Six days in April: life and hard times of a Masters rookie

April 06, 1970

John Bohmann sat in the dining room of the Chaparral Country Club on the outskirts of Seguin, Texas with a Sunday-night-special fish fry spread out neglected before him. His wife, his brother-in-law and a friend were there, too, as the conversation turned to an encounter two weeks earlier.

"She was nice—short and cute," John Bohmann was saying, "and she had on a neat little golf dress. It was sort of a shock that she even talked to me really, but I was glad I knew what to tell her. I mean, she should know."

"Well, John, you never told us you met her," Barbra Bohmann said. "What was she like? How did she have her hair? Does she follow him all the time?"

"Hold on," said John. "I didn't really even meet her. She's just short and, well, like I told you—nice. I think sometimes wives are nicer than the players."

"That's what I'm worried about, John," said Barbra. "That nobody will talk to us on the tour."

"You don't have to worry about her. I was just surprised she didn't know about the cut."

"You're forgetting," said Barbra. "She hasn't had to worry for ages about him making the cut."

"Well, except that last year when he played so badly." John Bohmann looked out at the sun setting behind the Texas horizon. "Imagine," he said. "I had to tell Winnie Palmer who made the cut at the Masters."

It was not particularly surprising that John Bohmann would know all about the cut at the Masters last year. In 1969 he was particularly well informed on the subject.

Bohmann was a student at Texas Lutheran College in Seguin, where Elton Bohmann, his father, is chairman of the business department and where John studied accounting and played varsity basketball. For half his 22 years he had also been playing golf.

He had started when his family moved to Seguin in 1957; he had helped Seguin High School win the 3A division of the state high school golf tournament three years in a row, and at Texas Lutheran, a small church-affiliated school of 700 students, he competed in scores of amateur tournaments all over Texas and then out of state. In June of 1968 he considered giving up golf following a horrendous round in the Texas State Amateur, but at the last moment decided to try to qualify for the 1968 U.S. Amateur at Scioto in Columbus, Ohio. To his consummate surprise, he made it.

His first national competition was almost traumatic. He played erratically for the first three rounds, yet managed to keep his score within reason by luck and some astonishing recoveries. The last day was perhaps Bohmann's finest round of tournament golf—a 67, which tied the Scioto competitive course record and propelled him into third place. And so he became eligible and was invited to play in the 1969 Masters. Here is how it was.

SUNDAY, APRIL 6

Dr. A. J. Bohman sat inside the boarding area at the Atlanta airport and shook his head from side to side, obviously angry. They had flown in from Texas almost three hours ago, and an air traffic jam had delayed their connection to Augusta. A.J., whose initials stand for Alfred John, is a roughhewn, white-haired, 58-year-old general practitioner from Cuero, Texas who was accompanying his cousin John to Augusta. (A.J. dropped the final "n" in Bohmann, so the story goes, because he got tired of the extra work involved in signing prescriptions.) Now, at the airport this evening, A.J.'s usually inexhaustible patience was being sorely tested by the long delay between planes in Atlanta. Even the appearance of John's cousin LaNelle, a pert blonde, and her friend Pat Smith, who had come over to the airport to see them off, had not done much to ease the situation. Nor did the presence of Gay Brewer, who waited in a nearby chair and later boarded the same plane with John and his cousin. But when Brewer got on he went to the front of the plane, the first-class cabin, while John and A.J. remained in back.

"That is the pecking order," said A.J. The plane climbed into the Georgia sky.

MONDAY, APRIL 7

John Bohmann drove his rented red Impala sedan almost the full length of the driveway leading to the Augusta National Golf Club before A.J., sitting in the back seat, realized he had forgotten his ticket to the Masters. John turned the car around and had to buck the flow of traffic already converging toward the course that morning on State Highway 28, then returned 30 minutes later with the ticket. At the entrance to the players' parking lot, there was a further delay: a state trooper stopped them for not having a player's sticker on the windshield. "Got to get you a ticket or got to get you the hell out," the cop said. John backed out of the lot and went in to the registration desk. This time, with a ticket, he got in.

