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How Adam Scott Won the US Masters and Broke the Curse of Augusta National
By Will Swanton, Brent Read
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 2013 Will Swanton and Brent Read
All rights reserved.
THE CURSE OF AUGUSTA
'People use the word choke, but I don't think that's right. I just plain screwed up.' Greg Norman
On Gate A off Berckmans Road is a list of the prohibitions for the 77th instalment of the US Masters. No sitting in the standing areas. No standing in the sitting areas. No cameras. No hats worn backwards. Bart! No metal golf spikes. No large hats. No carts. No lying down. No sleeping. No ladders. No recorders. No periscopes. No running. No bare feet. No folding chairs. No flags. No signs. No banners. No coolers. No strollers. No radios. No cell phones. No selling of tickets/badges within 2700 feet of an Augusta gate. If you have to ask, the answer is no. So don't ask. Posture! Close your mouth when you eat.
The main entrance along Washington Road displays a genteel enough pronouncement of the name of the premises, Augusta National Golf Club, followed by a stern and imposing reminder of the preferred clientele: MEMBERS ONLY. For one week only, the riffraff are allowed through the venerable gates if in possession of the hottest and most exclusive ticket in sport. Magnolia Lane is the 330-yard roadway that made Lee Trevino's car choke. Sixty-one Magnolia trees framed the tar, planted before the Civil War, until one of them was fried by a bolt of lightning during a severe thunderstorm in 2011. The trees' branches meet overhead, creating a tunnel effect. Augusta's clubhouse is a relic from the 1930s that would have been levelled and replaced by a more elaborate construction if the green-coated gentlemen of the south had any cash during the Great Depression. Augusta's membership in a state of financial disrepair: the horror of it all.
A plaque honours the first and most influential chairman, Clifford Roberts, the founder of the tournament in 1934 with the revered American player, Bobby Jones. Diagnosed with terminal cancer in old age, Roberts had a haircut from the clubhouse barber, left a note for his wife with a doctor's report, walked down near the par-three course about 3 a.m. and shot himself in the head with a Smith and Wesson .38. Legend states that he did it next to a pond so the mess would be easiest to clean up. Dedicated to the impossible pursuit of perfection, the creator of a golfing nirvana where every blade of grass seems to have its own name, Roberts was no longer perfect enough himself. His body was found at 8 a.m. His ashes would be scattered across the course. 'From the time I met Clifford Roberts until his death, I never knew him to do anything that was not in the best interest of Augusta National,' says Jack Nicklaus. The late Sam Snead, however, was among the many conspiracy theorists: 'The caddies think his death was a murder, not a suicide, and I believe them.'
What an unusual place it is. Adam Scott is making his 12th appearance on this big, sprawling colossus of a course. The layout is extraordinarily difficult. The pin placement on the Masters logo is tough: front and right. Scott's prior attempts have provided all the snapshots of unfulfilled ambition: the frustrations, the near misses, the blowouts and yet the nagging, crucial understanding that you only have to win it once. Scott has monstered the par fives in a combined 57 under since his debut in 2002. But he's been humbled and beaten by the par fours: 63 over.
For eleven straight years he has taken his medicine with superb Australian players of his generation, led by Stuart Appleby, Robert Allenby, Aaron Baddeley, Craig Parry and Geoff Ogilvy, all of them falling short of securing the fabled green jacket. Before them, Bruce Crampton, Peter Thomson, Jack Newton and Greg Norman felt the familiar sting of defeat. Steve Elkington, Greg Chalmers, Peter Lonard — 41 Australians have launched unsuccessful missions: Norman Von Nida, Kel Nagle, David Graham, Craig Parry ... Graham is now a member of Augusta's pin-placement squad. The ruthless bastard.
Medicine never tastes any good. Sometimes Australians have shot themselves in the foot. Sometimes they have been plumb out of luck. Greg Norman rattled off three straight 68s in 1995 but American Ben Crenshaw, high on the misery and inspiration from the death of his coach Harvey Penick, ambushed him with the tournament of his life. Winners have been as popular as Crenshaw or as lonesome as Vijay Singh, the polarising Fijian who grabbed his one and only Masters and declared on his way out the door: 'Kiss my arse, everybody.' His name was on an honour board decorated by the most famous champions: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Seve Ballesteros, all the behemoths. And the wildcards in Charl Schwartzel, Bubba Watson, Trevor Immelman and Zach Johnson. In 1982, Craig 'The Walrus' Stadler shocked even himself. 'Somewhere in those first one to four weeks that followed, it hit me,' says Stadler. 'I can't remember the exact moment but I'm sure I was laying in bed. And I thought, "My God, I did win that sucker."'
There is only one prohibition missing from the sign on Gate A off Berckmans Road: No Australian winners.
