The definitive collection of a legendary sportswriter’s reflections on his favorite game
In this classic anthology, Herbert Warren Wind recreates Ben Hogan’s stirring performance in the third round of the 1967 Masters, when the fifty-four-year-old former champion turned back the clock to birdie six of the final nine holes and send spectators home “as exhilarated as schoolboys.”
At the 1964 US Open, the dean of American golf writers captures the drama and excitement of “one of the most inspiring stories in American golf”: Ken Venturi’s heroic victory over Arnold Palmer, Tommy Jacobs, and a case of heat exhaustion to win his only major championship.
From Harry Vardon to Steve Ballesteros, Pebble Beach to Ballybunion, the British Open to the President’s Putter, this generous and entertaining volume contains Herbert Warren Wind’s most famous essays on the sport he loved above all others. Vivid, eloquent, and insightful, Following Through showcases a master craftsman at the very top of his form.
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Writings on Golf
By Herbert Warren Wind
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 Herbert Warren Wind
All rights reserved.
The Call of the Masters
Bernard Darwin, the grandson of the famous naturalist, wrote on a wide variety of subjects, but golf permeated his life thoroughly. He was the "golf correspondent" of The Times of London for forty-five years and contributed regularly to Country Life magazine over an even longer period. Sir John Squire considered Darwin one of the six best essayists since Charles Lamb, and there is no question that he is in a class by himself when writing about golf. A great admirer of Bobby Jones, Darwin would have loved the Masters, but he was pushing seventy after the Second World War and never made the journey. Thousands of golfers, however, make it a point to be on hand each April at Augusta. For them it marks the beginning of another spring and another golf season.
During his long and remarkable career, Bernard Darwin, the English golf writer, often had occasion to ruminate on the magic that certain railway junctions had for him — those at Leuchars, Ashford, Minster, Preston, and Birkenhead Park, for example. "Their names," he once wrote, "sound in my ears as chimes, ringing me home to my own country." Leuchars summoned up for Darwin the sound of the porter calling out, "Change for St. Andrews!," and Ashford "Change for Rye!" Minster meant Sandwich; Preston, St. Annes; Birkenhead Park, Hoylake. In this country, travelling to the golf courses where the major championships are held has seldom, even in the days when one bore down on them gently by rail, had anything like the cozy quality that warmed Darwin. The relative size of the two countries has something to do with this, naturally. So has the fact that the top British tournaments are almost always played over the same dozen or so courses, which have long made up what is called the championship "rota," while here it has long been the practice of the United States Golf Association, which conducts the National Open and the National Amateur Championships, and of the Professional Golfers' Association, which handles the P.G.A. Championship, to move these annual events around the country, so that golf fans residing in the various sections have a chance to take them in. Periodically, the National Open returns to a "traditional Open course," such as Oakmont, outside Pittsburgh, where it will be played this June and was last played in 1953. Ordinarily, though, the interval between National Opens at any one course is nearer twenty years than nine, and to hear the chimes ringing you home after an absence of this length requires the historically oriented eardrums of an Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., or a Casey Stengel.
All this comes to mind because another Masters tournament — the twenty-sixth, brilliantly won by Arnold Palmer — has just come to a close at the Augusta National Golf Club, in Augusta, Georgia. It is clearer today than it ever was that this comparatively young event not only is a full-fledged classic but already may have surpassed the United States Open in the hold it has on the imagination of the sports public. Attendance figures are never the whole story, or anything close to it, but this year, for the third time, a total of well over a hundred thousand people watched the four days of play of the tournament proper — more than twice the record turnout for the three days of the U.S. Open. (In addition, twenty million people are estimated to have tuned in to each of the telecasts from Augusta.) The Masters has a great many things going for it, some planned and some fortuitous. It is played on a superb and scenic course that inspires the fine field of players to spectacular feats and offers singularly good vantage points for spectators. It is held at a wonderful time of year, when practically every golfer, after a long hibernation, finds his fancy turning to thoughts of supinating the left forearm or some other such crucial action that will make the season at hand the big one he has been waiting for. It has flavor and innate prestige, since it is permeated with the personality of the founder and president of the Augusta National, Robert T. Jones, Jr., who is that rare sort of hero — in sports or any other field — a man whose actual stature exceeds that of the mythological figure he has been made into. In the judgment of quite a few old golf hands, however, the element that has made the Masters the Masters is that it is played on the same course year after year. For players and galleries alike, the tournament has a familiar, homecoming atmosphere, which none of the peripatetic championships can hope to match. Fewer than a hundred golf enthusiasts, I would guess, regularly follow the National Open from venue to venue, but there must be several thousand persons who, in the manner of Chaucer's pilgrims posting to Canterbury, head for Augusta early each April.
