Since its genesis in 1934, the Masters golf tournament has produced, almost annually, extraordinarily exciting finishes. One only has to say the names Horton Smith, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Ralph Guldahl, Jimmy Demaret, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Billy Joe Patton, Jack Burke, Arnold Palmer—and the multitude of Masters-oriented fans can immediately fill you in on the year and the manner in which each of the above cut loose with a closing rush which sometimes nailed down a triumph once and for all and at other times all but turned the shape of the tournament inside out. As those who read Bob Jones's close-up description of the Augusta National (SI, April 6) know, it is the implicit strategy of the 18 holes—and especially of the second nine on which water hazards stretch before or skirt no fewer than five of the greens—which evokes the spectacular. On the last day particularly, a challenger in pursuit of the leader must take his chances and the leader can make no sizable error, for no course, unless it be St. Andrews, rewards the successful bold stroke with such an instant dividend or punishes a poor stroke at a crucial spot with the crushing all-but-finality with which the Augusta National does.
It is safe to say that even the Masters has never seen so sustainedly spectacular a finish as Art Wall put on in roaring from out of nowhere to win this year's event. As everyone knows, Wall birdied five of the last six holes. Even in this day when the somewhat less than exacting requirements of many circuit courses have brought sort of a Gresham's law into golf scores and made incredible clusters of birdies seem credible indeed, to play the 67th, 68th, 69th, 71st and 72nd holes of any tournament in birdies still rocks the imagination. To manage such a sequence over a course like the Augusta National and under the accumulating pressure of a major competition—why, unless it were already done and written into history, one would scoff at it as being as improbable as the feats of the Merriwell boys and as never-never as the daydreams of Walter Mitty.
There have been quite a few Masters, however, it should be said before proceeding further, which have just moved along from start to finish without there being any unusually dramatic moments above and beyond the quiet and steady drama always afforded when fine golfers play fine shots on fine holes. This is all anyone really has a right to ask of a golf tournament. If you like golf, it is satisfaction and enjoyment aplenty. For the first three rounds, the 1959 Masters was that kind of a tournament. On the fourth and final day, moreover, nothing out of the ordinary happened either as the hours wore on, and the leader, Arnold Palmer, to be followed some 25 minutes later by his closest pursuers, Stan Leonard and Cary Middlecoff, approached that bend in the course which has so often been fateful—the corner where the 155-yard 12th crosses Rae's Creek and where the beautiful 13th, a 475-yard par 5 doglegging to the left, swings back and twice crosses a narrow arm of Rae's Creek. It was at this corner last year, to be sure, that Palmer in effect won the tournament, eagling the 13th with three stalwart shots despite the anxiety of not knowing whether, after that famous imbedded-ball controversy on the 12th, he would eventually be accorded a 3 or a 5 on that hole.
It was about this time in the afternoon that many old Augusta hands began to feel restless. There was no logical reason why anything had to happen, but, at the same time, the 1959 Masters, they felt, had been almost too pacific. It would be much more like the Masters if something suddenly exploded, someplace on the course. Even as they were ruminating in this abstract vein, it happened, right in front of them. Palmer mis-hit his six-iron to the short 12th just a shade—hit it a little fast so that the draw he was playing for didn't take. The ball splashed into the creek about four feet short of the abrupt bank before the green. He dropped before the creek and from the spongy ground played his third a bit too firmly. It bounced over the shallow green and into the rough behind the apron, ironically close to the spot where his ball had been imbedded a year before. More to the point, Palmer's third finished in a clumpy lie. When Arnold jabbed it out, it jumped well off-line to the left and he was faced with a nine-footer, which he missed. Six. At that stage in the tournament, the biggest 6 you can imagine. It completely washed away Palmer's comfortable lead.