* * *
'If ever someone should have won a golf tournament, it was Greg Norman at the Masters,' says Jack Newton. 'He seemed to find away to get beat every time, apart from when what's-his-name chipped in. He got skunked there, but he should have already beaten Jack Nicklaus in '86. Jack shot an unbelievable back nine, but Greg was leading and dealing. On 18, he's tried to play a cut. Norman couldn't cut the green then, not with his irons. He shanked it out near the scoreboard and ended up taking five for Jack to win outright.
'Another year, I can't remember when exactly, he had it by the balls until he hooked it into the trees on 10 and took six. The year Nick Faldo beat him, I don't know what was happening there. He played so well those first three days. If you said to him, "Want to back yourself for a million dollars to shoot 72 or better in this last round?", I'm sure he would have taken it. But that's what can happen at Augusta. If you get off on the wrong foot on the last day, the front nine can stuff you right over. When the birdie holes come along, those par fives on the back, you're already out of business. It's too late and that's what happened to Norman against Faldo.
'If ever he was going to win a major in America, the Masters was deadset where it was going to happen. He had to win it. He's probably the best driver the game has ever seen for his length and accuracy. He hit his irons very high, which is perfect for Augusta to check the ball when the greens get firm and hard. Norman missing out wasn't a curse. It was his frailty under the pump to get the job done.'
* * *
No Luck: Newton was trumped by Seve Ballesteros in 1980. 'I was nine behind with nine to play,' he recalls. 'We were playing together, and I got it back to three. When he hooked it into the trees on 14, I thought I really had a chance. Well, I knew I had a chance. Seve and I were good friends from playing together in Europe, and I knew exactly what he was saying. He used to ask me to watch him hit balls, so I knew all the swear words he used in Spanish. He was letting it rip on the back nine. I really did think he was gone. He hit it in the water on 11. Hit in the water on 12. Hit it in the water on 13. I went birdie, birdie, birdie.
'On 14, the ball normally drops straight down if you hit one of the pine trees. It's pot luck whether you're up against the tree or not. Seve must have hit a branch because the ball went to the left. It went just far enough for him to hit it over the trees. Only Seve could have done that. He was a miracle man from trouble. He got it up and down and then on the par five, the 15th, we both had birdie putts. Mine was downhill. His was below the hole. I thought I needed to make mine, so I gave it a run. It hit the hole, spun out and went another metre past. That was it.
'To be honest, I was pleased for Seve because we were good mates, he played great and I thought he deserved it. Ironically enough, my second year at Augusta had been Seve's first. He was eighteen, nineteen, something like that. I had a good second round and in the press conference, one of the Yankee journos said to me, "Have you seen much of this Bally-a, Bally-a ... what's his name?" And I said, "Mate, you'd better learn how to say it and spell it because you're going to be saying it and spelling it for a long time to come." When Seve beat me, and I'd done all the TV interviews, that same journo came up to me and said, "Remember the day you told me to learn how to say and spell Ballesteros? You were right."'
* * *
The No Luck Club: Five Australian runners-up. The late Jim Ferrier in 1950. Bruce Crampton in 1972. 'Let me put it this way — when I was playing tournament golf I knew if I made less mistakes than everybody else, I would win the tournament,' says Crampton. 'My objective was to minimise the number of mistakes for the four tournament rounds. I think it's safe to say that from all the Australians who came close at Augusta, we collectively made one, two or three too many mistakes each. But my attitude is one of pride. In my own small way, I feel like I contributed to the success of golf in Australia with what I did. I helped to encourage some of the younger players, if not all of them, to come to the United States and test their talents over here.'
Newton in 1980. 'Augusta is not much of a town,' he says. 'But the golf course is pristine. As it ought to be. They have something like 48 staff there. About 23 of them work purely on the gardens and flowers. The rest do the greens and fairways. Their belief is that they're leading the world in golf course care, and it shows. When you drive down Magnolia Lane, you have two practice fairways and the big southern-style clubhouse in the background, it really does have an amazing feel. Evverything is green and white. The television towers are painted green. If you buy a Coke, you get it in an Augusta paper cup, green and white. No cans. Everything is branded "Augusta". They sell a shitload of gear.
'I'm telling you, it's just an unnbelievable set-up. For a pro golfer, it's a dream to be there. The food is great. They have some of the best red wine in the world. It's all about the prestige and the green jacket, which means you're not allowed to mention prizemoney. They used to have blokes listening to what the players said on television in case the money was mentioned. That's just the way they run it. The events you enjoy are the ones where they look after you. They're always the ones you want to go back to and for me, Augusta was always one of them. It's the duck's nuts.'
