A DOUBLE EAGLE STARTED THE FIREWORKS

Impossible successes and improbable failures have become a part of the Masters' tradition. Artist Francis Golden re-creates a few of the tournament's most famous triumphs and tragedies.
April 07, 1969

1935: In the second year of the Masters, Gene Sarazen hit what has turned out to be the most historic shot in golf. At the 15th, a 485-yard par-5, Sarazen needed three birdies in the last four holes to tie Craig Wood, who was already in the clubhouse. After a good drive he hit a four-wood over the pond toward the hole. When the ball rolled in for a double-eagle 2, Sarazen had, in effect, made all three birdies with one shot. Sarazen tied Wood, then beat him the next day in a playoff to complete his remarkable comeback.

1954: Billy Joe Patton, a flamboyant 31-year-old amateur from North Carolina, had the pros by the throat and the gallery by the heart as, from start to finish, he did everything but win. With the help of a hole in one on the 6th, he moved into the final nine on Sunday fighting Ben Hogan and Sam Snead for the lead. By the 12th he was ahead. Then, at the infamous 13th, came this calamity. Bold when caution might have served him well, he hit into Rae's Creek, waded after his ball, sloshed around, and came away with wet feet and a soggy 7. "I went for the green," he said later, "because that's what the crowd wanted." His effort to please his gallery cost him the Masters—he lost it by a stroke.

1961: "I was in too big of a hurry to win it," Arnold Palmer said. That was the story of the worst hole he ever played, and the most enjoyable Gary Player ever watched. Members of Arnie's Army thought it was going to be a cinch. Their hero had a trifling seven-iron to the 72nd green for a par 4 and victory over Player. When Palmer got too hasty and bunkered the shot, the Army thought, oh well, at worst a bogey 5, a tie, and we win it tomorrow. But there was no tomorrow, for Palmer hit this shot over the green and wound up with a double-bogey 6.

1965: Jack Nicklaus was unstoppable and almost unbelievable. Tied with Palmer and Player after 36 holes, he crushed them both with a third-round 64 that matched the course record. When he picked this putt out of the hole on Sunday he had won by a stunning nine-stroke margin and set a Masters scoring mark of 271.

1967: Up the last fairway trudged the familiar figure in the white cap, and the decades rolled back. It was 54-year-old Ben Hogan finishing the back nine in 30 for an astonishing 66. The roars of the gallery were deafening, and for just a fleeting moment golf's great champion permitted himself an uncharacteristic grin.

1968: It was his birthday, and when Roberto De Vicenzo eagled the 1st hole and birdied the 2nd and 3rd, it looked as though the Masters would give him a green jacket as a present. He finished with a 65 to tie Bob Goalby for the lead and force a playoff. But such was his excitement that Roberto failed to notice that on the scorecard his playing partner, Tommy Aaron, had written down a 4 for him instead of a 3 for the 17th hole. When Roberto signed his card, the score became law, leaving the charming Argentine to ponder the cruelness of the rule.

HEROES AND STUPIDS

It is commonly known among a select group of Masters goers that many of the best shots of the tournament are served in tall paper cups on the upstairs porch of the Augusta National Golf Club. The truly great moments occur out on the course, to be sure, but you have to wait for those, and the porch outside the upper grillroom is a very pleasant place to wait. There one can sit where corporate insurgents sit and mill where double-eagle makers mill. There, too, a man can listen to the Masters, not only from the logy, anecdotal mumbling around him, but from the mighty braying of the crowds in the valley below. Off on the fragrant horizon there stands a big, faintly readable leader board reacting to the roars, and near the white porch rail is a contemplative wistaria, and down on the umbrella-dotted veranda there is an ever-present cluster of Conni Venturis and Susan Marrs to holler at. In the whole Renoir of the Masters, there is really no better place to await the premonition that Gene Sarazen will hole out a four-wood, or that Billy Joe Patton will slice a spoon into a creek, or that Roberto De Vicenzo will shank his scorecard.