His first stop was the pro shop to pick up a couple of dozen balls for practice. Then he went outside and, sitting on the rear bumper of his car, changed into his golf shoes. Several of the touring pros passed to and from the course and the practice ranges, greeting their fellow players and the galleries that were beginning to form.

Allen Miller and Vinnie Giles, two other young amateurs at Augusta this year, were also there in the parking lot talking to some of the pros, but Bohmann held back, even from Giles, with whom he had played the third round in the Amateur at Scioto. And nobody paid any attention to the young blond golfer sitting on the bumper.

At the practice range Bohmann's caddie spotted an open position next to Lee Trevino, but John declined that spot and hurried on to another practice range farther away, where, for the moment, only Michael Bonallack, the British Amateur champion, was hitting. A.J. took a spot in the bleachers to watch his cousin warm up.

"If there's one thing this boy can do on the golf course," A.J. told a fellow spectator, "it's hit the ball long. I remember last year at the Amateur, Byron Nelson came on the TV saying, 'Here comes John Bohmann. He hit the longest drive here on 18 seen in many a round.' "

The question of whom John could approach at Augusta kept coming up. There were only two contestants he felt he knew well enough to ask for a game on this first busy practice day. Even Giles and Kermit Zarley, who had been his pro-am partner at the Texas Open, were out of the question. Vinnie was too, well, In, and Zarley—why, he was a pro. No, the only two men Bohmann would really have felt comfortable approaching were Bob Barbarossa and Rik Massengale, two collegians from his home state against whom he had competed several times before.

And so he spent most of the morning in solitude, except for occasional exchanges with his cousin ("I've got the hitch again, A.J. See how I've been hooking? I thought it was gone, but it's back") and a few minutes in which he found himself sharing the practice putting green with none other than Gene Sarazen, clad strikingly in knickers and sweater of burnt orange.

Later he managed to arrange a game with Barbarossa, who had brought a veritable family brood to Augusta, including his wife, baby and father, his wife's parents and several friends. Barbarossa had already played 36 holes here, and he filled Bohmann in. "You won't believe how plush this course is. It doesn't look that hard, either," he said with a wink. "I figure the place is cake. I'll have no problem shooting 80 or 82."

Bohmann knew what he meant about Augusta's plushness. He had walked past the woods, the flowering dogwood and azalea at Augusta that morning, stopping under the veranda and looking out over the 18th fairway. "It's so beautiful and soft and kept so nice you'd think it would be impossible to play anything but good," he said.

Now, on the No. 1 tee, Bohmann set himself for his first shot on the Masters course. He swept the club back, exhibited his hitch and came through mightily. The ball shot off low and left through a cluster of pine trees and over the mound of a hill just to the edge of the adjoining 9th fairway—a good old-fashioned duck hook that not even Augusta National could make good. His second shot dunked into deep grass just short of a bunker, and a weak chip followed by two putts all added up to an inglorious bogey on No. 1. Subsequently he settled down. At one point, after Bohmann had pushed his mid-iron approach far to the right and onto the side of a hill, Barbarossa had urged him to try another. "Go ahead," he said. "Nobody's around." But Bohmann's caddie dissented and John, remembering the Masters rule against contestants playing extra balls during practice rounds, agreed, despite the fact that the no-second-ball regulation is one of the more cordially ignored at Augusta.

("He has thought like that since he was a little kid," said A.J., walking behind the ropes on the fairway and watching. "He was brought up to play that way. If it's supposed to be done according to Hoyle, then by God he'll play the game like Hoyle.")

Finally, on 11, a bad shot exasperated Bohmann enough that he decided to join the other Masters scofflaws with an additional approach shot that was only a little better than his first. And, on the 18th, after he three-putted from 10 feet, he tried the first putt over again—sinking it this time and getting a warm hand from the gallery that had gathered there.

His score was 75.

"I didn't think I'd play that well, A.J.," John told his cousin later. "I'm awful tired, but I'll tell you, I'm gonna be out here as much as possible, because I may never get back again."

