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America's Gift to Golf
Herbert Warren Wind on the Masters
By Herbert Warren Wind
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2011 by Bill Scheft
All rights reserved.
Billy Joe and The Super-Pros
Sports Illustrated "Dummy Issue" — 1954
Two of the greatest golfers of modern times fought it out for the Masters championship. Snead beat Hogan in the play-off. But the result might have been different if an unknown North Carolina amateur had stayed home.
It was a perfect Georgian golfing day, the sun warm, the wind mild. Surrounded by a genuinely respectful gallery of 6,000 persons, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead teed off last Monday afternoon in the 18-hole medal play-off that would decide the Masters Tournament. The match, like the day, was calm; the thunder that characterized both weather and play earlier in the tournament was missing. Sam Snead won it with a 70. Hogan had a 71. In a sense, Hogan lost it twice. His first defeat had come earlier, when an incredible and unknown amateur forced him to change his tactics. That is the real story of Augusta.
It was a bizarre tournament. Snead, the ultimate winner, was never in command until the play-off. From the beginning it was a Hogan tournament — Hogan versus the field, just as in the late 20's it was Jones versus the field.
Ordinarily the first two days of the Masters are played in a convivial and lighthearted atmosphere that is conducive to low scoring. Apart from being second only to the National Open in prestige, the Masters is old home week for the crack golfers of the past four decades. Anyone who has ever wona U.S. or British Open, a U.S. or British Amateur, a P.G.A. or a previous Masters receives an automatic invitation.
In line with the splendid measure for merging the old with the new, the honor of being the first twosome to tee off was accorded to Freddy McLeod, a Scot who won our Open in 1908, and Jock Hutchison, another transplanted Scot who went back and won the British Open in 1921. As the two veterans strolled down the first fairway, the typical atmosphere of "the first two days" prevailed. Members of the Augusta National, dogged out in their bright green blazers, chatted with their house guests on the lawn before the stately ante-bellum clubhouse. Nearby, on the huge putting green which stands before the Southern colonial cottage that President Eisenhower has made his vacation White House, the players soaked in the morning sun as they warmed up their putting touches.
The course itself, the most beautiful meadow-land layout of them all, possessed a slightly different complexion than usual. Its fairways were a little heavier, its greens covered with a chalky patina due to the invasion of poa annua, a bluegrass which bursts into a small white flower.
In this idyllic scene it was hard to foresee the appearance of pressure, but it did not wait until the third day. It broke out immediately, and tangibly. Its premature arrival was obviously due to the presence of Ben Hogan, who had arrived in Augusta to begin his practice rounds two weeks before the tournament.
When he won the 1953 Masters with a record score of 274, Hogan played practically errorless golf. Commenting on his performance shortly afterwards he had analyzed his striking success being 20% ability and 80% skillful management.
This year, to apply his own formula, Ben reached the play-off almost purely on management. There was only one sustained stretch in the four rounds of the tournament proper-the second nine on the third round-when his shots had the metallic, machine-made assurance that one expects of him.
For all his troubles, Ben's halfway total of 145 placed him only one stroke behind the leader, Billy Joe Patton. Oddly enough, Patton, a 31-year-old lumber salesman from Morganton, N.C., seemed the least affected of any player by the Hogan pressure. No one then guessed that he would soon apply the pressure — indirectly but disastrously — to Hogan.
It was the field against Ben Hogan, and the pressure was on from the start. Some players hurled their clubs, others blew up, but Billy Joe Patton didn't have enough at stake to worry him. He shot great golf, stole the galleries, and in the last round got a hole-in-one that changed the shape of the tournament. Patton won a silver and gold cup as the best amateur and made friends for golf everywhere.
William J. Patton (he was soon Billy Joe to the whole south) got his invitation to the Masters on the shoestring qualification of having been an alternate on the 1953 Walker Cup team. Before heading for Augusta, Patton had the premonition that he was in for a week of hot golf. He purchased a white flannel blazer appropriate for wear when receiving the cup. He also came with the firm plan to go for the pin on each of the 72 holes regardless of the cost.
Billy Joe began his week by winning the driving contest with a clout of 338 yards. Continuing to hit the ball with the same abandon, he shared the lead with Dutch Harrison after the opening round on Thursday with a 70, two under par. Patton gained the undisputed lead on Friday with a 74, but most observers still believed he would break wide open. A remarkably intelligent young man who in his golf togs looks like a Harvard instructor vacationing on Cape Cod, Patton concurred with this assessment. "Everybody says I'll shoot an 80 tomorrow and I probably will," he said softly in his Carolina drawl. He shot a 75 instead. This gave him a Saturday night total of 219 at the three-quarter mark and left him five strokes behind Hogan who had come onto his game with a 69, and two strokes behind Snead, who had a 70 added to his 74, 73. Sam had been hitting the ball well but once on the greens he lived up to his reputation as the poorest-putting great golfer since Harry Vardon.
