AFTER THE OTHERS HAD GONE, GEORGE WAS LEFT
For three days the Masters enjoyed a great inner peace. Billy Casper and his good friend, the Lord, strolled hand and hand through the valleys and pines of Augusta, stamping out petroleum-based pesticides, gas heating, foam-rubber pillows and assorted sausages that offend his allergies. They also played safe a lot on the par-5 holes while half of Georgia made birdies and eagles. But it was tranquil. Billy had the Masters pressed between his numbed fingers as a result of this careful, calculating golf, and all of his major adversaries, the Jack Nicklauses and Arnold Palmers, were lost in the azalea bushes, perhaps looking for a religion of their own. Billy would go out Sunday, one felt, and wander over that beautiful course, smiling and shrugging as always, hit a good chip when he needed it, sink a putt when it was necessary and hum a few of his favorite hymns by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. In a matter of a few more hours the Masters would be in heaven. There was only one thing wrong with all of this, of course. By the time Casper got around to playing some golf, the Lord was something like six down and five to go—and suddenly Augusta, for the third straight year, had another of those mystery men from the PGA tour as its champion.
In the proud tradition of Gay Brewer Jr. and Bob Goalby, who preceded him in 1967 and 1968, George Archer (see cover), white man, 29, Gilroy, Calif., was last week's winner. It was his first major championship, just as it had been for Brewer and Goalby, and he won by battling down the stretch with a ragtag group of escapees from some distant Citrus Open on the regular professional tour. What ever happened to the Masters we all knew and loved? Only the gurus can tell.
Toward late afternoon on Sunday, here came this astonishing lineup of contenders staggering and stumbling down the stretch. Besides the big, friendly Archer, who, at 6'6", must be the tallest winner of a major title since Abraham Lincoln, there were quiet George Knudson, hiding behind his shades, bewildered Charlie Coody and powerful Tom Weiskopf, none of whom had played at Augusta very many times. It was a cluster of relatively young guys who had never been this close to a big one before and didn't quite know how to handle it.
April 21, 1969
History must note that Archer played one over par on the last five holes for his closing 72 and his winning total of 281. Ordinarily, George's performance on those holes—he sliced his tee shot and bladed his second at the 14th and splashed into the water on the 15th—would have been good enough to lose the Masters any old time. And the way Weiskopf played was certainly good enough to lose. Aside from all of the closeup birdie putts he missed, he managed to slice his tee shot on the 17th, bunker his second and miss a short par effort to toss it away.
Perhaps the biggest loser of all, however, was Charlie Coody. A fine golfer who just never seems to win, Coody took total charge of the tournament on the three most dangerous holes. While several in the enormous gallery were asking, "Is a Charles Coody anything like a Spiro Agnew?" the rangy Texan bounced an iron into the 11th for a birdie, drove another right into the flag on the 12th for a birdie attempt that just curled away, and then put a two-iron over the creek and onto the 13th in two for a 20-foot eagle putt that died at the hole and dropped. He suddenly had gone from five under to eight under and was leading the tournament. A bogey and a birdie got him to 16, still eight under and still leading, but Coody didn't know how to win.
"I really don't feel like I choked," he said later. "I just remember holding a five-iron in my hand on the 16th tee and wishing I could make myself hit a six."
Coody's five-iron hooked into a bunker, and he bogeyed the hole. He then bogeyed the 17th because of a poor chip shot and bogeyed the 18th after his approach took a bad bounce and ran down an embankment off the green. Thus, he finished with three straight bogeys, and no one behind him, not Archer or Weiskopf or even Casper could play badly enough to let Charlie win after that.
"The shot on 16," said Coody, "was kind of like a shot I hit earlier in the week on 13. You can't hit a good five-iron if you're thinking about a six-iron on your backswing. On 13 the first day of the tournament I hooked a drive into the trees because when I addressed the ball I wanted to fade it. But sometime between the time I took it back and the time I brought it down I decided to try to hook it."
Only the Lord knew what Casper was up to all week. His opening 66 on Thursday was a thing of pure perfection. He simply played the way a man ought to who has won nearly as much money as Arnold Palmer (close to $1 million) and more tournaments than anyone except Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Palmer. He took no chances and explained, "Golf is a game of decisions. I try to keep my mind fresh for the decisions and play my own game."
He followed up the 66 with a couple of 71s that were spotty and a little aggravating to the chance-takers, but Casper was all confidence and over the last nine holes of both of those rounds he hit some awfully nifty irons and got the putts down when he needed them to hold the lead. He didn't look tremendously solid, but he didn't look breakable, either. He looked, in fact, like a great player who had stolen a couple of good scores with relatively bad tee-to-green play. And one had to figure that on Sunday Casper was surely poised for a steady round, and only a 66 out of somebody back there in the pack could overtake him.
He started off the day early by going to church, of course, and his vast edge in experience over his younger challengers was displayed to one and all by his manner in the locker room and on the clubhouse terrace before the round began. Billy smiled and joked while the others were deathly quiet and nervous.
Archer said, "Casper has to be the hardest in the world to try to catch. You know he'll be steady. My only hope is that his putts won't drop."
Weiskopf was sky high at the prospect of his great length matched against the others. "I think I can beat 'em on the par-5s," he said.