An Augusta premonition can come in several different forms, of course. It can be a whoop from up around the 8th green, where, according to one's watch, Arnold Palmer's gallery ought to be. It can be an ominous wailing from down near the 10th, where, perhaps, Jack Nicklaus is. It can be a series of red numbers going up on the leader board for someone who was out of it—say, Bert Yancey—but who now, suddenly, is back in it. Or it can sometimes merely be an intelligence report. A sunburned soul will hike up the stairs to pant and puff the news that H-Hogan...has...b-birdied four holes...in a r-row. J-jay and b-bee...and water, please...t-tall...ice...t-twist...aaaaaiiiii, whew.

In all of its years since the beginning in 1934, the Masters has been a tournament of premonitions closely followed by explosions. One simply knows that every afternoon something cinemascopically dramatic is going to happen, as in no other championship, for the Augusta course is laid out to make things happen, to entice the field into grandiose delusions. These explosions can be of the mild kind that only makes the ice cubes swirl, but they can also be violent enough to rattle the porch and send everyone scrambling out onto the course like Hollywood-styled Spitfire pilots darting toward their planes.

Bobby Jones, who started the Masters, must have had a premonition himself as long ago as 1935, the year of his second tournament. He had played in the event (Jones played in the Masters until 1948) and he was in the clubhouse with most everyone else, toasting Craig Wood as the probable winner, when he decided to wander out on the back nine. He wanted to watch his old friends, Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen, the last twosome. Jones reached the 15th green just as they were about to hit their second shots, with Sarazen holding a remote, mathematical chance to tie Wood if he could manage three birdies over the last four holes. Some chance.

Sarazen, as he recalls, was not really thinking about making a double eagle as he stood out there on the 15th fairway, waggling a club, his plus fours fluttering in the spring breeze. All he wanted to do was clear the pond in front of the green for two putts and an easy birdie. Nobody ever thinks about making a double eagle except 14-year-old junior champions.

Sarazen lashed at the four-wood from the right side of the fairway, and the ball took off in a high, drawing arc, slightly right of the flag. He might have hit more club, a spoon or brassie, to be certain of clearing the pond, but it would not have done him much good if the shot had wound up in Savannah. The trick was to reach the green and hold it.

"There was a pause and then I heard some yells," Sarazen says. "I walked a few yards before I realized it had gone in, and wasn't just close, for an eagle. Frankly, I'm tired of discussing it. You'd think I had never done anything else but hit that shot. In the Orient for a while I became known as Mr. Double Eagle, which non-golfers probably took to mean that I was an Indian chief. To me, the most interesting thing about the shot is that both Jones and Hagen saw it."

Sarazen's remarkable shot did not alone win him that Masters, of course. He had to par the last three holes to tie, and then defeat Craig Wood the next day in a 36-hole playoff. The fact remains, however, that the double eagle has done more to publicize Augusta than all of the growing of azaleas and pruning of juniper have since. Rudy Vallee had Sarazen re-create the shot the following year for a network radio show, for example, and many a newsreel cameraman has had him trudge back to the scene. And once, in 1955, the tournament committee commemorated the event by staging a double-eagle contest on Wednesday instead of a clinic (or the Par-3 tournament it now holds). Each member in the field took three whacks from where Gene hit the four-wood. Freddie Haas Jr. was the winner with a shot four feet from the pin.

Few men, including Sarazen, have won the Masters under more desperate conditions than Byron Nelson did—twice. His subpar barrages on both occasions, in 1937 and 1942, were nearly spectacular enough to make everyone forget all about double eagles. They were, in fact, memorable enough for the green-jacketed sponsors to erect a bridge in honor of his deeds at the 12th hole.

The Byron Nelson of '37 was barely 25 years old, tall, slender, nervous, and usually outfitted in starched dress shirts with the cuffs turned up twice, on the order of a pharmacist. But he opened that championship with a 66, the lowest round Jones and his friends had seen in the tournament. Nelson's lead slowly dribbled away to a more experienced Ralph Guldahl, and on the last day, with nine holes to play, Byron trailed by four strokes.

Guldahl was playing one hole ahead of Nelson, who was paired with Wiffy Cox, and when Byron reached the 10th tee he heard that Guldahl had gotten a birdie on the hole. "If I don't get a birdie here I'm five behind with only eight to go," Nelson thought to himself. "I wonder what second money is?"