Most of those who come to the Masters from any appreciable distance make the journey by plane. Few flights are scheduled directly from faraway cities to Augusta, for although the sleepy old town has recently been aroused by the establishment of several new industrial plants, there are fifty-one weeks of the year in which travellers can hardly be said to descend on it in substantial numbers. Atlanta, accordingly, serves as a junction. It is not, of course, the sort of junction Darwin had in mind; no porter shouts "Atlanta! Change for Augusta!," and a large air terminal, with its long, hollow corridors and its semi-lost transients, hardly conjures up the feeling that the promised land is at hand. Still, Augusta is only fifty minutes by air from Atlanta, and when you land at Augusta's pleasant little airfield, everything is just as you have remembered. The air is sweet and soft; you never fail to see a few familiar golf faces around the terminal; and the man at the car-rental desk once again can't seem to find a record of your reservation and can't quite fathom how anyone could have written you a confirmation.
The main entranceway to the Augusta National Golf Club is a narrow drive, some three hundred yards long and lined with unbroken rows of magnolia trees, which interlace overhead. A slow progress down this lane to the sunlit white clubhouse is the first of three moves that a very high percentage of the Augusta regulars apparently must make each year before they feel really at home again. The second is a walk around the clubhouse to the terrace at the rear, from which one can gaze down at the eighteen holes, which Jones and Alister MacKenzie, his co-designer, laid out over the slope of a natural amphitheatre. It is the prettiest vista in golf, and the returning regular wants to make certain it's still there. Indeed it is. Rye grass sown with the Bermuda grass is still imbuing the fairways with a distinctive lustre. As befits a property that was once one of the South's leading nurseries, some of the flowering shrubs along the fairways are in full bloom. The pines towering behind the tenth green are just as tall as memory had them. "Yes, it's all intact," the regular says to himself. He is then ready to make the third, and last, move in his annual process of reacclimatization. He watches a twosome of golfers he particularly likes drive off the first tee and follows them out onto the course. After observing the approach shots on the opening hole, a moderate-length par 4, he doesn't bother to find a position near the green but walks directly to a spot at the edge of the rough along the right side of the second hole (555 yards, par 5), about 275 yards out, at just about the point where the fairway begins to tumble downhill to the green. He takes in the two drives. He takes in the two second shots. Somehow this seems to do it — watching one pair of golfers play their tee shots and their long approaches to the second hole. From that moment on, the itinerary of one Augusta regular may have nothing at all in common with that of another. Each man (or small group) plays it by ear. Some go on to the second green, watch their twosome putt out, and perhaps stay with them all the way, if either player happens to be working on a hot round; others wait on the hillside to watch a few more pairs come by, getting their eyes limbered up meanwhile by switching their attention from the putting on the distant green to the second shots played directly in front of them and then back to a new pair driving from the tee; still others head at a brisk trot for the scoreboard near the third green and tune up their arithmetic by studying the scores between quick looks at the action on the third, a short par 4, and side glances at the tee shots on the fourth, a dramatic par 3, 220 yards long, where the pin is usually placed behind a deep key bunker that noses into the heart of the slanting green. Most regulars stay out on the course until late in the afternoon, resting and roving by instinct, and sustaining themselves with pimento-spread sandwiches and the golf itself. The only time they tend to reconvene at a single spot comes when one of the leaders nears the riskiest bend on the course, down by Rae's Creek, for then nearly everyone — as many as fifteen thousand people on some days — perches on a slope that serves as a grandstand for the two make-or-break holes, the twelfth and thirteenth.
