They held a masters-bashing party in Augusta last week, and a funny thing happened. The Masters bashed back. Lee Trevino burned rubber down Magnolia Lane and said he didn't want to be invited back. Fuzzy Zoeller ripped Augusta National as if it were a par-3 muni. Even the tournament chairman, Hord Hardin, stewed about the future of the Masters.
Guess what? None of it mattered. The Masters simply went out and did what it does better than any tournament in the world. It produced marvelous golf and a worthy champion—Sandy Lyle, a Scotsman with a runny nose, ticklish toes and a seven-iron that practically glows.
Late Sunday afternoon Lyle pulled out that seven-iron and coldcocked disaster. Stuck in a bunker on the 18th fairway, 143 yards from the pin, he needed a par to save a tie with Mark Calcavecchia and force a playoff. But a par from the trap was a lousy bet. The 18th green is deadly enough when you're hitting from a perfect lie, and the final-round pin placement required putting the second shot on the lower tier of a wickedly quick surface.
Who would expect Lyle to come through, anyway? Hadn't he coughed up the lead midway through the final round? Hadn't he turned Amen Corner into Dead Man's Curve with a bogey on No. 11, an in-the-water double bogey on 12 and an ugly par—as bad as a bogey—on the par-5 13th? And didn't he know a Scotsman had never won the Masters? Wasn't his nickname Sleepy for his lackadaisical attitude on the course? Did anybody expect him to come through from that bunker?
April 17, 1988
Maybe only Lyle and his trusty seven-iron, the club he had used in birdieing the 9th and 16th holes on Sunday. Lyle drew it again to hit the shot of the tournament, the shot of the year so far, a shot every bit as improbable as the chip Larry Mize made to win the Masters in 1987. Lyle's sand shot practically ripped the cloth off the flagstick before landing one foot below the start of the second tier. The ball stopped and then rolled slowly back down the hill toward the pin, to within 20 feet, to 15, finally to 10.
Then Lyle stepped up to that downhill putt. Across the way, in the Jones cabin, traditional Masters rest stop for the angst-ridden, Calcavecchia, who had completed his round minutes earlier, was watching. He had fought Lyle with sticks in his hand, but a remote-control clicker wasn't much help now.
Could Lyle sink this? No player in the last pairing had come to the 18th green knowing he needed a birdie to win and then gone ahead and gotten it since Arnold Palmer did so in 1960. Sleepy? In Arnie's class? Lyle had won the Greater Greensboro Open the week before, but nobody had won there and at the Masters in the same year since Sam Snead in '49. And nobody had won two weeks in a row on the parity-plagued PGA Tour since Bernhard Langer won the Masters and the Heritage in 1985.
Watching in the tournament office was Hardin, who had been fighting his own battles during the week. For a tournament nearly everybody is dying to get an invitation to, a lot of people were talking about just saying no next year. Even Hardin fretted publicly the day before the tournament began that players would stay away because the Masters prize money doesn't equal Donald Trump's passbook account. For instance, the first prize at last year's Nabisco Schlockarama Classic was $360,000, or nearly twice the Masters' $183,800 first prize.
"It worries the hell out of me," said Hardin of the incursion of corporate money into golf. "I don't visualize us having the Pizza Hut Masters." And now, Mr. Nicklaus, I have the great pleasure of presenting you with the traditional green Masters apron.
Come on, Mr. Chairman. Playing the Masters for the money is akin to buying an Aston Martin for the cigarette lighter. It's nice, but there's more to it than that. One player even called Hardin's musings "the stupidest statement I've ever heard."
Then there were Trevino and Zoeller, normally the Tour's Happy and Go Lucky, walking around Augusta National like mousse salesmen at a baldness convention. If Trevino cared where any of his shots went in the two rounds he lasted, they must have been the ones he aimed at green jackets. When he finished his tournament for the '80s—81 and 83—he couldn't get to his car fast enough. On his way out, he had time to leave a few thank-you notes for his hosts, such as: "You have only so many ticks in you, and I'm not going to waste 'em on this track. They've done $500 worth of renovation on the greens, but I'll bet in the books it's $700,000. A good husband on a weekend could have done it. I hope to god they don't send me an invitation. I'm going to pray all year they don't." Nice to have you, Merry Mex.