And then everything began to happen, all over the place. To begin with, Palmer, who is a wonderful athlete, with the reserves of self-control and heart that mark a champion, immediately composed himself and played a superb birdie 4 on the 13th.... Quick computations by all the bookkeepers present in terms of how Palmer now stands with Leonard (out in 39) and Middlecoff (out in 37). He's even with Middlecoff and a shot ahead of Leonard. He has par in for 286, keeping in mind, as always at Augusta, that the 15th as well as the 13th is an eminently birdieable par 5 and, morevover, that the wind is with the players on both holes.... A quick check at the scoreboard behind the 12th tee. Billy Maxwell, whom no one has thought about, has ripped off four straight birdies and is at the 17th tee with pars in for 288. And what is this! Another early starter, Dick Mayer, completely unconsidered, has closed with a 68 for a total of 287. A burst of shouting from the 13th green where in the shadowed distance Wall has holed a 15-footer for his birdie. Out in 34, he has picked up a lot of strokes on the leaders (despite a bogey on the 10th) but not enough to be truly in contention.... Another look at Palmer, on the 14th, hitting the cup with his run-up chip from below a swirling dip and holing a four-footer for his par with confidence. Back to the 11th, Middlecoff and Leonard, traveling at Middlecoff's attenuated pace, having at length arrived there. A par 4 for Leonard. A 5 for Middlecoff when he misses from five feet. On the 12th a lovely shot by Leonard to within eight feet of the pin—a wonderful chance for his birdie. An iron by Middlecoff that is a little too strong. The punctuation of a wild shout from the 14th green. Wall has holed a long one for another birdie, the grapevine explains. Now he may have an outside chance.... A trip to the scoreboard and more hurried computations, Palmer has indeed picked up his birdie on the 15th. He has par in for 285. Wall—par in for 287. Middlecoff, recovering neatly for his 3 on the 12th, has par in for 287. Leonard, after missing his bird on the 12th, par in for 287.
So on and on it went. When the 1959 Masters erupted, it erupted all over the place and kept on erupting the rest of the long afternoon, turning the spectators into ambulant mathematicians as they scurried from fairway to fairway trying to watch four men at one time and keep track of how they stood, while inside the wide roped-off fairways the contending players, looking a little larger than life, moved expressionlessly from hole to hole on the long journey home. On the 17th Palmer was to lose part of what he had retrieved when he missed a three-footer for his par, and on the 18th he was to miss a vital birdie putt from four feet; Wall was to keep on coming, coming, coming with never a letup in his unbelievable rush until he stood as the man to beat when he came to the 18th tee; Leonard, sorely in need of birdies, was to be able to muster no more of them after barely missing an eagle from 12 feet on the 13th; and Middlecoff, always so terrific when the TV camera is recording his play, was to provide the final dramatic moments by eagling the 15th and then failing by the smallest margins on the last three holes to pick up the one birdie he then needed to tie with Wall. I wonder if there has ever been so heavy a storm of brilliant tournament golf after so protracted a calm.
Art Wall's finish of birdie, birdie, birdie, par, birdie, birdie has no parallel in a major American tournament and probably in any major tournament. We will come back shortly to a more detailed description, but there are a few other aspects of the recent Masters which prompt some comment so let us turn to them for the moment.
First, there is the matter of "the cut." Until 1957, as you may remember, all the contestants in the Masters played the full four rounds. That spring, however, the tournament introduced a change of format; only the players with the low 40 scores (plus ties) at the end of the first 36 holes would qualify for the last 36. That first year a fairly large number of name-players, among them Hogan and Middlecoff, failed to survive the cutoff, and quite a hue and cry was raised both by the competing field and the spectators. Last year hardly any of the stars of the first magnitude were eliminated by the cutoff figure of 149, and, largely because of this, the controversy over the wisdom of reducing the field abated to mild and glancing opinions. This year the cut lopped off three players who had been viewed as possible factors in the winning or losing of t he Masters, Ken Venturi, Billy Casper and Jimmy Demaret. The tournament found them far off their best form, and in Venturi's case, the young man, it appeared, might have done himself a disservice by pointing too hard and too steadily for this championship he has set his heart on winning. However, despite the fact that the star casualties were low, no one, not even the players who made the cut, was happy about its existence.
