Every spring in the sleepy, two-Hardee's town of Augusta, Ga., the locals hand out a free green sport coat. And, nearly every spring, American golfers take that opportunity to hide behind the nearest dogwood.
For five of the last six years the green sport coat that goes to the winner of the best little golf tournament in America has been claimed by a European. Nobody can quite figure it out. Do the Americans lose their patience or their courage? Do they lack desire or suffer an excess of it? Do they cherish the tournament too much or not enough?
This year the Masters champion's green coat was hoisted onto the shoulders of another European, Bernhard Langer of Anhausen, Germany, who routed the field at Augusta National Golf Club by four shots. But this time the reason the Americans lost was simple. Though Langer led throughout Sunday's final round, he played as if he were behind. And though the Americans were behind, they played as if they were in the lead.
Remember when Germany always finished second? Not any Langer. From the moment he woke up with a four-shot cushion on Easter Sunday, choosing a final-round wardrobe of green pants and a yellow shirt ("We thought it would go well at the end," said his American wife, Vikki), until he hit a driver at the 18th hole with a five-shot lead, Langer behaved as if he were in the passing lane on the Autobahn. The bigger his lead got, the more daring he became. When the Americans were laying up, Langer was going for it. When the Americans were leaving putts on the lips of holes, Langer was leaving them in hearts. Later, when Langer was trying on his second green coat—he earned his first in 1985—the Americans were trying on second place.
April 18, 1993
All of which surprised nobody. In his three tournaments in the U.S. so far this year, the 35-year-old Langer has been as dependable as the 5:15 to Hamburg. He finished sixth at Bay Hill, second at The Players Championship and first at the first major of the year. That's $609,500. Not bad work—and no heavy lifting.
However, what Langer earned with his 11-under-par 277 at Augusta was respect, from American fans and from American television, both of which he believes have long abused him. Only three weeks earlier, as he was watching his iron shot fly to the famous island green 17th in the heat of The Players Championship at Saw-grass, someone in the gallery hollered, "Go in the water!" That made his blood burn—"as bad a comment as I've ever heard in my life on a golf course," he said—but not much worse than it does when he ponders U.S. television. "In the past when I was in contention, they would show me only two or three times," he says. "But they would show someone five shots behind me 10 or 15 times."
Langer can no longer be ignored. He is the elephant in the living room. He leads the American tour in prize money. Hell, for that matter, at the usual 10% cut, his caddie, Peter Coleman, would be 87th on the PGA Tour money list, just ahead of Craig Stadler. Yet Langer isn't even a Tour member. Commissioner Deane Beman and the Tour allow non-Tour players to play only 10 times a year on these shores. America's players should mow Beman's lawn for free. If Langer were allowed to hang around all year, there might be nothing left for some of them to do but conduct clinics at Nevada Bob's.
Even the warts of Langer's golf game are about to get cool. Expect two thirds of the guys at your club to come out on the putting green on Saturday hunched over in the Langer Lock, the curious yip grip in which Langer clamps the top of the putter to the middle of his left forearm with his right hand, as though he were taking his own blood pressure. "Sure is, uh, functional, isn't it?" said Chip Beck, the last U.S. player Langer vanquished at Augusta. "I might try it."
Actually, what Beck should borrow from Langer is not the grip but guts. All of Sunday, Langer gambled and won. And when it came time for Beck to gamble, he didn't and lost. "I was firing at every flag," said Langer. "I even surprised myself."
By the time Langer reached Augusta's legendary back nine, his once comfortable four-shot lead had been whittled to only one stroke over American Dan Foreman and two over Beck. "I knew that I wouldn't win the tournament unless I played aggressively," said Langer later. "Nobody was going to give it to me."