The next yeller was Zoeller, who fired a 66 on Friday but came into the press room as if he had shot 86. He was suddenly the Masters Blaster. Zoeller, the 1979 champion at Augusta, opined that the greens were as soft and puttable as, say, an escalator at the Paramus mall. "If you've got a downhill putt, you're just touching the ball and hoping you can make the 10-footer coming back," he said. "If that's golf, I'm in the wrong damn league. Golf is supposed to be fun. This wasn't fun. It's a joke out there. You don't hear the roars from the crowds at Augusta anymore. It's like a morgue. If they don't start listening to the players, they're going to be sitting around here looking at themselves and saying, 'Where did we go wrong?' "
The same sort of gripes swelled from spikes everywhere. Said the '84 winner, Ben Crenshaw, "There may not be anything living on No. 11 green. They need to call the Augusta fire department on that." Fred Couples said, "You can't hit the putts soft enough." Even an old guy like Charles Coody, the '71 champion, called it "goony golf."
After Curtis Strange used only one stroke to complete the par-3 12th hole on Friday, he said that he didn't see the ball go into the hole: "The green was so brown, a glare was there." Strange had four-putted the fried 9th hole a half-hour earlier, so his chili was still hot. When he dug the ball out of the 12th hole, he heaved it into Rae's Creek. Makes you wonder what Strange will do with the crystal trophy he'll receive from the club for making a hole in one. Caddie, my one-iron, please.
Four-putts were as prominent as the Masters' unduly famous pimiento-cheese sandwiches. Seve Ballesteros explained his quadruple-swat on No. 16 in Thursday's opening round this way: "I missed the hole. I missed the hole. I missed the hole. I made it." Zoeller said a lot of pros told him his criticism of the course was right, but Tom Watson wasn't one of them. So when Watson four-putted the 16th—he three-putted from three feet—on Saturday, Zoeller said, "I hope he enjoyed every stroke."
Watson, though, didn't waver in his allegiance to Augusta. "It's like what my friend Sandy Tatum [of the U.S. Golf Association] once said, 'We're not trying to embarrass the best players in the world. We're trying to identify them.' "
Hardin was mystified, especially by Zoeller's remarks: "It's disappointing to hear this from one of our champions. I can't believe that Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan or Sam Snead would have had the same reaction."
But Zoeller figured they would. "If you could bring Bobby Jones back to see this," he said, "I don't think he'd like it."
Well, what would Jones say? When he built Augusta National, did he mean for players to shoot 63s or 73s? Do fans want to see eagles or guys snapping putters over their knees? Spectating at the 13th and 15th—the dramatic par-5s where birdies and eagles usually lurk—was about as thrilling this year as watching reruns of Karpov-Kasparov. There were only six eagles on 13 and two on 15. "Let's bring the cheers back to Augusta," said Zoeller.
But for three days few were to be heard. On Thursday, 30-mph winds made for what the world's foremost collector of green evening wear, Jack Nicklaus, called "the most difficult conditions at the Masters in 30 years." Only six players broke par. One of them, Robert Wrenn, came to the 1st tee for the first time and said to himself, "Just don't shoot 100 out here." He shot 69 and found himself tied for the lead with the stoic and newly buffed Larry Nelson.
The wind died down on Friday, and Lyle fired a 67 to go six-under for the tournament and led the second-place Calcavecchia by two shots. That's exactly how they stood on Saturday evening, after they both had shot even-par 72s. Now, however, the leader board was crowded with serious names. Crenshaw finished birdie-birdie to tie Calcavecchia. Zoeller, almost in spite of himself, was four off the lead, along with Langer, West Germany's answer to the department of motor vehicles. (You decide which takes longer: waiting in line to get your driver's license or waiting for Langer to attempt a four-foot putt.) Craig Stadler, champion in '82, was five back, as was Ballesteros ('80 and '83). Watson ('77 and '81) trailed by six strokes. In all, eight green jackets were slinking around within six shots of Lyle.
Was Lyle worried? Damn right. "From the pattern I've seen here, it's better to be three or four shots behind [at the start of the final round] than in the lead," he said Saturday evening.
Noticeably absent among the leaders was Norman, who had tied for second in both 1986 and '87. He was so far behind after three rounds that even an amazing 64 on Sunday (30 on the front nine) got him only a tie for fifth. Norman has gone almost two years without a win in the U.S., his last victory having been at the Kemper Open in June 1986.
Lyle is nearly as enigmatic. "He can be very good one day and very bad another," said Ballesteros. Added Norman, "Sometimes he plays well, and sometimes he goes to sleep."