TUESDAY, APRIL 8

Across Washington Road from the Augusta National Golf Club is the National Hills Shopping Center, where Marjorie Mosley helps run Mosley's National Hills Florists. Just a couple of blocks away is the Mosley home, a single story, red-brick and ranch-style dwelling that the Mosleys open to players and spectators during Masters week. This year their guests included John and A.J. So as not to impose heavily on the Mosleys' hospitality, each night the Bohmanns would drive into downtown Augusta to have a relaxed dinner, and every morning they pulled out early, around 7:15, for breakfast.

They arrived at the entrance gate of the club today at 7:25 a.m., only to find it locked. John and A.J. went downtown to have some breakfast, after which his cousin dropped John at the course and went home for some more sleep. John walked past a row of silent tents and refreshment stands and arrived at the putting green to find that one other player had beaten him to it. The player was Bob Barbarossa.

The two were first off the tee at 8:20, with a small bet riding, and Bohmann finished the round by winning some money from his friend and outscoring him 79 to 82. Coming back from the registration desk after the round, Bohmann walked much more quickly than usual and he had a look of incredulity on his face. He had been checking the pairings for Wednesday's mini-tournament on Augusta's par-3 course, a tradition among pros and amateurs alike on the day before the opening round of the Masters. "Do you know who I'm signed up with in the 3-par tournament tomorrow?" John asked Barbarossa. "Art Wall and Gary Player. I believe I'll withdraw."

"That sounds as bad as playing with Palmer, Hogan and Nicklaus," said Barbarossa. "I'd bring a bulldozer to take care of my divots."

Bohmann played his third Augusta round that afternoon, getting a mighty ovation from the gallery grouped around the 6th green when he chipped in from 40 feet for a deuce. He was gaining confidence. He could feel it.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 9

John Bohmann finally found some amateurs he knew, fellows like Rik Massengale, Allen Miller, Jack Lewis and Hubert Green. They were clustered around the putting green behind the clubhouse when John arrived, but they already had games lined up for the day. Since Bob Barbarossa had gone off with Giles, Julius Boros and Dick Siderowf, a 32-year-old amateur from Connecticut, Bohmann was left to play his final practice round alone. After seven holes, however, Bohmann met Green, Massengale and Lewis and joined them.

Among those collegiate representatives at the 1969 Masters, Hubert Green was the most effusive, glib and entertaining. A friendly, homespun Southern boy from Alabama, Green had finished his eligibility at Florida State University the previous June and was serving six months' active duty as an Army Reservist. Hubert has special names for his golf scores—a 76 is "trombones"; a 77 always "sunset strip." Green gets a lot of ribbing for his putting stroke, which most nearly resembles a lady sweeping dust out of a hallway, but today he was ready. "I sweep the ball in all right," Green said at one point in the round. "Just like I swept myself out of the Army. Ten days leave, boy is that nice."

"Is that what happened?" Bohmann asked him. "I wondered where all your hair had gone."

"Next time you see me I'll have hair down to here," said Green. "I'm not gonna get another haircut ever. Or shave, or nothing."

Green furnished most of the humor as the young foursome strolled around Augusta in a casual manner that provided Bohmann a bit of relief from the pressure that he could feel building. ("That ball you just hit into the trees over there, John. That's jail. If you go looking for it, be sure to take your lunch.") Still, he worried about his attitude. Maybe it was better to play a round with a Boros, as Barbarossa had done, to stay serious.

At the clubhouse registration desk he picked up a pairing schedule for the next day's opening round. The long-established procedure at Augusta National is for the pairings committee to match each amateur with a former Masters champion for the first 18 holes. Beside No. 32 (starting time: 12:58) he found his own name, and next to it that of the noted TV announcer and dentist, Dr. Cary Middlecoff, his partner for tomorrow.

Bohmann was disappointed, yet somewhat relieved, when he learned that the par-3 tournament pairings for that day were strictly informal, and that his scheduled partners, Art Wall and Gary Player, had gone ahead without him. But he linked up with Kermit Zarley and Dave Hill and came in one over par over the nine holes.

In the pro shop afterward, he bought Barbra a large green-and-white beach towel with an expansive map of the Augusta National outlined on it. It cost $10, which he thought was high for a towel, but he decided to splurge. If he didn't play well, he reasoned, he'd use the towel to cry into.