Without thinking much more about his predicament than that, Nelson hit a good shot into the 10th green and saw it spin up close for a short birdie putt. He made it, and Wiffy Cox said to him, "Kid, I think that's the one we need. It'll show Ralph he can't shake you, and there are plenty of holes left."

Both men got par 4s at the long, dangerous 11th, but when Nelson reached the 12th tee the crowd, he noticed, was scurrying over to him in mad droves, jamming around him. And he thought he heard someone talking about Guldahl taking a double-bogey 5 on that dandy little water-logged par-3.

"My adrenalin really got going," Nelson says. "I suddenly realized I'd been playing negative golf for two days." Nelson, somehow, was seized by aggressiveness. He splintered the flag with a six-iron at the 12th, and dropped the 12-footer for a birdie 2.

Now, up ahead on the par-5 13th, Guldahl, reeling from Nelson's pursuit, gambled on a second shot to the green, plopped it into Rae's Creek and took a bogey 6. Then Nelson, almost in a dead run, whomped a spoon over the creek and off the left edge of the green, where-upon he took a three-iron and gently chipped in a 50-foot eagle 3.

In just two holes Nelson had gone 2-3 to Guldahl's 5-6, and it was all over.

Five years later the Masters saw a different Nelson, this one more sophisticated, confident and popular. He was Lord Byron, the Mechanical Man, a man obviously reaching his peak ahead of Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, who were among his contemporaries. And a handy thing it was, for only this kind of player could have defeated Hogan, another rising star from Texas, in a classic Masters.

Nelson began that tournament as if he intended to turn Augusta into a Roanoke chicken ranch, shooting 68-67—135, tying the 36-hole record. He played ahead to 280 and what seemed like victory, but Hogan, burning inside for his first major title, made up eight strokes over the last two rounds and gained a tie. So it was Nelson vs. Hogan, a couple of old Texas pals, from the same caddie pens, in fact, in a playoff. It was a Fort Worth city championship—on the road.

"Still the most vivid thing to me is that many of the players stayed over on Monday to follow us around," Nelson says.

Byron did not begin the playoff like any sort of mechanical man. He double-bogeyed the 1st hole, then bogeyed the 4th, and Hogan stepped onto the 6th tee with a three-stroke lead. But it was from this point on, through the next 11 holes, that Nelson, by his own admission, played the finest golf of his life. All he did was birdie the 6th, eagle the 8th, birdie the 11th, 12th and 13th, and play the next three holes in par. The harsh fact was that Hogan played those same 11 holes in one under par—and lost five shots, not to mention the Masters.

As just about everyone knows who doesn't use rented clubs or tee off in sneakers, Hogan's best years were still ahead of him. He would win the Masters twice (among nine major titles in all), would finish second three more times and would post a record of never finishing worse than 10th in 14 straight Augusta appearances. For all of this, however, Ben's finest moment came many springtimes after his prime and it was a very moving moment for the Masters. Where were you on April 8, 1967, the day Hogan almost turned Augusta into a soap opera? If you were in warm, sunny Georgia that Saturday you must have been in Hogan's gallery on much of the last nine holes when he shot a record-equaling 30 and completed the round in 66, the lowest of the week.

Quite possibly, Hogan's last nine was the most elegant shotmaking ever in a major tournament. It was certainly an amazing performance for a man only four months shy of his 55th birthday. Hogan played the nine in six birdies and three pars, without a single error in judgment or technique, without a single fairway miss or a putt of more than 20 feet in length, including the two par-5s.

Soft music, please, and build that applause while the graying man in the old-fashioned white billed cap and the pleated trousers plays it again. Let's see. There was a seven-iron into the 10th for a six-foot birdie, a six-iron into the 11th only one foot from the cup for a birdie, a six-iron onto the 12th for a 10-foot bird, a four-wood onto the 13th in two for a two-putt birdie, a five-iron onto the 14th for a par from 18 feet, a four-wood onto the 15th for another two-putt birdie, a seven-iron onto the 16th for a par from 20 feet, a seven-iron onto the 17th for par from 20 feet and a five-iron onto the 18th for the last birdie that curled downhill and in from 13 feet.