Waves of Americans seemed ready to give him a serious run only to slip back while trying to scale Augusta's slick hills. John Daly, the Pheenom Who Would Not Die, eagled the second hole, birdied the sixth and looked for a while as if he might leave spike marks on Langer's back, only to fall into a distant tie for third place, six shots off the pace. Lanny Wadkins, fortified by the previous night's barbecued ribs, which he had flown in from the Rib King in Cincinnati, pulled to within three strokes with a birdie at 13, only to fall off the bone and into the pack in third. Tom Lehman, a 34-year-old Masters rookie, birdied four of the first five holes but never another. He, too, ended up in third.
No, it was left to Beck and Forsman, a lanky, emotional sort who had not made the cut in three previous Masters, perhaps because he mentally overclubs the tournament. He is the kind of man who could write a treatise on the significance of a divot. "Golf is so tough," Forsman said Saturday night. "A friend once told me, 'Sometimes you're bleeding, sometimes you're hemorrhaging, sometimes you're painting the Mona Lisa.' " Time to triple the therapy.
Meanwhile, Langer had his own remedy. Headlong, he flung himself into Amen Corner. At the flammable par-4 11th hole, he aimed his second shot at the pin when everybody else was bailing out right, away from the water. He wound up in a place nobody had been all week, on the fringe left of the hole, hard between the pin and the pond and peril. As he prepared his easy chip, he looked across to the 12th and saw a wonderful sight: Forsman, arm perpendicular to his body, dropping a golf ball.
Playing just ahead of Langer and Beck, Forsman was in the process of engraving his name on that long list of Sunday golfers who have left their Masters hopes at the bottom of the creek in front of the meanest little par-3 in the world. That was definitely not supposed to happen. Forsman had thought long and hard about how to play the 12th. He had gone to a Blockbuster Video and rented Jack Nicklaus Shows You the Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf. It includes a clip of Sandy Lyle's memorable disaster on 12 in 1988. Not a smart move, like renting Airport before a flight to Peoria.
Trying to play safe, Forsman pushed a skittish little seven-iron weakly into the creek, walked 65 yards forward, dropped a ball, spun that one off the Memorial Fred Couples Bank and back into the water, dropped another ball and, finally, made your basic Masters-killing seven. In 10 minutes he went from eight under and one behind to three under and five behind. He had painted whiskers on the Mona Lisa.
"That's what makes Augusta," Forsman said ruefully afterward. "It would have been nice to go around Amen Corner and say, 'Amen,' instead of, 'Oh, hell.' "
That left only Langer, a big-time born-again Christian, and Beck, a devout Catholic. Beck considered the cloth as a youth. Langer said last week that he would consider becoming a missionary someday. If any two guys were ready for Amen Corner, these two were.
Three days before, on Thursday, the the 1993 Masters sure hadn't looked as if it would come down to Langer versus Beck. In fact, it hadn't even looked like 1993. It looked like 1964. But then, it always does in Augusta. Look around. A ham sandwich is still $1, you can still get a buzzcut in the club barbershop, and the names on the leader board still read Nicklaus, Palmer, Player and Floyd. It's true. Arnold Palmer started the tournament birdie-birdie-birdie to go three under and forge ahead into the early lead.
Seeing Palmer's name high atop the old Wrigley Field-style scoreboards at Augusta stirred something in Nicklaus. "I couldn't let him be low senior," he said, so off went the longtime star of Jack the Bear, shooting a five-under 67 to lead the tournament with four others at the end of the opening day. Out on the course Nicklaus looked as if he'd broken into Couples's closet. He was a vision: 15 pounds thinner, two shades tanner and 10 years younger than in his previous incarnation at Augusta. Come to think of it, nobody's clock seemed to be working. Gary Player completed the first round 3-3-3 to shoot 71, and Raymond Floyd shot a 68 to lurk one behind Nicklaus. So, it was Arnie, age 63, Player, 57, Nicklaus, 53, and Floyd, the baby, at 50. The Ben-Gay Boys.
But those Disney movies do eventually end, and Friday eventually comes to Augusta. At the close of the day, time had clocked back in. Nicklaus had shot a 75, Player had shot a 76, and Palmer had blown the cut. Senior Day was over. Start the tournament.