Lyle was born in 1958 to Scottish parents in England. His father, Alex, was the pro at Hawkstone Park in Shropshire. In '85, Lyle became the first Scot to win the British Open since Tommy Armour in '31. And his game got even better after the worst turmoil of his life. A year ago, his wife, Christine, left him and took their two children, Stuart, now four, and James, now two. Since mid-September of '87 he has won more than $1 million. Recently Lyle has been traveling with Jolande Huurman, a sports masseuse/footologist, even though he hated massages before meeting her. "They were quite painful," Lyle said. Now he craves them.
He fought a cold all of last week but found relief at night thanks to Huurman's foot massages to clear his nose. Indeed, the night before his victory, Lyle said, he woke up at two in dire need of the treatment, and got it. By the end of the day, Lyle was the toes of the town.
He may have the perfect disposition for golf. "My 15th club in the bag is patience," he says. Calcavecchia noticed that. "He's got a great attitude," he said. "Just plug it around, 'Cheerio, tallyho and all that rot.' He's 99 percent unflappable. I'm glad he's going home. I can't wait to get rid of him. No telling how many tournaments he'd win if he was here all the time."
What have made Lyle rich—with $591,821 he's leading the 1988 PGA Tour by $213,783—are three thin blades: his one-iron, seven-iron and putter. He can hit a one-iron 265 yards, straight as a Kansas highway. He wields his putter like an etching tool. For four rounds Lyle had only 107 putts, 12 fewer than Calcavecchia. And he's a rare model—seemingly without a choke. His playoff wins include the TPC in '87 and Phoenix and Greensboro this year.
Still, Lyle looked as if he were about to stall as he sputtered through Amen Corner on Sunday. After a bogey on 11, he led Calcavecchia by two shots and Stadler by three. But then, according to his caddie, Dave Musgrove, Lyle "tried to get fancy with an eight-iron" on the 12th tee, and he watched as his ball hit just short of the green and rolled back into the water. Hello, double bogey. Hello, tie. Hello, meanest hole in golf.
Stadler took advantage of Lyle's mistake by birdieing 14 to create a three-way tie for first. But Calcavecchia, playing behind Stadler, snatched the lead by birdieing 13 with a stupendous three-iron over Rae's Creek. Stadler responded by birdieing 15 with a sumptuous chip to within six inches of the hole. Face. Double face. It's weird, but wasn't Stadler Calcavecchia 10 years ago? Brash, temperamental, good, dressed like a laundry bag?
Calcavecchia took first by himself minutes later when Stadler skulled a sand shot from a rotten lie at 16 and then missed a five-footer for par. Calcavecchia nearly joined him but made a gritty nine-footer to save par on 15. He saved par again on 16 with a 10-footer.
Lyle had steadied himself and was playing flawlessly again. His tee shot at 16 nearly knocked over the flag, and he drained the 15-footer to tie Calcavecchia for the lead again. Five times he pumped his fist in the air in decidedly un-Lyle-like fashion. "I felt relieved," he would say later. "And I just thought, 'I've gone this far, why stop now?' "
Why, indeed? Stadler had barely missed a 20-footer on 18 for a birdie, which would have given him a share of the lead. Only Calcavecchia was left. He made another five-footer for par on 17 and saved par again on 18 with a chip that ended up tantalizingly close to the hole. Off to the Jones cabin to get ready for either 1) a playoff or 2) an acceptance speech, because Lyle had just hit his one-iron into the bunker.
Only all of a sudden Lyle was out of the bunker and looking at that 10-foot downhill putt and a win. No problem. Lyle stroked the ball as if he were rolling it to a manhole. You could hear the cup rattle in Atlanta as the ball hit bottom. "My knees were knocking a bit," Lyle said. "But that putt was the straightest I'd had all day."
"That hurt," said Calcavecchia. "I didn't think he had any chance of making birdie. I was numb for about five minutes." Still, Calcavecchia, 27, the former fat caddie with a new wife and a few new aerobics tapes, proved that he can play the big gigs. "All this will do is improve my game," he said.
As for Lyle, he showed that all the experts may be only half right. Yes, the foreigners are the best players, but maybe we're not looking at the right foreigners. "He's got to be playing better than anybody in the world," said Calcavecchia. Better than Norman? Better than Ballesteros? Yes. "Well, I think I'm catching them," Lyle said.
Maybe Huurman had it right all along. Earlier in the week she had occasionally sneaked away from her man's struggles to read a book beneath a dogwood tree. "She doesn't know much about golf," Lyle said. Then again, maybe she does. The book was called Angels All Over Town.
"My knees were knocking a bit, but that putt was the straightest I'd had all day."