Ben had trudged up the last fairway to the building roar of thousands, and when the final putt dropped, the burst of joy from the great crowd must have awakened every tired body in the parking lot. It was followed by endless applause, like a marathon curtain call, and one had the feeling that even on the blasé clubhouse porch there surely couldn't be a dry eye.

For sustained whoops and hollers, nothing has ever equaled the 1954 Masters, in which a younger Hogan was intimately involved, along with Sam Snead and a crazy, chattering North Carolina amateur, Billy Joe Patton. Those were the days when Tournament Chairman Clifford Roberts did not edit the crowds at Augusta. They were larger in the mid-and late-1950s than they are now, the biggest, trompingest galleries golf has ever known.

Billy Joe, known only around Morganton, N.C., tied for the first-round lead, which was unreal in itself, but then he led all alone after 36. Bareheaded, bespectacled, grinning, with a faster swing than a kitchen blender, Billy Joe kept the bulk of the throng enslaved with his scrambling tactics and his comments. "I may go for it, and I may not," he would drawl, addressing a shot. "It all depends on what I elect to do on my backswing."

Saturday Patton fell to third, five behind Hogan, two behind Snead. Then came Sunday. Sundays are always psychotic at the Masters, but this one more closely resembled a South American revolution than most. Hogan and Snead, playing one hole apart, had every reason to think they were going to have their own private little tournament, but Billy Joe, a couple of holes ahead of them, got back in it fast with a 32 on the first nine, including a hole in one at the 6th.

All anyone could hear from the galleries during the next hour or so as Patton, Hogan and Snead began to shift the lead around was, "Billy Joe gonna do it. He gonna do it."

As it turned out, Billy Joe did it, all right. At a point when judicious play would have won it for him easily—laying up at 13 and 15 for sure pars at a time he knew Hogan and Snead were having trouble behind him—Patton went for the greens on his second shots and landed in the water both times. To the complete horror of his followers, he made a 7 and a 6 on those holes for 71, and missed tying by a stroke. Pars there would have given him 68 and a two-stroke victory over Hogan and Snead, who tied, Sam winning the playoff the next day.

The 13th hole provided the more important and dramatic incident, for Patton knew he was leading then, that Hogan had just made 6 at the 11th. He could see, too, one presumed, that he had a nasty, sidehill lie for his shot to the green. He studied the shot momentarily while the crowd shouted for him to be cautious. Then he looked over at those near him, taking a wood from the bag.

"I didn't get where I am playin' safe," he said, promptly hitting the ball right into the creek bottom bordering the green.

For a moment or two there was still a glimmer of hope for Billy Joe. Walking toward the ditch Patton heard a few frantic calls and saw some members of the gallery pointing down into the high grass below the green. They were telling him the ball had not submerged quite as deep as Conrad Veidt usually took his U-boats, that perhaps it was playable.

Patton removed his shoes and socks, rolled up his trousers, grabbed a wedge and climbed down into the ditch. He got set once or twice for a slash at it but finally decided, amid some nervous giggles in the crowd, that it was too risky. He could take 14 or 15 slashes at the ball once he got going. So he took a two-stroke penalty, laid out and, still barefoot, pitched up poorly and required two putts for his calamitous 7.

"I wouldn't play it any differently," says Patton. "I was elated to play as well as I did. Going into those last nine holes, I knew I had to take a pop at it. What if I'd played safe and lost? That wouldn't have answered anything. I didn't feel I had any lead at all with Hogan behind me. I'm talkin' about the Hogan of then. If I'd played it safe I'd always have wondered how good I really was. I'm almost delighted I lost, in fact. I might have turned pro."

The remainder of the 1950s at Augusta was not what you would term unexciting. Certainly the victories achieved by Cary Middlecoff, Jack Burke, Doug Ford, a new star named Arnold Palmer and Art Wall, in that order, were not without suspense and splendid play. But the Masters, like pro golf itself, was sufering a disease we might call the In-Betweens. It was mourning the gradual but obvious exit of Hogan and Snead—and waiting for the real Arnold Palmer.