A brief look at the scores at the halfway mark helps one to understand this strong anti-cut sentiment. The leader after the first two rounds was Arnold Palmer with a total of 141 which gave him a two-stroke margin over the second man, Stan Leonard, the sturdy Canadian veteran. Behind them seven players were grouped at 144, eight more at 145, three at 146, seven at 147, 10 at 148, and the final five at 149. This is pretty close packing. The last qualifiers were separated from first place by only eight shots and separated from third by only five shots. Since quite a few golf tournaments have been won by men who have come from 10 or more shots off the pace on the last two rounds—Art Wall was to make up a full eight shots on Palmer and nine on Leonard on the last round alone—the cut seemed much too drastic. In any event, we had the unique situation this year where each of the 42 players who qualified for the last two rounds was a very possible winner, and it could be argued with reasonableness that quite a number of players who missed the 40-and-ties cut were arithmetically far from out of contention.
If there must be a cut in the Masters, surely it would be an improvement if it were relaxed somewhat, to qualify for the last 36 holes, say, the low 60 scores plus ties. This is the pattern which the National Open employs. Of course, the moment you mention the Open, it makes you wonder whether any cut in the Masters is necessary or salutary. In the Open the field has to be cut after 36 holes because on the third and final day the remaining field plays 36 holes and there just isn't time or room for more players to complete two rounds. The Masters, on the other hand, is a leisurely four-day affair, 18 holes a day. There is ample time on the Saturday and Sunday just as there is on the Thursday and Friday for the whole field to play, unhurriedly, for the Masters begins with a select field of less than a hundred. (150 will start in the Open.) All the contestants in the Masters would welcome the chance to play the full four rounds even if this meant a very early dew-sweeping starting time on the last two days for those way out of the running. The older champions, the Sarazens and Picards and Woods and Shutes, feel as keenly about this as do the youngsters and the absence of the heroes of earlier decades on the last two days is not a small point, for it is their active presence which has given the Masters its especial flavor and made it much more than simply a very fine tournament.
A CONSERVATIVE FUTURE
It also occurred to many of us that play at the Masters on the first two days will probably become increasingly conservative as long as the stringent cutoff prevails. The Augusta National layout, as you know, has quite a number of holes where the player who accepts a reasonable gamble and pulls it off with a first-rate shot can profit handsomely. On the first two days this year, with the possibility of missing the cut staring them so steadily in the eye, few players were of a mind to depart from cautious tactics. The ubiquitously restrained play that resulted took a little of the sparkle and dash away from the tournament, for what is the essence of the Masters if it isn't seeing the great golfers unfurling a fairway wood or a long iron over the creek to the 13th or over the pond to the 15th when the auspices are somewhat favorable! On the first two days the only real runs were made by players who were in trouble, and it is more than coincidence that the lowest round on the second day was a 68 by Dow Finsterwald who, after an opening 79, knew he would have to be 70 or better to get in.
The main reason for instituting the cut in the first place, it appears, was to facilitate the proper televising of the tournament: with a reduced field, it is a bit easier to arrange for the contending players to arrive at the televised holes (the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th) at the appointed time. Now television, of course, is nothing less than the best thing since the invention of movable type. If you cannot attend a sports event—and, quite often, even when you can—few things in the world are as pleasure-giving as watching it at home, seeing it all and so well. (This year's coverage of the Masters, I am told, was exceedingly good.) However, in truth, if the full field at the Masters were to play on the last two days, as long as starting times were handled intelligently it really would not impede contenders from arriving on camera at air time.
