The Masters from Amen to Zoeller

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:37 PM ET

A is for Amen Corner. More often than not, the key drama in the Masters occurs in this magnificent natural amphitheatre that begins with the second shot on the 11th hole and stretches through the treacherous little par-three 12th to the tee shot on the 13th. Sportswriter Herbert Warren Wind adapted the term from an old jazz song “Shoutin’ Out at Amen Corner,” to describe some of the critical action in the 1958 Masters.

B is for bamboo. Driving down Washington Road in Augusta, there is nothing to indicate that a golfing mecca is footsteps to your right. A continuous wall of bamboo trees, 30-feet high and hardly a centimetre between them, separate the paradise of Augusta National from the world. The club may as well be on another planet and, in many ways, it is. Members drop the phrase “inside the bamboo” when club matters are concerned as if it was some magical force field. Who says it isn’t?

C is for Champions Dinner. This tradition began in 1952 at the suggestion of reigning champ Ben Hogan, who selected the menu. Every past champion is invited for the meal on the Tuesday prior to the Masters, hosted by the reigning champ. Over the years, the menu has ranged from cheeseburgers (Tiger Woods, 1998) to haggis (Sandy Lyle, 1989). This year, Phil Mickelson had hoped to honour Seve Ballesteros with a Spanish meal but Ballesteros is too ill to travel. Instead, Mickelson is going to offer his fellow champs “bison, venison or beef filets.”

D is for De Vicenzo. After the final hole of the 1968 Masters, it appeared Roberto De Vicenzo and Bob Goalby were headed to a playoff, tied after 72 holes. Unfortunately for the Argentinian, Tommy Aaron, who was keeping De Vicenzo’s scorecard, marked down a 4 on the 17th hole, instead of the birdie 3 that he actually made. By the rules of golf, the score De Vicenzo signed for stood and he finished second, a shot back.

E is for Eisenhower. Dwight Eisenhower joined the club in 1948, four years before becoming 34th president of the United States. On the 17th fairway sits a 100-year-old pine tree which Ike hit so many times that he asked for its removal. The club refused and it became known as the Eisenhower Tree. Legend has it that somewhere in Georgia, a twin to that tree is being groomed for when the original’s health fails. In the way of Augusta (and some third-world dictatorships) the old will vanish and, overnight, the new will appear. Without comment.

F is for four-wood. In the final round of the 1935 Masters, Gene Sarazen stood in the par-five 15th fairway, uncharacteristically indecisive. He trailed leader Craig Wood by three and faced a 230-yard shot over water. A three-wood wouldn’t hold the green but he wasn’t sure a four would carry the hazard. He chose the four, closed the face and knocked it into the cup for a double-eagle two. The “shot heard round the world” remains one of the most famous golf shots ever. Sarazen parred in and won the 36-hole playoff for his only Masters title.

G is for green jacket. The first green jackets (55% wool, 45% polyester, lined in rayon and silk, single-breasted) appeared in 1937 as a symbol of membership. Starting in 1949, each Masters champion was fitted with an identical green jacket symbolizing his entry into the exclusive club of Masters champs. The jackets are not to leave the club, save for the current champ who keeps his with him during the year of his reign.

H is for humbling. Japan’s Tommy Nakajima had the highest single-hole score in Masters history when he made a 13 at the par-five 13th in 1978. Nakajima pulled his tee shot into Rae’s Creek left of the fairway. After a penalty drop, he laid up with his third, then knocked his fourth into the greenside water hazard. He tried to play out of the water but the ball hit his shoe for a two-shot penalty. When he tried to hand his club to his caddie, the club touched the water, costing another two-shot penalty. With his 10th shot he hit the ball out of the water and over the green. A chip and two putts later, his ordeal was over.

I is for Indigo. The land upon which Augusta National sits was once an indigo plantation. In 1857 a Belgian family, the Berckmans, bought the 365-acre tract, importing exotic trees and plants from around the world under the name Fruitland Nursery. Fruitland went out of business in 1918, but much of the rare greenery remained on the rolling terrain when Bobby Jones came to visit in 1931, looking for a place to build the National. He fell in love with the place, paying $70,000. “And to think this ground has been lying here all these years waiting for someone to put a golf course onto it,” said Jones.

J is for Jones. In the U.S., in the 1920s, there were two sporting heroes who towered above all others: Babe Ruth and Bobby Jones. Jones, who never turned pro, won four U.S. Opens and three British Opens, to go with five U.S Amateurs and one British Amateur, all by the age of 28. Two months after he completed the grand slam, he announced his retirement from competitive golf. A sportsman to the core and the epitome of the southern gentleman, he threw himself into his new project, Augusta National. By the time he was 45, Jones became afflicted with an incurable wasting neurological disease. He died in 1971.

K is for the king. Of all the royalty in sport, there is only one King and that is Arnold Palmer, the most beloved golfer ever. And what’s a king without an army? In 1958, the soldiers at Fort Gordon in Augusta were offered free admission to the Masters and many of them helped man the scoreboards. They formed the nucleus of Arnie’s Army as Palmer swept to his first of four Masters titles that year. His magnetic personality and go-for-broke style, coupled with the emergence of TV, helped turn golf into a sport of mass appeal and Arnie’s Army grew into the millions.

L is for live TV. The Masters has always been an uneasy partner for TV. In exchange for reduced rights fees, CBS allows the Masters greater control over the content of the telecasts and the club is not shy about using its influence. They’ve bounced announcers such as Jack Whitaker and Gary McCord, Whitaker (1966) for calling the gallery around the 18th hole “a mob” and McCord (1994) for suggesting the 17th green was so fast it had been “bikini waxed” and that there were “body bags” behind that green for players who hit their approaches long.