The love affair between Palmer and Augusta actually began in 1958 when he won the first of his four Masters. He won it with his pants too long, his shirt-tail out and no one sure at that time whether Latrobe was in Pennsylvania or Poland. Specifically, he won it with a free lift from an imbedded lie on the 12th hole on the last day, in addition to an eagle on the 13th. The affair simmered the next year, Wall's year, when it was Palmer, primarily, who lost the tournament on the last day on the same hole—the 12th—where he got the free lift. With a two-stroke lead, he splashed a seven-iron into the creek, and about two dozen guys up front, led by Art Wall, regarded the news so jubilantly they birdied everything in sight.

Now, with this buildup, Palmer and the Augusta crowds were ready in 1960 to embrace one another, Swedish film style. He quickly mobilized his now-famous Army with a first-round 67, and continued to lead the tournament all the way until he faltered on the back nine on Sunday. Meanwhile, Ken Venturi was in the clubhouse, caressing a 283, believing he had redeemed himself for collapsing twice before when he had been close. Poor Ken Venturi. He was forced to watch a TV set while Palmer rammed in a 30-foot birdie on the 71st, and then an eight-foot birdie on the 72nd to beat him by a shot.

"I'm sitting there with the press all pleased and comfortable," Venturi would describe it later, "and when Arnie holes the 30-footer they leave me like I got the pox."

By 1961, of course there was only one player in the Masters—Arnie. The championship was his to win or lose, as he saw fit. That Gary Player would have the audacity to share the lead with him at 36, and then to open up a four-shot bulge through 54, was practically unspeakable. Cries of "Get him, Arnie" echoed through the pines on Sunday as Palmer set chase. There was one particularly frustrating moment for Player as he doggedly tried to hold his lead, with Palmer slowly creeping up. Bouncing down the 11th fairway, Gary looked at the big leader board and saw that the scorekeepers had posted a huge impromptu sign on it. It said Go ARNIE.

Player got home with a 74 for 280, but Arnold, working on a 69, had struggled to a one-stroke lead, and when he crushed a drive up the center of the last fairway, leaving himself no more than a seven-iron to the green, the Army was ecstatic. The war had been won, and they as much as he had won it. There were slaps on the back and long, giddy choruses of Whoo-ha, Arnie.

The Army had forgotten one thing, though. Palmer could go to sleep at times like these—the challenge over, the hard work done. And sleep he did on the seven-iron, which plinked off into a right-hand bunker. Well, that was all right, the Army felt. He would either get it up and down in 2, or take a bogey, in which case he would simply win it in a playoff the next day with a 63 to Player's 97. And then right there, before all of those worshiping thousands and before all of the millions watching television, before Winnie and Mark McCormack and everybody, he hit a Joe Zilch out of the bunker. A Sam Sausage.

The ball squirted across the green and sped down a far slope into so difficult an angle that no mortal could have chipped back to rescue the bogey. Palmer made 6, and lost another Masters.

"I guess I was in too big a hurry to win it," Arnold said later. "Or something. Hell, I don't know what I was up to."

Palmer very nearly suffered a worse humiliation in 1962, when the Masters was all his again in tone, mood and suspense. He grabbed the lead the second afternoon with a blazing 66, tacked a 69 onto that and, although Player and Dow Finsterwald were hovering near enough the top to cause trouble, most of the porch talk Sunday morning was all about Palmer breaking Ben Hogan's 72-hole record of 274. Why not? All he needed was a piddling 68, which he could surely shoot if he had enough cigarettes with him.

Arnold didn't shoot the 68—but he came close to a 78. In one of the most curious rounds he ever played, Palmer frittered away stroke after stroke until he eventually arrived at the 16th hole to find himself two shots behind Finsterwald and Player, with par in for a fat 77.

Then it was like this: Ah, good, says Palmer. Are the TV cameras in focus? Swell. Flick the cigarette. Hitch the pants. And there goes a 60-foot chip, uphill, downhill and in for a birdie deuce. On to 17. Flick. Hitch. Hitch again. And down goes a 15-foot birdie putt. Playoff. Which, of course, he wins, largely with the jolt of a gimme birdie at the 12th hole, good old breezy, bitchy No. 12, Amen Corner, where he had splattered and splashed and won and lost before.