This feeling of extraordinary kinship with the Masters is not restricted to those who go to Augusta. In general, golf fans cerebrate and talk about their preoccupation as no other sports group does, and the talk of the returning pilgrims about the Masters — abetted to a considerable degree by the telecasts and by the year-round rhapsodies of the golf-writing press — has created such an inordinate wave of interest in the event that many men who have never set foot on the course have acquired a knowledge of it that really is amazing. You would expect golf fans everywhere in the country to be fairly well acquainted with the last four holes, for these are covered by the television cameras, but somehow they know the terrain and the strategic demands of all eighteen, and can rattle on about "the new green on the eighth," and "that long arm of the creek on the thirteenth that caught Patton's second in '54," and "those gusts of wind that puff up on the short twelfth and give Palmer so much trouble every year," and "the low branches of the pines that kill you on the seventh if you drive it down the right side of the fairway." Only one other course in the long history of golf has ever been comparably familiar to the golfing public at large — the Old Course at St. Andrews. No self-respecting golf club in Britain would think its bar complete unless a print of the famous MacKenzie map of the Old Course hung on the wall, and when you add this handy reference to the decades of chatter about what old So-and-So did on the Road Hole and the trouble young What's-His-Name met up with on the eleventh, it becomes almost understandable — almost, but not quite — that so many Britons know each bunker at St. Andrews by its designated name and could probably walk out blindfolded from the first tee to any one you mentioned.
Thunder on the Left
This excerpt from an article about the 1963 British Open is historically important in two respects: it was the last thirty-six-hole playoff ever held, and it marked the only time that a left-handed golfer, Bob Charles, carried off one of the major championships.
Granting that most playoffs are a letdown and that thirty-six-hole playoffs are exactly eighteen holes too long, you could not hope for a more fascinating duel than the one Charles and Rodgers put on. To begin with, the vivid contrast between the two men added a great deal of zest to the long day's journey. Down one side of the fairway walked Charles, a former bank clerk — tall, spare, dark, and aquiline, the proper reserved New Zealander. (As long as there is a New Zealand, there'll always be an England.) He went about his business with scarcely a word or a grimace, acknowledging the gallery's applause with a little upward flick of his forefinger. Down the other side of the fairway rumbled Rodgers, a twenty-five-year-old former Marine who stands a little under five feet eight and packs a hundred and ninety pounds. (His standard evening meal during the tournament, by the way, consisted of some smoked salmon, a double order of filet of sole, a filet mignon, and a triple order of chocolate ice cream.) Blond, freckled, garrulous, and likable, Rodgers has grown up in the television-golf era, which has brought back vaudeville, and on the greens he trots out a wide repertoire of sight gags, comic steps, and patter. He can also play golf — forceful golf — and in the playoff he had to, in order to stay in the game, for Charles went off on the most sensational putting spree I can recall in a major event since Billy Casper's exhibition at Winged Foot in our 1959 Open. On the morning round, Charles had no less than eleven one-putt greens, and these included twenty-five-footers on the third and thirteenth, a seventeen-foot uphiller on the fifteenth, and a sliding twenty-foot downhiller on the sixteenth. He had a 69 and led by three strokes at lunch. In the afternoon, he dropped only two really sizable putts, but they were the cruelest kind of all. The first, for a birdie, came on the fourth and cancelled out a much longer birdie putt (and an excellent rendition of the old spiked shoe) by Rodgers. The second came on the eighth, a medium-length par 4 where both men were on in two — Charles thirty feet away, and Rodgers, who had fought back admirably to be only a stroke behind at this point, some fifty feet beyond and above the cup. Rodgers holed that monster, and then Charles broke his heart by holing right on top of him again. That was the playoff. Charles' final margin was eight strokes.