It is a little difficult to write in this critical vein about the Masters, for only the Open has a similar worth and even the Open cannot approach its charm, and the affection one feels for it goes deep within. However, the men who run the Masters have always taken exquisite pains to study its every aspect and to remedy the few weaknesses which show themselves, and I am sure they are already giving their attention to this whole business of the cutoff. The Saturday of the recent Masters—this is not a bad place to say it—must have been one of the most satisfying days in their lives. It was a glorious spring day, not a cloud in the sky and with a balmy breeze moving across fairways, bright green with rye grass, and stirring the pinkish-lavender blossoms of the Judas trees, the white of the dogwood, and the purples and reds of the azaleas. On this day onto the course spilled the largest crowd that has ever watched a golf tournament in this country. It is hard to estimate how many thousands were there—the Masters gives out no attendance figures—but the multitude far exceeded, despite the grandly inflated figures George May annually released, the vaunted attendance at the Tam O'Shanter. Some 15,000 or so cars (carrying an average of three persons) were reportedly parked, so there may well have been 40,000 to 50,000 people on hand. They came, of course, in the gayest clothes and the wildest headgear, prepared for the long day's watching with portable light aluminum chairs and folding wooden chairs, and they so quickly devoured the food on the premises that an emergency call went out to all the eating places in Augusta to get to work and roll out as many sandwiches as they could for immediate shipment. Only a few years back, a crowd of 15,000 on an Augusta Saturday was deemed immense. But a new era of golf is at hand, an era in which the game looks like it will keep on growing until it becomes the national game in the way baseball was in the first decades of this century, and more so, played and watched by many, many millions. On the Saturday of the 1959 Masters, the new era arrived.
Another 25,000 or so spectators were on hand for the final day, another beauty. Wall (73-74-71-218) was off at 1:51, two twosomes behind Palmer (71-70-71-212) and one twosome ahead of the co-leader Leonard (69-74-69-212) paired with Middlecoff who, after a splendid 68 on his third round, stood a stroke off the pace at 213. Wall was off fast. He birdied the first (400 yards) when he put an eight-iron 15 feet from the hole and followed with another birdie on the long 2nd, exploding to within two feet from the trap before the green. Another great trap shot on the short 4th saved his par there. Trapped again on the 7th (365 yards), he came out five feet from the cup on that slippery green but missed the putt. Still another elegant trap shot on the long 8th (530 yards) left him a one-foot tap for his birdie. He turned in 34, two under, but at this point Wall's chances were dim indeed, for Palmer had turned in 36—the seventh consecutive stretch of nine holes, incidentally, in which he had equaled or beaten par. When Wall three-putted from 25 feet on the 10th, his chances became even dimmer, but then came Palmer's 6 on the 12th and with it a renaissance of hope for all his challengers. When, an hour later, Palmer was unlucky enough to miss short putts on the last two greens, it transformed what had seemed a gallant but forlorn chase by Wall into a historic winning effort.
After careful pars on the 11th and 12th, Wall began his improbable procession of birdies on the 13th hole. A large drive which hopped around the corner enabled him to clear the creek guarding the green with a four-iron, but he still had to get down in two from 80 feet. His first putt was 15 feet short. His second hung on the lip of the cup for tantalizing seconds, and Wall, who can look as care-beset as Susan Hayward, had already started grimly up to the ball when it toppled in. On the 14th, 420 yards to one of the National's fastest and most convoluted greens, he was on the back apron, 22 feet past the pin, with his seven-iron approach. He used his putter and holed for his birdie. Now he had the glimmerings of a chance, and on the long 15th he enhanced it: he was on in two with a strong two-iron and barely missed his eagle when his first putt hit a corner of the cup and spun out. On to the short 16th. Here, with the pin set at the far left-hand edge of the green perilously close to the fringing water, he chose to play a safe five-iron for the middle of the green, drawing it only the slightest bit. He rolled his approach putt from 40 feet next to the cup and made his par. On to the 17th, a 400-yard 4 with the pin set behind the frontal trap which wedges itself deeply into the green. Wall here set himself up for another crack at a birdie by planting a six-iron 15 feet from the hole. He made that one, too. It was then and only then that the enormity of what he had accomplished and could accomplish became clear to him. "That's where I learned, on the 18th tee," he later said, "that Arnold was in with 286 and if I could make a par, it might all be mine."
On the home hole, 420 yards, uphill, Wall hit his solidest drive of the tournament. It left him only a nine-iron. The pin, located on the front lower level of the green, was (as Wall put it) in "an inviting position," and he went for it. His nine-iron landed on the front apron and finished 12 feet below the cup. He had two putts for a total of 285, which would beat Palmer's total by one, but any thought of playing for two putts had vanished when, on his way to the green, he had heard a terrific roar emanate from the 15th green and guessed correctly that it was Middlecoff up again to something characteristically flamboyant. The more Wall studied his 12-footer, the more it looked as if the putt broke both left and right. He decided to play it right for the hole. It went straight in. This final birdie gave him a 66 and a total of 284 and, eventually, his one-shot edge on Middlecoff who could not quite summon the one more birdie he needed after his eagle on the 15th, though Cary certainly gave it a tremendous go.