And, meanwhile, Charlie Coody, who had reason to be the least hopeful of all since he was the least known, said, "I'm not thinking about winning, and I hope I don't start thinking about it. I'm thinking about the first hole, and after that I'll start thinking about the second hole."
Casper winked and said, "I'll just go out there and fire and fall back and see what happens."
He fired like this: scrambled pars through the first three holes, then a three-putt at the 4th for his first bogey. A buried six-iron in the bunker at the 6th for another bogey. A wild slice and a buried iron at the 7th for a bogey. A buried approach at the 8th, and a bunker shot that failed to get out for another bogey. A missed green at the 10th, and a poor chip for still another bogey. Five over after 10, working on 77, the tournament he had dominated was now devastatingly out of reach.
One never knows what Casper is really thinking. It has been said that he can't win at Augusta because it's Palmer's town and he wants it too badly. It's been said he can't win the Masters because these aren't his kind of greens, and, moreover, he doesn't have the length. Whatever the reason was for his frittering this one away, Billy clung to his inner peace in defeat.
"I learned a lot of humility on those first 10 holes," he said. "I just got into a series of bad swings and couldn't get out in time. I'm happy I was able to rally [he played three under from the 11th in] and finish second. It's a great honor to finish second here."
While Tom Weiskopf was off being consoled by his pretty wife, Jeanne, for shooting four straight sub-par rounds and not winning, and while Tom and all of the others were going around saying they had never felt pressure like this before, Casper completed his unique drama of the week by telling everyone, "Life is a continuing experience, and this week is just something more that I have to add to mine."
George Archer had quite an experience, too, and he added $20,000 to his life. He let Casper know right away that he was still in the tournament Sunday when he birdied the 2nd hole to tie Billy for the lead at eight under. From that point, his round was a series of good shots and spectacular rescue shots when others went astray. He lost that birdie at the 4th, but got it back on the 7th. He lost it again on the 10th, but got it back on the 13th. Then he lost it at the 14th, and could only save what he had from there in. At one point, amid all of the collapses and noncharges around him, Archer held a three-stroke lead on everybody—and a four-stroke lead on Casper. It was his day most of the way, really.
Archer looks a little like Gomer Pyle and some of his pals on the tour call him that. Nobody calls him cowboy because they know he isn't, even though he lives on a ranch with his wife, Donna, and two daughters. He comes from the public courses around San Francisco and not from any college. He used to caddie for Harvie Ward when Harvie was the best amateur in the country. The green coat they gave him is a 42 extra long, and he says his shoes are made by Chris-Craft and grins. That's George Archer. Say hello, George.
Archer used to have a low hook that was notable on the tour. The ball would just sort of go off the toe of the driver and do something funny. He'd have to chip and putt to earn his keep, and he has a putting stroke that is pretty much the envy of all. He bends low over the putt, and the club in his hand begins to look like a swizzle stick at times, but his touch is glorious. If he isn't in the hole, he's right around it.
If there was one big hole that won the Masters for him, it was the 15th on Sunday. When he hit his second into the pond in front of the green after making the bogey at the 14th, you had every right to expect him to come away with a 6 or maybe even a 7. But he pitched up nicely on the green and somehow got a 10-foot par putt into the cup. That is what the pros call saving shots. For George Archer, it saved a Masters nobody else seemed to want.
With the weather good and the course playing superbly, it was natural for everyone to expect Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, three of the town's big favorites, to stand right in the grind of things all the way as they nearly always do. There had not been a Masters in 11 years when at least one of them wasn't winning or scaring everybody. Nicklaus certainly got off to a splendid start on Thursday with a four-under 68, and he confided then that he had worked harder and felt better about this tournament than any Masters since 1965 when he shot the 72-hole record of 271.
What Jack then did was unleash a bag of weird iron shots with a swing that saw him stabbing the club into the ground and halting his follow-through just beyond his shoe tops. This produced a second-round 75. When he seemed to get this corrected by Saturday, the putting stroke was gone and the field had passed him by.
Because Gary Player had looked good in a few events leading into Augusta, and because he has a habit of getting up for the major events, he was considered a serious threat. But he couldn't get going. He hung around at even par through 36, but George Archer's putting stroke destroyed him on Saturday when they were paired together. Gary went for 75, with a finishing double bogey, thanks to a three-putt from four feet. He was left in 33rd place with the lament that all golfers have who feel they have struck the ball decently but have been unrewarded.
Making one of the lavish exaggerations for which he has earned some locker-room fame among his contemporaries, Gary told a group of friends on Saturday evening, "I've played 14 shots better than Archer, but he's 209 and I'm 219."
Arnold Palmer left this Masters at the 15th hole on the first day. In more of a struggling fashion than usual, he got there one under par, and he was on the green of that par-5 in two blows with the happy prospect of maybe making an eagle and getting very much into the running, or at least a birdie and going two under. A 70 would have been a fine start. Go, Arnie, go. But Palmer three-putted, missing the birdie from two feet, and it seemed to knock him out cold. He three-putted 17 and 18, posting a sloppy 73, and the second day he barely survived the halfway cut with a 75.
As one spectator in his demoralized Army said, "every shot is sort of a mini-tragedy. It's a real struggle out there. You somehow just know that the shot isn't going to work out quite right." The Army finally had to be satisfied with 27th place.
As a matter of fact, it really wasn't a very good week for anyone. Except, of course, for George Archer. He even signed the correct scorecard. Say thank you, George.