Sunday a gallery of 15,000 persons who had paid $7.50 apiece gathered at the first tee for the final. Snead went out first, at high noon, a half hour before Patton and an hour before Hogan. Coming to the seventh he was one over par and when he missed an easy four footer there, the gallery gave him up for gone and drifted over to the third tee to pick up Hogan and watch him play one of his heady lead-protecting rounds. Par would see him in nicely.
As the gallery moved up the third fairway, a tremendous roaring shout went up from the sixth green. The unbelievable Patton had holed his tee shot: it had been a perfect five-iron. The ball had struck the pin six inches above the hole and dropped vertically to wedge itself between the pin and the rim of the cup.
The shot changed the entire tournament. It put Patton two under par and placed him within three strokes of Hogan. Most men fall apart after the excitement of a hole in one. If anything, Patton appeared even more relaxed than he had been before, and from the beginning he had been as loose as ashes, confiding his feelings to his galleries and enjoying himself almost indecently for a man knee-deep in a major golfing tournament. On one tee, for example, sighting the narrow tree-lined fairway ahead, he had shaken his head gravely and exclaimed, "Well, as Byron Nelson says, in golf you can't pass like you can in bridge. You've gotta hit."
Now, with the heat on, Patton made his par on the seventh. Then, while his swelling gallery went wild with excitement, he went under par for birdies on both the eighth and the ninth to finish the first nine in 32. He added two fine pars on the 10th and the 11th. He reached the 12th tee at the same time that Hogan was just completing his first nine. Ben had gone out in 37. The two were even at the end of 63 holes.
Patton was a stroke over par on the 12th and — doubly determined to get the lost stroke back on the 13th — he slashed a spoon for the pin and landed in the creek. He took off his shoes and socks, and after experimenting with his stance in the water, decided to lift the ball and sacrifice a stroke. He then played a faltering pitch that barely cleared the creek, chipped again and two putted for a miserable seven.
The moment of crisis was at hand — not for Patton, but for Hogan. Ignorant of what had befallen the remarkable amateur, still believing that Patton was three under par on this round, Hogan did something that he had not planned to do. He abandoned his carefully thought-out, cautious strategy and shifted to a risky alternate. On the 11th hole, eschewing the safe route to the green, he went boldly for the pin. His shot hooked into the water. He took a six.
That six put the forgotten man, Sam Snead, back into the running again. Alone and unnoticed, Snead had finished with a 72 for a total of 289. After going one over par on the 15th, Patton needed a birdie to tie Snead's mark. It was beyond his powers. Hogan, in the same position with four holes to play, drew even with Snead on the 15th. On the 17th green, Hogan again had the tournament in his hands: he had a five-foot putt for birdie. He missed it by an inch. He played an orthodox par four on the final hole to tie Snead with 289, and make a play-off necessary.
But it was not Hogan's tournament, nor even Snead's. The 1954 Masters belonged to Billy Joe Patton, the unsung amateur who finished one stroke behind two great super-professionals. Patton had made the tournament; the play-off was anti-climactic after the high excitement of the last day.
"I don't feel bad about that 6 at 15 and I don't feel bad about that 7 at 13," Billy Joe drawled into the microphones when he stepped up in his white flannel coat to receive the low amateur awards from Bobby Jones at the presentation ceremonies. "And I don't want my rooters to feel bad about that. I told myself I wasn't going around after the tournament thinking I could have saved a stroke if I had played it bold. So I played it bold and the way I made those birdies was the same way I got that 6 and that 7. I'll tell you one thing. I hope I can come back here again next year. If I can nudge it up a little higher, we'll really have ourselves a roaring good time."