As you can see, Bob Charles has the temperament needed in his unnerving profession. It is rooted in his deep confidence that he can play golf as well as anyone in the world. Earlier in his career, when he was new to our pro circuit, he could be as sour as de Gaulle when he felt that he was being viewed more as a curiosity than as a serious candidate for top honors. He has never felt that he was an oddity, possibly because he is naturally right-handed. He started to play golf from the "wrong side" as a boy because his parents were both left-handed golfers and their clubs were the only ones readily available. I don't know where all this leads us, but I have an idea that it will be only a matter of time now before a major title falls to the world's greatest cross-handed golfer — Sewsunker Sewgolum, a South African of Indian descent who is the current Natal Open champion. This is not as farfetched as it might seem. At Lytham, Sewgolum finished a laudable thirteenth with a total of 290, four shots ahead of Palmer. And he wasn't putting at all.
North to the Links of Dornoch
The Royal Dornoch Golf Club lies north of the southern Highlands, at about the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska. One of the oldest and most beautiful of the Scottish linksland courses, it had been neglected for many years; it was just too far out of the way. Richard Tufts' enthusiasm for Dornoch — Donald Ross, Pinehurst's golf-course architect, had come from there — led an increasing number of golf pilgrims to make the journey north. In a comparatively short time, it became the "in" course for touring golfers, and it was selected by the R. and A. as the venue for the 1985 British Amateur.
A little over a century ago, the game of golf underwent a change that revolutionized its character and completely redirected its course — the traditional feather-stuffed leather ball, which had been in use for four hundred years, and perhaps longer, was replaced by a ball made of gutta-percha, a rubberlike substance derived from certain sapotaceous trees found in Malaya. Up to that time, golf had been played almost exclusively by Scots living in Scotland, but the new ball, which was harder and more durable, changed all this. Not only was it much easier for the average player to get the gutta-percha ball off the ground and control its general direction but it also flew a thrillingly long distance — yards farther, than the old feather ball ever went. In short, the "gutty," as it was known at the time, made golf a better, pleasanter, and far more fascinating game, and started its transformation, from an occult Scottish passion into a universal pastime, currently being pursued by some fifteen million devotees wherever grass sprouts, and sometimes where it doesn't. As golf's popularity spread, Scotland's dominance over nearly every phase of the game diminished. By the second decade of this century, Scots were no longer the only accomplished club-makers or golf-course architects or teachers, for example. Moreover, Scottish players, who had always dominated competitive golf, were being supplanted by champions produced in the United States and in other countries comparatively new to the game. (It takes some believing, but the last time a Scot residing in Scotland won the British Open was in 1893, when Willie Auchterlonie, of St. Andrews, carried the day.) Scotland has, nevertheless, continued to be regarded as the golf country. That this is so is the result neither of a polite gesture toward "the cradle of the game" by the golfers of the world nor of a shrewd conspiracy among them based on an awareness that a great deal of what is romantic and beckoning (and merchandisable) about golf is tied in with its Scottish heritage. The explanation is much more elementary. In the first place, for all the enterprise and enthusiasm of the converts to the game in this country and elsewhere, no one loves golf quite as wholeheartedly as the Scots do, and no one plays it more assiduously. Second, at its best the Scottish golfing milieu remains incomparable, for, in a wonderful way, many of the famous old championship links have proved themselves ageless — as challenging and as enjoyable right now as the Augusta National, Kasumigaseki, Royal Melbourne, or any of the other new-fledged masterpieces. Above all, in no other country is the entire fabric of life threaded so inextricably with golf as it is in Scotland. For instance, there's no need for an enthusiast who finds himself in mixed company to feel that an hour's uninterrupted discussion of golf is perhaps enough and that one must think of the ladies. Most of the ladies either play golf or have played it at one time or another, and the few exceptions are remarkably well versed in the game, or else in acting.
Excerpted from Following Through by Herbert Warren Wind. Copyright © 1995 Herbert Warren Wind. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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