M is for MacKenzie. Years before he hired Alister MacKenzie, Bobby Jones had found a kindred spirit in the transplanted Scot. While many Americans thought of the Old Course at St. Andrews as a cow pasture in need of a haircut, Jones and MacKenzie both believed it a sacred place. It was this shared appreciation of the subtle spirit of St. Andrews that led Jones to hire MacKenzie to be the architect for Augusta National. MacKenzie never saw the finished product. He died at his home in Monterey, California on Jan. 7, 1934, just before the course opened.

N is for Nicklaus. Jack Nicklaus is the undisputed Masters champion of champions. He won this tournament a record six times and finished second four times, also a record. Now, he and Arnold Palmer each hit a ceremonial drive to start the tournament each year. Early in his career, Nicklaus failed to capture the hearts of Augusta the way Palmer did. He was ice to Palmer’s fire but, as time went on, he was granted his proper measure of Augusta love and his final round at the Masters, in 2005, remains one of the game’s emotional highlights.

O is for off-limits. While Jones harbored warm and fuzzy thoughts of St. Andrews, the golf club he founded couldn’t be further from the Scottish model. St. Andrews is a public course that, on Sundays, serves as a public park where people and their dogs traipse down the hallowed fairways. Augusta, on the other hand, is exclusive and secretive to the point of paranoia. For 51 weeks a year, no one but members and their guests pass down Magnolia Lane. Membership is by invitation only and, to this day, the club has never invited a woman to join.

P is for pimiento. It has been often said that pimiento and cheese sandwiches are to the Masters what hot dogs are to baseball. There are eight varieties of sandwiches sold in the concession booths on site, all wrapped distinctively in translucent green plastic. Most popular are the pimiento and cheese, a traditional southern form of comfort food.

Q is for quercus virginiana. That’s the Latin term for the old oak tree that stands grandly just outside the back door of the clubhouse, spreading its massive limbs and inviting all who pass to gather and chat in its shade. The tree is believed to be 160 years old and, in the interests of its own preservation, is discreetly supported by a series of strategic guy wires.

R is for Roberts. Cliff Roberts was a self-made millionaire before he met and befriended Bobby Jones in 1925. Roberts, co-owner of a New York brokerage, recruited some 60 members from New York society to get Augusta National started. Once the course was established, Roberts became the iron fist to Jones’s velvet glove. Roberts ruled the club ruthlessly from its inception until his death, by suicide, at the age of 83 in 1977. His body was discovered beside the Eisenhower Pond on the club’s par three course, a 38-calibre pistol in his hand.

S is for Stephens. Jackson Stephens was the billionaire chairman of Augusta from 1992-1998. One day he was among some members about to play a friendly penny-a-point game of gin rummy. A new member joined them and complained about the small stakes, according to legend.

New Guy: “At my old club, we always played for big money.”

Stephens: “That so? Son, what’s your net worth?”

New Guy: “About $42 million.”

Stephens: “Let’s cut the cards for it.”

End of discussion.

T is for technology. Beneath every putting green and many of the primary landing spots on the fairways, computer-controlled sub-air drying machines monitor and dictate the amount of water in the soil, giving the greenskeepers total control over the speed of the tightly mown surfaces. Moisture is drawn down through a grid of pipes and expelled through vents far away from the source.

U is for undulations. Augusta’s greens are famous for their speed and swing. Nicklaus once said putting them “was like putting on the hood of a Buick.” What TV doesn’t translate are the course’s dramatic elevation changes. From the highest point at the first green to the lowest point at the 12th green is a drop of 175 feet, about the height of Niagara Falls. Eight holes have elevation changes of 60 feet or more from tee to green. The par-4 10th, 495 yards long, drops 116 feet at the lowest part of the fairway. The par-five second hole drops 90 feet from tee-to-green. The par-five 8th rises 62 feet from tee to green.

V is for Venturi. No amateur has ever won the Masters but Ken Venturi came close. He took a four-shot lead into the final round in 1956. Playing in winds that gusted to 70 mph, knocked down a scoreboard and a concessions tent, Venturi shot a final-round 80 to lose by a shot to Jack Burke, Jr.

W is for Weir. Mike Weir’s victory in a one-hole playoff over Len Mattiace in the 2003 Masters remains the greatest achievement by a Canadian in the history of men’s pro golf. Weir’s win was, and remains, the only major ever won by a Canadian. He’ll be back to give it another shot this year but an injured wrist and an inconsistent game make him one of the longshots in the field.

X is for ten. For 10 cents an hour, 10 hours a day in the middle of the Great Depression, there was no shortage of grunt labour to do the heavy excavating required to build Augusta National. For every man who quit there were several waiting to take his place. It took just 76 working days from start to finish to complete the job at a cost of $85,000, about $15,000 under budget.

Y is for yardage. When the first Masters was played in 1934, the National played to a then-robust 6,700 yards. Over the next 30 years the yardage crept up to 6,980 and remained at that length for a 20-year period from 1957-73. Tinkering in the 1970s added 60 yards to 7,040 but in 1981 the yardage was racheted back to 6,905, where it remained until 1993. With the advent of new ball and club technology came dramatic changes, mostly in the last 10 years that have stretched the course out to 7,445 yards.

Z is for Zoeller. Fuzzy Zoeller, the 1979 Masters champ, played his final competitive round at Augusta two years ago but he is more widely remembered for racially charged comments he made in 1997 during Tiger Woods’s history-making win. Zoeller advised the press to tell Woods “not to serve fried chicken next year” at the Champions Dinner. Zoeller compounded things by adding “or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.” Woods later accepted Zoeller’s apology but was clearly offended.


Videos

Photos