “Big Course” I easily recall how different and strange my feet felt, as if I was walking on a freshly polished floor trying not to leave a scuff mark. I began running sports reels of times gone by when I sat on the floor of our living room with my father sitting in his recliner. We gazed at our black and white television cheering the great shots and gasping at the discovery of Rae’s Creek ferocious appetite for golf balls. We spoke to each other on the phone during the Masters several times a day discussing the play and it is something I looked forward to every year. My father passed in March of 2016 and watching the Masters’ now feels different for me.
I’ve never played a golf course that moves as graceful as Augusta National. It is a slow dance of southern beauty guarded by the majestic pine centurions dressed with a royal breeze of historic air. It quickly becomes a beautiful walk through a Georgia landscape interrupted by the frequent golf shot as if each shot was the very permission slip that allows you to immerse deeper into golf’s greatest theater. Each golf hole brings a sense that without the hole the land would be just another piece of land but here it is the perfect marriage of terra firma and design.
As I approached Amen Corner my caddy warned me about the back left pin placement on the eleventh, the Sunday pin. I nudged him asking, “Do I look like a member to you? Today we go at flags.” He apologized and said, “Let’s see what you’ve got.” An approach to a foot left my entrance to the scariest walk in golf at one under par. As I left the green I stood where Larry Mize hit his famous pitch to snatch a green jacket from Greg Norman in 1987. One word describes that shot and it is “inconceivable”.
There is no hole in golf that strikes at the ready to murder confidence in such a manner as the par three twelfth when the wind plays through. It whips around the pines like a school of distressed anchovies with one single minded purpose; to get the player to write five on the card...or worse. Tom Weiskopf knows. In 1980 he finally finished the twelfth in thirteen strokes. Someone in the gallery had a synapse misfire and asked his wife if he was using new balls. We have all sensed the angst of any player who is charging or leading from the time they address the ball to the time it stops…or sinks. Our memories of the Masters are there. Who doesn’t remember Fred Couples’ ball that mysteriously stopped on the embankment that led to par and his only green jacket in 1992? How about six time champion Jack Nicklaus’ missed putt with him blaming a spike mark in 1986 that ignited the greatest Masters memory of all?
There quite possibly could be no hole more enjoyable to hit a tee shot on than the thirteenth. I understand this is arguably fueled by my opinion but having played a few great golf courses I can say my assessment accounts for something. It is risk reward at its finest…until the second shot. I hit a quick hook off the tee thinking I was of superhuman strength and could gallop my ball down the left side to the hanging lie Nick Faldo experienced in 1989 zipping a two iron into the green assuring a birdie for him. One of the centurions acted like Derek Jeter, grabbed the ball from flight and threw it victoriously into Rae’s Creek. Strangely, it felt appropriate.
I remembered Chip Beck laying up on the fifteenth in 1993 surrendering the event to Bernhard Langer all the while hoping to finish second. I thought about Sarazen’s four wood and the lack of worldly gallery that missed it. My three iron from behind the pines left found the back right corner of the green in two however the pin placement was front left. The read my caddy gave me was not what I saw. I should have paid attention and three putted. Again, it felt appropriate.
On the sixteenth I remembered Jack’s unbelievable six-iron to two feet in 1986 which seemed that was all he ever did on that hole and who could ever forget Tiger’s chip-in on the final round of 2005. I tipped my hat to the Eisenhower tree on the seventeenth and wondered how President Eisenhower, who had a wicked hook, must have felt when he asked Cliff Roberts at a Governors Meeting to cut the “#@$* thing” down. Cliff in his stoic manner told the good General to take care of the nation and he would take care of the National. It never came up again.
I birdied the seventeenth and although I didn’t have Verne Lundquist giving it a “Yes sir!” as he did when Jack finally took the lead in 1986, I heard him yell it in my head and this time it was for me. I was a kid again, back in Ohio playing the three-hole course on Orchard Avenue pretending I was in the Masters but that’s another story.
The eighteenth yielded me my final birdie to finish at one under par for the day. I thought of Sandy Lyle, Ben Crenshaw, Arnold tossing his hat, Billy Casper, Ben Hogan, Jimmy Demaret, Jack, Greg Norman, Tiger and the list was firing through me like lightning. I felt exalted and humbled. I knelt down and kissed the green for some strange reason as if it would make the grand arena remember me. Me, the guy who through friendship and a man who took the role as my dad and put a club in my hand at age two started the entire process of getting me there. Sometimes opportunity arrives through a series of events.
I learned on Saturday the 30th of March in 2013 that Mr. Peter Menk had passed away. My dear friend Kelly informed me via email and I was deeply saddened by the news. He was the gentlemen’s gentleman. Mr. Menk is part of my memory at Augusta National and will always be. It was because of him that I was extended the invitation to play there and I would like to say thank you again to Mr. Menk because my letter to him in 2003 just seems so commonplace. He gave me a memory of a lifetime.