THURSDAY, APRIL 10

All morning John Bohmann had been attempting to practice his own theory of disengagement in preparation for his first round in the Masters. The night before he had returned after midnight from the traditional banquet honoring the amateur players, and then slept till 10, much longer than he thought he'd be able to. Dressed in green slacks with a yellow shirt buttoned at the neck, he had driven into Augusta National around 11 o'clock, arriving just behind Billy Casper. He had gone to the putting green, and then to the first tee to look around before going into the clubhouse for a hamburger.

The afternoon was warm and cloudy, with a hint of rain in the air. After his sandwich, Bohmann went out to the practice tee, unlimbering, and felt good as he struck the ball. Later, on the putting green, he met his playing partner, Cary Middlecoff, who greeted him and said he was looking forward to playing with him. Bohmann thanked Middlecoff, calling him "Mister" instead of "Doctor" and then followed him to the first tee.

"Now on the tee: John Bohmann!" The starter's call caught Bohmann almost unawares, but he walked over and managed to tee up nonchalantly. Middlecoff had already hit his drive about 260 yards out, slightly to the right. A tiny gallery (Doug Sanders had hit just ahead and had drawn most of the spectators off with him) gave Middlecoff a polite hand and waited to watch John Bohmann's first shot in anger at the 1969 Masters.

From impact there was no doubt that it would be a fine drive. It came to rest five yards past Middlecoff, just to the right center of the fairway. If anyone clapped, John Bohmann did not hear them. He handed the driver to his caddie, smiled and hurried off the tee.

His first stroke in the Masters was not, unfortunately, an augury of things to come. Although he managed to reach the green with his second, he three-putted—missing his second putt from 10 inches—and came up with a bogey. He was angry with himself, and nothing much happened in the next few holes to change his mind. He scrambled for a par on 2, bogeyed 3 and parred 4. Another short putt failed to drop on 5, and Bohmann was talking to himself. "I guess this is what you call Masters pressure," he said. "Ah, it's ridiculous."

A.J., trailing his cousin, said, "He putts too fast. I told him. I told him. Too fast."

While Bohmann was letting his troubles get to him, Middlecoff was demonstrating a kind of professional cool Bohmann had seldom seen but could have used himself this day. Often in trouble, Middlecoff always managed to struggle back and stay within range of par. ("That's what you have to do when you're 48, eh, Cary?" shouted a man from the gallery at one point. "You gotta scramble, eh, baby?") Meanwhile, Bohmann—apart from a birdie on 6—was continuing his erratic round. Many of his drives outdistanced Middlecoff's, but his approaches and putts were not as good. He finished the first nine with a 38.

The back nine was more of the same—-a birdie on 13, followed by a bogey on 14, birdie on 15, bogey on 17. He ended with a 39 on the back side for a total of 77, including 37 putts. Middlecoff came around in par.

As John emerged from the scoring tent after the round, head down and angry with his game, he suddenly found himself surrounded by a group of youngsters seeking his autograph. Perhaps struck by the irony of an inglorious round followed by autograph signing, John smiled for the first time since coming off the 18th green.

"Bone Man?" said one boy, examining the signature.

"No, Boat Man," said another. "This is Boat Man. Hey, what'd you shoot, Boat Man?"

Bohmann laughed and shook his head. "It's Bohmann," he said. "John Bohmann. And I shot 77. You still want my autograph?"

"Yeah, sure," said the boy. "Don't feel so bad, Boat Man. Giles shot 80. He's my cousin. At least I think he is. No, that's right, he's my cousin. And he shot 80."

After Bohmann had the autographs out of the way, Middlecoff came out of the scorers' tent and walked over to him. "I'm sorry I couldn't have putted for you today, John," he said. "You would have made 70."

FRIDAY, APRIL 11

"Did Venturi really shoot 83?" A.J. asked the next morning over breakfast. "Ken must have had both hands bothering him yesterday."

John looked out the window and asked, "When is our flight out of Augusta?"

"We're on a plane to Atlanta on Sunday at 5:23," A.J. said with bravado. "You'll probably be coming up the 18th fairway at that time, but it's the only plane I could get. If you are, we'll change to a later flight. I don't suppose we'll be worried about the plane in that case. If you win it all, we don't have to go home. We're going to New York. We'll be on Ed Sullivan, and everything will be taken care of."

