Next week the Masters Tournament celebrates its silver anniversary at the Augusta National Golf Club, where Robert T. Jones and Clifford Roberts performed the obstetrics during the second month of the second year of the first term of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Consider the year it was! John Dillinger was gunned down by the FBI in 1934. President Von Hindenburg died, and Adolf Hitler assumed the title of Reichs f√ºhrer. Max Baer knocked out Primo Camera for the heavyweight championship. Cavalcade won the Derby. Lawson Little first won both the U.S. and British amateur golf championships.
Now the tournament that began so modestly amid all these notable events has become one of the two summits of our golfing year. The other is, of course, the Open. But in many ways the Masters has already overshadowed the Open. It is played, year in and year out, on a very special course that is a far subtler, more devious and more versatile opponent than most of the doctored landscapes used for the Open.
The beauty of the rolling Georgian hills and their springtime tapestry of tall pines and bursting azaleas provide the Masters with a priceless setting.
April 3, 1961
Even the gallery at the Masters is something special—quietly respectful of the players' problems, cameraless, uncomplainingly confined to the nonplaying areas of the course, where its members can watch comfortably without stampeding either themselves or the contestants. A few weeks ago Jimmy Demaret, a three-time winner at Augusta, summed up the feelings of many of the more mature golfers when he said, with a touch of hyperbole, "Compared to the Masters, the Open is Tobacco Road."
The Augusta National course is invariably in superb condition at Masters time, as the aerial color photographs opposite and on the following page so verdantly testify. It is no accident that this is so. Jones and Roberts first planned the tournament for a time of year when the climate of northern Georgia is friendliest toward the grass and foliage of the local countryside. On the morning of each day's play—and not the night before, as is the custom at so many other tournaments—the Bermuda and Italian rye grass of the fairways and greens receive the last-minute loving attention of the greenkeepers' tools.
It's no wonder, then, that the Masters does something for and to the contestants long before the first Thursday in April. Early this March, for instance, Mike Souchak, who has firmly established himself in the front rank of modern golfers, was hitting some practice shots before playing a round at the Pensacola Open. Souchak had been away from the winter tour for a few weeks, and he didn't yet feel he was hitting the ball with the power and precision that he would like. "It's all right," Souchak was telling a bystander who had asked him how he was playing. "I've still got four weeks to get ready."
"Four weeks? Four weeks to get ready for what?"
"Four weeks before the Masters," Souchak said, punching out another seven-iron. "I always begin to feel the Masters about now—right here." He patted his stomach.
"They're all beginning to feel it," Souchak went on. "Palmer's in there filing down the edges of his clubs. Hogan's at Seminole sharpening up. Notice how all the boys are out practicing a little more each day. Everybody's beginning to feel it coming."
That same morning at Pensacola, Ken Venturi was on the practice green with his putter. Venturi, being the sound, all-round golfer he is, has played some of the finest competitive golf of his career at Augusta, because it is a course that requires all the skills and all the shots. Twice—once as an amateur in 1956 and again last year—Venturi came within a whisker of victory but each time lost it because of a disastrous 42 on the back nine holes. Talking about his plans for the coming few weeks on the tour, Venturi said he would soon begin to practice with only the Masters in mind.
"How will you practice any differently for the Masters than you do normally?" he was asked.
"I start adding distance," he said. "I lengthen my shots in practice. You've got to have distance on that course to stay in the running."
Late in the afternoon of the same day Art Wall, the 1959 Masters champion who had finished his round in the Pensacola tournament, was down on the practice tee pitching wedge shots. Because of a bad knee, Wall was unable to defend his Masters title last year, and he had been a forlorn sight standing in the gallery in the green blazer that is the sartorial privilege of a Masters champion. Wall is now well again and playing very capable—if not yet his best—golf.
"I'll hit three bags of balls just like this every day for a while now," he said. "I've been up home for a few weeks and haven't touched my clubs. I'll get my feel back this way. I've got just about the right amount of time to get ready for Augusta."
It is one of the delights of the Augusta National golf course that the infinite variety of its 18 holes lends itself to so many interpretations. Such holes as the 11th, the 13th, the 15th and the 16th, those climacterics where so many Masters have been won—and lost—must be dealt with like an errant child. You have to understand their mood of the moment and your own strengths and weaknesses in order to cope with their problems.
Recently, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED asked a half-dozen outstanding Masters contenders—four of them past champions—which holes they find to be the most crucial during the course of the tournament. You will find some recent paintings of each of them on the pages that follow, but first, here are their answers:
Arnold Palmer: "The 15th [520 yards, par 5] is probably the hole that I can gain the most on.
"Any time I have the slightest premonition that I can reach the green, I'll go for it. I always figure I'd rather be in the water in front of the green and make six that way than play it safe.
"On an ordinary day with little or no wind, the second shot is a two-iron or three-iron for me. I'll hit the ball toward the center of the green and cut it a little to get it up in the air and fade it into the right side of the green, the safest place to aim for."
Doug Ford: "I figure I have an advantage over most of the field on No. 5 [450 yards, par 4] and No. 11 [445 yards, par 4]. Five is one of my best holes because of the way I hit an iron—real low. My second shot is usually a long iron, played low as I said, that runs up the hill and on.
"I'd also choose the 11th as a good hole for me because of my chipping. Actually, I never care too much whether the ball gets on the green or not. I figure my chipping gives me an advantage over the others and that I can always make my par. The year I won the Masters I hit a real beaut here on the final day—a two-iron that hooked in 10 feet from the hole."