Palmer won the Masters again in 1964, but this one was more or less of a, well, a porch-sitter, some called it. He led all the way and finished six strokes ahead of the field. And he may win it some more. Harry Vardon, after all, won six British Opens, so there is no law against a man building up his own stockpile of particular major championships. Never again, however, will he dominate the atmosphere of Augusta as thoroughly as he did over those five consecutive years from '58 through '62. Nor does it seem likely that anyone ever can again.

If winning alone would do it, Jack Nicklaus would already be there. Think about Jack for a moment. Over the past 10 years as an amateur and professional he has not only taken three Masters but nine major championships in all, same as Hogan, which is more than anyone other than Walter Hagen (11) and Bobby Jones (13). Along the way one of his modest projects at Augusta in 1965 was to fire a 64, equaling a 25-year-old course record, and wind up with a total of 271, 17 under par, which broke Hogan's record by three strokes. Jack also has wavy blond hair, drives a roadster and is considered well liked around the frat house. But what he needs for his 30th birthday is warmth.

Jack's problems are that he has had too much talent and maturity for his age. After all, no one can identify with a beefy rich kid who hits the ball across the state line and goes around beating Arnold Palmer all the time. The warmth is there to those who know him well, but it never transfers to the crowd. They applaud him politely, but mainly for the mechanics.

What Nicklaus could do some year to evoke sympathy perhaps is approve a Masters scorecard with a mistake on it and blow a championship. Had it been Jack who did what Roberto De Vicenzo did in 1968, he would have a whole new image, the Rules of Golf would still be under siege, and the tournament committee would be hiding out in Pueblo, Colo.

Last year's Masters should have been filed away as one of the most dazzling ever played. Just about anyone in town who owned a set of clubs was in the thick of it all four days. Starting the final round, for instance, no fewer than 11 men were three strokes apart, and going into the last nine holes at least six players were still seriously in contention. When the day appeared to be over, the following results had been produced: 22 players had broken par and 21 had finished under the par of 288 for the championship, nine more than ever before.

Hottest of all were two men who had been, possibly, the least considered as potential Masters winners: Roberto De Vicenzo, a carefree, if elderly, Latin; and Bob Goalby, a plodding veteran of the PGA tour whose often brilliant golf was becoming less frequent. Roberto pitched in a nine-iron at the 1st hole for an eagle 2 and birdied the next two holes, getting off to the kind of start municipal hustlers enjoy when they're betting the trailer rent. Ever smiling and looking at times quite astonished, he birdied the 8th as well, and came through the first nine in 31. Goalby stayed close with a 33.

Both players kept it up on the back nine. Roberto, with a par on 18 for a record-tying 64, bogeyed the hole for a 65 and a 277 total. Discouraged by his bogey but excited by his prospects of winning anyway, he hurriedly signed his scorecard and sat down by the 18th green to watch Goalby.

Goalby needed a par at 18 for a 66 that would tie him with De Vicenzo. He got it with a career two-iron from a hook lie that soared 230 yards, fading perfectly onto the green for an easy two putts. Both men were at 277. Playoff on Monday.

What no one knew at the time except the Masters officials, and, by now, De Vicenzo, was that even as Goalby played the 18th Roberto had lost a stroke through bookkeeping. Tommy Aaron, his playing companion for the day, had accidentally marked down a 4 instead of a 3 at the 17th hole on his scorecard, a 35 instead of a 34 for the last nine and a 66 instead of a 65 for the round. And Roberto had approved the card. The Rules of Golf state that a player's card stands as he approves it. If the score is too high, that's what he gets. If it is too low, he's disqualified.

Most of the Rules of Golf, of course, were written for the days when men played in heavy tweed suits, smoked pipes on their downswings and were galleried mostly by sheepherders. But there was nothing anyone could do about it, least of all De Vicenzo, who would only say, "What a stupid I am," or poor Bob Goalby, who became a Masters champion in the most unlikely of ways since Gene Sarazen's double eagle knocked everyone off the clubhouse porch.

SEVEN ILLUSTRATIONSFRANCIS GOLDEN

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)