Newton's first trek was in 1976. 'The invitation comes in the mail,' he says. 'It's right there on the Augusta National letterhead. I actually thought I should have been invited the year before. By '76 I'd won a couple of tournaments in Europe and lost to Tom Watson in a playoff at the British Open. I played shit that first year. I wore a new pair of shoes, like an imbecile. I thought it's Augusta and I should wear some good gear. That's the kind of hype you feel about the place. The course itself is almost too perfect to sum up. I drove up there for the first time, went through the wrought-iron gates and went to see Clifford Roberts so he could give me a lecture of what I could and could not do. It was full-on invitational in those days. No world rankings or all the different ways they have now of qualifying. I went to see Clifford and he could have been Norman von Nida: a short little fella with horn-rimmed glasses. He was a rough, tough little guy.
'I'd come from Africa and was playing super. But I did something to my foot looking for a guy's ball. Then I wore the new shoes and had blisters from arsehole to breakfast time. Absolutely I was overawed, and I missed the cut. There was a fella who used to be the boss of the Wills company, and he always had a party for the Australians after the cut on the Friday. All the Aussies would go, and Clifford Roberts' personal assistant was always there. She was a little old sheila with plenty to say. She heard I had blisters and problems with my foot, and she must have told Clifford Roberts because next thing I know, I was being called into his office. I'm thinking bloody hell, what have I done? He said, "Listen, Jack, I understand you played under duress this year". Blah-blah-blah. He said, "You didn't come in here whinging about it, and I like that. So consider yourself invited for next year". I played every year up until '82.'
When it came to naming his sprawling house and property in Newcastle, Australia, Newton would settle on Augusta. He played five Masters before losing his right eye and arm in an altercation with the blades of a Cessna aeroplane in 1983. He returned as the sharpest commentator in Australian golf.
'First year, they make you play with an old prick,' he says. 'I can't even think of who I got. He was just an old prick who shouldn't have been playing at all. But over the years I played with a lot of good golfers there. It's a quality course that makes you think about every shot. You need to hold your nerve on the greens because they get bloody quick. When you play a practice round, you think you can make a seriously low number on the back nine if you get it going, but once the bell rings and there's a bit of breeze around holes like 11, and 12 in particular, it becomes very difficult to get the right club in your hand. The wind is swirling around those pine trees. It's just a very unusual golf course. No one ever talks about the front nine but if you don't birdie the second and possibly the third holes, it's going to be no snack for the rest of the day. You start dropping shots pretty quickly if you're not on the ball straight out of the box.
'I led in '77 or '78 after three rounds. Maybe I was equal leader? I played with Billy Kratzert, who was a hot player back then. Out of nowhere, the wind started blowing in a totally different direction to what I'd seen before. It was a strong fucking wind. It can be a bastard of a course in that kind of weather and I shot 76 or 77 and lost. It blew like buggery and I couldn't pick up the club. The whole strategy, the whole way the course played, was different. I remember it was howling into my face, from my right, on the first tee. It was a monster of an opening hole then with the equipment we were playing with. It was a tough starting hole for us. You have to have your game at a very high pitch or you're not going to win a Masters. Some of these blokes in the media think that majors are thrown on the ground and it's just a matter of picking them up, but they're bloody hard.'
* * *
The No Luck Club: Norman was president, elected unopposed, denied his green jacket for 22 straight years from 1981 to 2002. And then for one more year in 2009. He remembers a deep love for the game of golf washing over him on the first tee on debut. His opening round was a speckless 69 and the Augusta Chronicle made the rather ingenious decision to christen him the Great White Shark. Drama proceeded to shadow him around every turn. Nine top-ten finishes. Thrice a runner-up. The unfathomable yet fleeting highs. The lows.
The Norman Conquest of 1986. Full pomp and regalia! The perfect storm of charisma, bravado and whiplash skill. Norman birdied the 16th to trail Jack Nicklaus by two. The swagger! The lasso swing. The roar when Norman charged after his ball as soon as he struck it. He had a twelve-footer for birdie on 17. The pre-putt routine held as much magnetism as the stroke itself. The circling of the ball and hole. The squint. Norman was running at the cup with his blade raised like a flag before the putt even went in. He had the flourish of a swordsman. Four straight birdies to be level with Jack.
'He just jerks at his glove, tugs at his trouser belt and starts walking fast,' the caddie Nathaniel 'Iron Man' Avery once said of Arnold Palmer. 'When Mr Palmer does that, everybody better watch out. He's going to stampede anything in his way.' Ditto for Norman, we thought. He grabbed his 3-wood. Steel shafts! Rolled his shoulders. The necessity of the fade. The absolute imperative of steering clear of the fairway bunkers on 18. Norman swung out of his shoes. Nailed it. A Norman charge was like few others. He would birdie the last and leap Butler Cabin in a single bound. Then, a deep breath. A check of the yardages. The first moment of pause. Uh-oh. Give Norman one career mulligan and he would return to this moment.
Excerpted from Amen by Will Swanton, Brent Read. Copyright © 2013 Will Swanton and Brent Read. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsFire in the hole,
1. The curse of Augusta,
2. Spoiled and unspoiled walks,
3. British Open and shut,
5. Where the grass is greener,
6. The back nine on a Sunday,
About the authors,