MORE THAN A PUTTER
As hardly needs to be stated, the new Masters champion is a marvelous putter and has long been recognized as such. He is as adroit on contoured greens as on the flattish circuit ones because he putts what might be called a very "slow" ball—that is, compared with tappier putters, he seems to stroke his ball, even on short putts, in a way that takes into consideration the full effect of the rolls of the green. For several seasons now, though this has not been widely enough appreciated, he has been one of the strongest iron-players in the professional ranks. In this connection, he has a remarkable gift for judging distance, as good as anyone in the game. His major weakness for a long time, though he has corrected it substantially the last two years, has been his driving, for, with his baseball grip, he has been subject to spells of hooking. Art has never been a really stylish player, not compared with the fluid swingers among his colleagues. On his backswing he thrusts his left arm and shoulder laterally back a little more pronouncedly than the copybook dictates. On his hit-through, the corollary obtains: there is a decided forward thrust of the right arm and shoulder. Fundamentally, however, Wall's is a very good method because it is so functional and unaffected. He has always been an interesting player to watch because he really cracks his middle irons with decisiveness and plays his short pitches with such delicate, unbangy timing he gives you the impression he is working with an old wooden-shafted mashie-niblick and waiting for that clubhead.
As the top money-winner this winter, Wall, as the pro caravan made its way eastward from California, found himself sought out by the photographers at each new stop for long sessions of picture-taking. "Look, fellows," he would say, "you've got enough shots of me and you're neglecting all the other players." The circusing he was suddenly accorded was a genuine concern to Wall. For many years, as just another good golfer and then later as the most underrated golfer on the tour, he had received hardly any attention and he knows how much a little recognition can mean to a man who is getting none. In the last two seasons he has become more confident in several directions—surer of his ability to play good golf; relaxed and pleasantly talkative on and around the golf course, especially compared to the in tenseness that enveloped him earlier in his career; far more outgoing away from the course without losing a speck of his valid modesty and the invariable courteousness which have always been so appealing a part of his makeup. Few professionals have a truer regard for their colleagues or their colleagues' skill or, for that matter, for golf.
Art Wall—or to be more exact, Arthur Jonathan Wall Jr.—is the son of the veteran representative from Wayne County to the Pennsylvania legislature. The family's home town is Honesdale, which is about 40 miles from Pocono Manor, where Art is the playing professional. Now 35, he has been close to golf since boyhood. During the war he served in the Air Force for three years, then went to Duke on the G.I. Bill of Rights, and in 1949 shortly after his graduation turned professional. There is a deep core of determination in him and it is this quality which has underwritten his continuous improvement as a tournament golfer and which fired him at Augusta, even when his chances looked hopeless, to give it everything and keep going. The finish he produced, of course, will be remembered as long as golf is played.
ART WALL'S BATTER-UP GRIP
Ever since the late Harry Vardon popularized it—by winning six British and one U.S. Open—golfers everywhere have believed in the overlapping grip. Even in the U.S., where small boys know instinctively how to grab a baseball bat, it was widely felt no golfer could succeed without the Vardon.
Art Wall Jr. was one player who started golfing by simply picking up a club like a pinch hitter on his way to the plate. When he turned pro, rivals couldn't believe their good luck, although two of them took pity and wised him up. Get rid of that crazy grip, they told him, you won't get anywhere with it.
Art—and it—have now gotten to the top of the golf pile, and the strongest present likelihood is that golf will soon be full of characters slashing at tee shots like a batter going after a low, outside curve. Wall doesn't feel this will hurt golf at all. He especially recommends his grip for women and men with small hands. It's more natural, less tense, requires less wrist action. The drawings on the right (baseball's Roy Sievers, top; Wall, bottom) show it isn't a true baseball grip. Wall has both thumbs on the shaft.
P.S. It's apt to promote a hook. But then, what isn't?