Sports Illustrated April 19, 1954CHAPTER 2
THE FATEFUL CORNER
Sports Illustrated — 1958
On the afternoon before the start of the recent Masters golf tournament, a wonderfully evocative ceremony took place at the farthest reach of the Augusta National course — down in the Amen Corner where Rae's Creek intersects the 13th fairway near the tee, then parallels the front edge of the green on the short 12th and finally swirls alongside the 11th green. On that afternoon, with Bob Jones investing the occasion with his invariable flavor, two new bridges across the creek were officially dedicated: one (leading to the 12th green) to Ben Hogan, commemorating his record score of 274 in the 1953 tournament; the other (leading back to the fairway from the 13th tee) to Byron Nelson, commemorating his great burst in the '37 Masters when, trailing Ralph Guldahl by four strokes on the last round, he played a birdie 2 on the 12th and an eagle 3 on the 13th, made up six strokes on Guldahl (who had taken a 5 and a 6 on these holes) and rolled on to victory. While Nelson's exploit is certainly the most striking illustration of what can happen at this particular bend of the course, history has had a way of affixing itself to these two holes and especially the thirteenth, a 475-yard par 5 which doglegs to the left, a beautiful hole scenically and a triumph of strategic design since a first-class golfer must always choose between attempting to carry with his second shot the arm of Rae's Creek that guards the green or playing safely short on his second and settling, in most cases then, for a fairly modest par. Rebounding from his disappointment in 1937, Guldahl virtually clinched the 1939 Masters when he gambled on on carrying the creek with his second and picked up an eagle for his intrepidness when his superb spoon finished 4 feet from the flag. In more recent years, it was on the thirteenth that Billy Joe Patton met his Waterloo in '54 when he caught the creek with his perhaps overbold second and ended up with a 7, it was there the same season that Sam Snead may have won his playoff with Hogan when he birdied the hole and took a lead he never relinquished, and it was there in '55 that the eventual winner, Cary Middlecoff, nursing a very hot streak on his second round, brought it to a roaring climax by getting home in 2 and then holing a putt from the back of the green that could have been no less than 75 feet long. What a player does on the seventeen other holes — or, if you will, on the sixty-eight other holes — is always significant and often critical, but the point is that no one is pushing the facts around when he remarks that the events which take place on the thirteenth have an odd way of proving to be strangely conclusive in the Masters. They were this year once again.
On the final round, the new champion, Arnold Palmer, the co-leader with Sam Snead at the end of the first three rounds, was paired with the bona fide sensation, Ken Venturi. The two young men were the first contenders to go out, which is important to keep in mind. Although a dozen players were grouped between 211 and 215 as the final day began, by the time Palmer and Venturi came to the 12th hole it seemed fairly certain that the winner of their duel might well turn out to be the winner of the tournament. I limit this to fairly certain for — though many of the contending dozen had ruined their chances on the first nine — Stan Leonard (215), Doug Ford (215), Fred Hawkins (214), and Bo Wininger (213) were working on the subpar rounds at that moment in the long afternoon and were very much in the picture. Arithmetically, however, Palmer was still out in front when he and Venturi prepared to play the twelfth, and it looked like they would be pushing one another on to tremendous golf. Venturi had cut one stroke off of Palmer's one-stroke lead by going out in 35 and had cut a second shot off it on the tenth (where Palmer went one over). With seven holes to go, then, only one shot separated them.
The 12th at the Augusta National, 155 yards long, can be a very delicate and dangerous affair when the pin is placed at the far righthand corner of the green (which it was) and when there is a puffy wind to contend with (which there was). You've got to be up, over Rae's Creek — that's for sure. But you can't take too much club, because the green is extremely thin and on the far side a high bank of rough rises abruptly behind the apron — and you don't want to be there either. Venturi and Palmer both hit their tee shots over the green and into the bank. Venturi's ball kicked down onto the far side of the green, presenting him with a probable 3 (which he went on to make). Palmer's ball struck low on the bank about a foot or so below the bottom rim of a bankside trap and embedded itself. It had rained heavily during the night and early morning, and parts of the course were soggy.
Now the drama began to unfold, and because of the unusual setting it was indeed charged with the quality of theater: Only the players, their caddies and officials are allowed beyond the roping around the 12th tee, and one could only watch the pantomime activity taking place on the distant stage of the 12th green and try to decipher what was happening. To begin with, there was an animated and protracted discussion between Palmer and a member of the tournament's rules committee, obviously on the subject as to whether or not Palmer could lift his ball without penalty. Apparently the official had decided he couldn't, for Arnold at length addressed the half-buried ball and budge it about a foot and a half with his wedge. It ended up in casual water then, so he lifted and dropped it (patently without penalty) and then chipped close to the pin on his third stroke. He missed the putt and took a 5. This put him a stroke behind Venturi.
Then the situation became really confusing. Palmer did not walk off the green and head for the 13th tee. He returned to the spot in the rough just behind the apron where his ball had been embedded and, with the member of the rules committee standing by, dropped the ball over his shoulder. It rolled down the slope a little, so he placed the ball near the pit-mark. Apparently, now, the official had not been sure of what ruling to make and Palmer was playing a provisional or alternate ball in the event it might later be decided he had a right to lift and drop without penalty. He chipped stone-dead again and this time holed the putt for a 3. Now the question was: Was Palmer's score a 3 or a 5?
Excerpted from America's Gift to Golf by Herbert Warren Wind. Copyright © 2011 by Bill Scheft. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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