In the days leading up to this year's Masters there was merry
chatter about Tiger Woods--and his gigantic Scottish
counterpart, Gordon Sherry--contending for the title, something
no amateur had done in Augusta since 1961. But then the
tournament began and the three-putts with it, and the chatter
stopped. In the end Woods and Sherry and the three other
amateurs in the field had no impact on the competition. Still,
they fulfilled their solemn purpose. The nonequity fivesome
carried the torch of Bobby Jones, the peerless and lifelong
amateur who began the tournament as a get-together for his
golfing friends, including professionals. Despite a combined
score of 63 over par, the five men kept amateurism alive.
They showed up for the amateurs' dinner--the pep rally, the
old-timers call it--the night before the tournament. They bunked
down, two of them did, in the Crow's Nest, the cupola atop the
Augusta National clubhouse, reserved for amateurs and, at $10 a
night, the best value of Masters week. And they spoke with
reverence about the course. When Chris Wollmann, who earned an
invitation by winning last year's Public Links championship, was
asked to compare Augusta National with the Parma, Ohio, muni he
grew up playing, he said, "What kind of question is that?
Ridgewood is weekend golfers and work leagues. This is Augusta
National. There's no comparing the two."
The only thing the amateurs didn't do is play very well, thereby
costing the club's engraver in Atlanta some work. The silver cup
for low man and the Butler Cabin interview that goes with it
require the completion of four rounds, and none of the amateurs
made the cut. Last year Woods was the lone amateur to play 72
holes. This year he shot a pair of 75s and missed the cut by
four strokes, even though he seemed to be playing half the
par-4s with 350-yard drives followed by pitch shots. Sherry,
red-haired and amiable, opened with a 78, closed with a 77 and
flew off to Italy, red-faced and bewildered, to play in his
first tournament as a pro.
Wollmann, a junior at Ohio State, broke 80 twice, each time by a
shot, not the standard by which he usually measures his
successes. But when you're playing in your inaugural Masters,
you use nonstandard accounting methods.
Consider the case of George (Buddy) Marucci Jr., a 44-year-old
investor from Pennsylvania who played his way to Augusta by
finishing runner-up, to Woods, in last year's U.S. Amateur. He
was paired in the first round with another Pennsylvanian, Arnold
Palmer, his lifelong golf hero. "It was the greatest day of golf
I've ever had," Marucci said, even allowing for his 79 swings.
On Friday he needed two more.
Finally, there's Jerry Courville Jr., 37, the 1995 U.S.
Mid-Amateur champion from Norwalk, Conn. As Courville played
shots off Augusta's hallowed turf, his father, Jerry Sr., an
accomplished amateur in his day, was up against the gallery
ropes, his eyes trained on his namesake. The contestant's
father, who is 61, is racked by cancer, and his doctors have
told him he is facing his final days. "I think he hung on just
so he could see Jerry do this," said the junior Courville's
wife, Janet, her eyes filling. The triumph of the Courville
family will never be listed in the Masters record book. All
you'll see is 78-82, failed to qualify.
With Woods all questions ultimately come down to this: What does
his future hold? Jack Nicklaus and Palmer have a prediction.
"Arnold and I both agree that you could take our Masters
victories and add them together, and this kid should win more
than that," Nicklaus said after playing a practice round with
Palmer and the Stanford sophomore. Palmer has won four green
coats, Nicklaus six.
For Woods's two days in the tournament, his driving was like
nothing Augusta National had ever witnessed. On Thursday on the
360-yard, par-4 3rd, Woods's tee shot finished 17 paces short of
the green. On Friday on the 405-yard uphill home hole, Woods let
out some shaft--steel, by the way--and was left with a 70-yard
pitch from the middle of the fairway. He's very long and very
straight. "Playing with him, I probably felt like you would feel
playing with me," Greg Norman said to a roomful of
duffer-scribes, recalling a practice round with Woods. "He was
50, 60 yards longer than me. I felt very inferior."
So why didn't Woods open with a pair of 65s? Because, despite
all the demands it makes on a player's long game, Augusta
National is ultimately a golf course of little shots, of chips
and pitches to the correct side of the hole, of perfectly lagged
eagle putts that leave you with tap-in birdies. Augusta National
takes patience and wisdom, and even the great man himself, Bobby
Jones, did not have patience and wisdom at the age of 20.
"He's still learning the game, and that takes time," Ben
Crenshaw says. "He played the wrong club a few times. He needs
to know when to go at it and when to lay back. With just the
littlest of help, there's no telling what he could do. The
smaller shots from around the green, his short irons and wedges,
that's where he has to get razor sharp. But his talent is out of
Woods was constantly in demand. ("The phone was ringing off the
hook for him," said Wollmann, Woods's roommate in the attic.)
When a throng of reporters gathered around him after his
Thursday round, Woods opened by saying, "Fire away, boys,"
sounding like a Tour veteran, not a college student.
The exploits of Sherry, who is the current British Amateur
champion, are also well-chronicled. British golf writers report
Sherry's every swing, and much of Great Britain is waiting for
him to emerge as a national icon. Sherry timed his decision to
turn pro so that he wouldn't have to sacrifice his invitation to
the Masters. He launches his drives into outer space, and they
sometimes finish in neighboring fairways. He wears the plaid
pants of his countrymen. He has a lovely Scots brogue, one which
turns frustrated into froo-STRAY-tid, which is how his Masters
experience left him. "I was told, but I didn't believe it until
I saw them," he said of Augusta's devilish greens. With that, he
collected his father, a retired police officer, and his mother,
an instructor of severely handicapped children, sat down for
lunch in a room rich in Bobby Jones memorabilia and bade his
amateur career farewell. "Bob Jones always said that he learned
more from his defeats than his victories," said 82-year-old
Charlie Yates, who serves annually as host of the amateur
dinner, an assignment given to him by Jones and Clifford Roberts
in 1948. "I think that'll hold true for Tiger and Gordon."