John Bohmann continued to stare out the window, oblivious to the humor. "I'm the first one off the tee. I sort of like that 9 o'clock time." He paused and looked at A.J. "If I can shoot par, I think I can make the cut. What's that they say...I 'break the trail' today. I'll just have to put a good score up there and let them shoot at it."

Bohmann was dressed in rust-colored slacks and a black shirt as he and Jerry Pittman, an amiable 32-year-old club pro from Long Island, led off the Masters field before a disinterested gallery of small proportions on this second morning of the tournament. For John Bohmann the day began abysmally.

On the 1st hole he duck-hooked his drive three-fourths of the way up the hill and into a group of trees. His second shot, a three-iron, hit the top of a large pine tree and bounced into the No. 9 fairway. He had no shot to the green, so he settled for an iron about 30 yards short of the hole. He ended up with a double-bogey 6.

He took another 6 at the par-5 2nd, parred 3 and then bogeyed the next three holes—his worst string at Augusta so far. By the time he turned for home he was already seven over par. The back nine was highlighted by a series of tee shots that slammed into trees, then bounced back out onto the fairway. Bohmann could only laugh at the incongruity of it all. Pittman was also encountering disaster, which didn't help.

Not until the 17th did he really come off the tee well, connecting with a long, straight drive. Walking up the fairway, he was almost ebullient. "How you playing?" asked a spectator crossing the fairway nearby.

"I'm not playing at all," said Bohmann.

He ended the back nine with a 39 for a round of 82. He knew he had played his last hole of the 1969 Masters. After the scorecard was turned in, Bohmann quickly made his way through the huge, jostling crowd around the first tee; he did not stop on his walk to the parking lot, not even to look for A.J.

He drove to the Mosley house, went inside and placed a telephone call to Seguin. It was not a lengthy one.

"I took 82, Dad. I started off with a duck hook. On the second hole I did the same thing. From then on I was off in the trees on the right all day.

"...Who? Gosh. I forgot who I played with. Gosh, who did I play with?"

More relaxed now, Bohmann drove back to Augusta National. He had a sandwich, then walked out to the 16th green to watch the last of the field come in. A.J. saw John coming. "Well," he said, "we had fun."

"Yeah, while it lasted," John said. "It didn't last."

Bohmann left A.J. and walked across the 2nd fairway, now deserted by the trampling, scampering galleries. He met Hubert Green, the fairway jester, over by the main scoreboard near the clubhouse. Bohmann discovered that he had finished ahead of Ralph Guldahl, a former champion. "Look at that," he said to Green. "Some guy saved me. I won't be last man. What did you shoot?"

"Today, sunset strip. Seventy-seven," said Green. "Trombones one day and a little strip the next. Hey, I heard your first drive today wasn't exactly prime area."

"Well, no," John laughed.

Then John Bohmann went out to the 18th green to watch the conclusion of the second round. He saw Billy Casper come in at seven under par. He saw Bruce Devlin roll in a 45-foot putt from the fringe to tie Casper for the halfway lead. He saw Arnold Palmer struggle home with 148, four over par.

"I don't think he made it," Bohmann heard a woman with short brown hair saying to a friend near the scoreboard. "The low 40 and ties would make 147 the cutoff. He's at 148."

"Say, do you know the cutoff point?" she asked Bohmann.

"It's 148—low 44 and ties," said Bohmann to the woman. "Don't worry, ma'am. Your husband made it by one shot."

"Are you sure?" wondered Winnie Palmer. "Well, if you're a player, I guess you ought to know."

PHOTOBohmann watches as Dave Hill lines up a putt in the par-3 tournament that precedes the Masters. Bohmann came in one over. PHOTOComing out of timber trouble during his first official round, Bohmann is trailed by a small gallery. His score that day was 77. PHOTOA group of youthful autograph-seekers surrounds Bohmann after his first round, undismayed by either his obscurity or his score. PHOTOWeary and dejected, Bohmann waits for his partner to putt and ponders the adversities of golf on one of the closing greens.

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)