Art Wall Jr.: "I've thought about it a long time and finally decided on the 16th [190 yards, par 3] as the hole that gives me the greatest advantage, because I'm always willing to play it conservatively. It usually requires a four-iron or five-iron, and I always go for the center of the green. If the pin is in the left corner of the green up near the water, I'll hit the ball out to the right with a bit of draw on it to bring it back into the center, always allowing plenty of margin for error. If the pin is on the right near the trap, I'll hit a shot favoring the left, with just a bit of fade to bring it back into the center. It's a good hole to make your par on and get on about your business."
Bill Casper Jr.: "If there is any hole that I play as well or better than anyone else, it would have to be the 11th. The best way to play this hole is with a low second shot. I try to put my drive in the center of the fairway. Then I aim my second at the 12th green, which is visible behind the 11th just a shade to the right. The banking on the right very often kicks the ball on. It's especially important to have enough club on this hole or you're in the water."
Dow Finsterwald: "If I don't do well on the greens at Augusta—and by that I mean exceptionally well—I won't score well. It's very hard for me to reach the par 5s in two shots like some of the other fellows, and this puts me at a strong disadvantage. On the 5th, the 14th [420 yards, par 4] and 18th [420 yards, par 4], for instance, you're in real danger of three-putting unless you can get very close to the hole on your second shot.
"Sometimes, steady, accurate driving can make a few of the holes play much shorter. On No. 2 [555 yards, par 5], 5, 10 [470 yards, par 4] and 13 [475 yards, par 5], for instance. On 2, a nice draw around the corner can give you 30 to 50 additional yards because the ball will kick down the hill on the left. On 5, you can also save a lot of yardage by cutting the left-hand corner. I don't usually try it on these holes, however, because the risks are too great."
Ken Venturi: "I'd have to say the 12th [155 yards, par 3] is the most unpredictable hole on the course. I think it has always been a deciding hole in any Masters tournament. You can watch other members of the threesome take six-irons or seven-irons and then find, when it's your turn, that the wind has shifted enough to require a four-iron. Sometimes the wind changes when your ball is in flight, and a good shot goes sour. There is water in front, and it is a long, narrow green. The green itself has a tendency to get crusty, and it doesn't hold your ball the way other greens do. I'd take four 3s on that hole in advance of any tournament and walk happily to the next hole."
Absent from the group of witnesses above is an apple-cheeked, raven-haired South African named Gary Player, who, next to Palmer, is a man to watch this coming weekend, even though he looks young enough to be carrying home the school books of his best girl.
So far this year, Player has been the most successful golfer on the tour. His only victory was at San Francisco, where he had a marvelous last round of 65 in the pouring rain, but no one else has had his extraordinary week-to-week consistency: tied for seventh at Los Angeles, third at San Diego, tied for sixth at Tucson, tied for third at Baton Rouge, tied for fourth at New Orleans, second at Pensacola and third at St. Petersburg. Despite Palmer's victories at San Diego, Phoenix and Baton Rouge—a run of success that is beginning to pale even the most dominant years of Nelson and Hogan—Player's consistency has put him well ahead of Palmer in earnings ($20,685 to $17,425).
The Augusta course, especially when the weather is perverse, will be just Player's dish of tea if he can hold his competitive edge. Last year he finished in a tie for sixth and the year before that in a tie for eighth, so there is no question about his ability to get around the course. And there is just enough flamboyance in him to make him rise to dramatic occasions such as the Masters.
But when beads finally are counted, the man everyone will be watching next weekend is Arnold Palmer. He has had a brilliant winter tour, and one only hopes that he hasn't already exhausted himself trying to accommodate all the people who continually want something from the champion—a picture here, an endorsement there, now an interview on the radio, tomorrow a little run downtown at 10 p.m. to appear on the local TV. No sporting celebrity of our time has ever been more accommodating to such requests, and this friendly warmth is one of the things that makes Palmer such a compelling personality. But if he is to achieve the four great victories for which everyone is pulling—the Masters, the Open, the British Open and the PGA—he is going to have to conserve his energy. This weekend will tell whether 1961 is to be the year of his Grand Slam.
Golf has a way of accenting the individuality of an athlete. It is not just his dress, although the distinctive clothes of various professionals frequently become a trademark. The way they move and stand, their very personal expressions of pleasure and disgust and anguish are so familiar to the galleries that most of the leading pros can be characterized by a gesture. Sam Snead (above) is shown at the finish of his classic swing, squinting grimly at the ball in flight, his coconut straw hat cocked over his right eye. Ken Venturi (at right) waits on the putting green, his omnipresent white cap square on his head, his feet casually crossed. Venturi dresses in somber colors that have become as much a part of his public image as his purposeful, duck-footed stride down the fairways and his graceful, effortless style.
There is about Art Wall Jr., Masters champion and Golfer of the Year in 1959, an almost religious dedication to his work as he marches unsmilingly through a round of golf. One of the two topnotch golfers who eschews the Vardon grip, Wall has a lovely upright swing with a strength in it that belies his slight build. An immaculate dresser, Art favors the peaked golf cap.
One reason the gallery adores Arnold Palmer is that it understands him. Just like every weekend golfer, he hits the ball as hard as he can, taking the wildest gambles. He twists and turns in a ballet of body English, trying to make the ball go where he wants. His handsome features, usually unconcealed by a hat or cap, always tell the story of the emotions he is experiencing.
Haste is the word for Doug Ford, the 1957 Masters champion. He plays quickly, he walks quickly, and so he spends a lot of time waiting for the slower players, of whom there are too many to suit him. Ford taps his foot and peers impatiently from under his peaked cap while waiting for the players ahead to get out of the way.
Serenity seems to wrap itself around Bill Casper Jr., the 1959 Open champion, and it goes well with his chubby features and comfortably rounded waistline. On the golf course he seems to be the jolly fat man enjoying himself Standing as he is here, surveying the green, you would think he hadn't a care in the world. But the tidy, well-groomed Casper suffers all the agonies of his more demonstrative colleagues.