Suddenly it was on to the back nine on Sunday. On 11, Langer tapped in for par, and then Beck made par. On 12, Langer aimed for the pin but flew the green. Chip-up par. Beck missed a birdie putt. Par. At the famous dogleg-left par-5 13th, Langer, now nursing a two-shot margin, drew a drive breathtakingly close to the trees on the left side but wound up in good shape. Then, without a moment's hesitation, he hit a three-iron 205 yards over Rae's Creek to within 20 feet of the pin and made the eagle putt.
A three-iron over Rae's Creek with a two-shot lead? Are you crazy? "I would always go for it," Langer said later. "I don't care if I have a four-shot lead. I don't even think about it."
Beck birdied the hole but fell three strokes behind with four holes to play. Still close enough. Along came the 500-yard, par-5 15th, the canvas of Masters legend. Gene Sarazen made double eagle here in 1935 to beat Craig Wood. Langer won in '85 thanks to Curtis Strange's rinsing one in the pond in front of the green. Nicklaus's miracle in 1986 wouldn't have happened without Seve Ballesteros dunking one here. And Nick Faldo wouldn't have won in 1990 without making birdie here while Floyd laid up for par.
So now Langer and Beck trundled onto the stage. Beck struck a perfect drive. He was a good 10 yards past Langer, who was just out of range to try and knock his second shot over the water in front of the green. Beck had 215 yards to carry the pond—clearly the throw-up zone, but what choice did he have? If he went for the green and made it, he would have a chance to make an eagle and shrink Langer's collar by about three sizes. On the par-5 2nd hole Beck had faced almost the same shot—250 yards to the green. There he had absolutely nailed a three-wood to set up a near eagle.
As Langer and caddie Coleman walked ahead, they were sure Beck would go for it on 15. "He's got to," Coleman said. "If he wants any chance to win this tournament, he's got to."
Behind them Beck's caddie, Pete Bender, was of the same mind. "We didn't come this far to finish second," he told his man. Beck, however, wasn't sure: "I figured I always had 16 and you can generally make birdie there and 17 was down breeze and anything can happen on 18."
In fact, Beck had birdied only once on those three holes all week. No matter. With a Cadillac bumper sticking out from behind curtain number 1 and a toaster oven peeking out from behind curtain number 3, Beck chose the toaster oven. He laid up. "I stood there trying to make a decision whether it was worth the risk," said Beck. "Finally, I decided I'd played so well, I didn't want to throw away the entire round on just one shot."
If Arnold Palmer had thought like Chip Beck on the golf course, we would all be bowling today. If this wasn't "worth the risk," what was? Greensboro? "Let me tell you something," said Beck defiantly. "Anytime you can get a wedge in your hand with an open pin, you're better off." With a wedge in his hand and an open pin, Beck pitched over the green and had to chip back to make par. Langer rolled in an eight-foot birdie putt to increase his lead to four strokes.
"If I were in his shoes, yes, most certainly I would have gone for it," said Langer. "I was surprised he laid up. But I don't mind so much."
Guess not. The rest of the round was marching bands and police escorts. Par on 16. Par on 17. Safe bogey on 18. Un-Couple the jacket and order der Wiener schnitzel for next year's champions dinner.
Born in a kitchen, and the son of a bricklayer, Langer is a gritty sort who has resurrected himself from the career-killing yips not twice but thrice. "That's what I am the most proud of," he once told a British writer. "Because I know nobody's done that before."
In this country, though, he has been known mostly for his excruciatingly slow play and for missing a six-foot putt on the final hole in the final match to give the 1991 Ryder Cup to the Americans at Kiawah Island, S.C. That putt is generally regarded as one of the most pressure-racked strokes in golf history. "I still feel sorry for my teammates," he says. "But it's past now. I have to live in the future." The way Langer is going, the future is not a bad address.
Late Sunday night, fresh from the traditional (not to mention mandatory) winner's dinner with the Augusta National members, Langer reappeared in the press center to celebrate with the raucous members of his nation's press. They were all last seen heading for the bar. Why not? You know how Germans like to drain a few Beck's.