The trip starts, as it always does, with a good-natured
difference of opinion. "They hate me coming," the old man says.
"They can't stand to see me drive up that Magnolia Lane."
And his son, a tall man of 50 with a sand-colored mustache,
gives his practiced response: "It's just the opposite, Dad, if
you ask me. They treat you as if you won the tournament last
The crunch of gravel underfoot and the retreating storm clouds
in the eastern sky are the harbingers of dawn. The son is
holding the keys to the old man's car--a 1977 Cadillac with rust
spots on the trunk and a National Rifle Association decal in the
rear window. Shoe boxes and clothes cover the backseat, but the
51-year-old green sports jacket is safely stored in the trunk.
"Where's the jacket?" the old man asks.
"I packed it," says the son.
April 20, 1997
Minutes later, with the younger man at the wheel, the old Caddy
pulls away from Keiser's Golf Range, in Copley, Ohio, outside
Akron, and onto Cleveland-Massillon Road, heading south.
The old man insists it's about money. Every April, he says, he
has to drive down to Augusta and attend the champions' dinner.
Otherwise, he won't get the check for $1,500. "Can you believe
they make an old man drive all that way?" he grouses.
The son says it's not about the money, which is given to every
past Masters winner who goes to the dinner. And if you had seen
the old man the day before, trying on the green jacket and
proudly showing off the Herman Keiser sewn inside over the
wallet pocket, you would have had to agree. But the old man
remembers the Great Depression, and at 82 he's not comfortably
fixed. As the Cadillac passes the Loyal Oak Golf Course, just
minutes up the road, he looks longingly at the silky fairways
and frost-covered greens. He sold his partnership in the course
some years back, in 1961. The proceeds dwindled. Now he lives on
income from some investments and a small Social Security check,
sleeping winter nights at his daughter's house and summer nights
in a dormer apartment above the range office.
When he slipped the jacket on, his son asked, "Do you remember
who put it on you when you won?"
The old man frowned. "Was it Hogan or Snead? Who was it?"
"Nelson," said the son. "It's always the winner from the year
Now the sun is a red ball on a wooded ridge. The Cadillac slides
onto Interstate 77 and searches for a constant speed amid the
cars and big rigs finding their way out of Akron. In the
passenger seat the old man sits contentedly, wiggling his toes
in his brown leather shoes. His son, one of the old man's four
children, tends to lead the conversation. They talk about the
son's teaching job at a golf school in upstate New York. They
talk about the old man's daughter, son-in-law and three young
grandsons, who left for Augusta two days ago in a van. They talk
about raccoon hunting and the old man's dogs.
But the conversation always comes back to 1946 and Augusta. For
a half century the old man has replayed that week--the funny
conversations with bookies and chums, the angry exchanges with
club members and tournament officials. Ben Hogan, his implacable
and awe-inspiring foe, has few lines in these remembered
dialogues, but the legendary Bobby Jones and the imperious
tournament chairman, Clifford Roberts, loom large.
Some memories are so sharp they could have happened yesterday:
his final-round approach shot around a pine on the 10th that
missed the trunk by an eyelash and wound up six inches from the
hole...the two bookmakers ("the fat guy from New York and the
little guy from Texas") who lent him money on the weekend so he
could bet on himself...his run-in with sportswriter Grantland
Rice, who said he was playing too slow, in the third round,
which ended, the old man says, when he threatened to wrap his
putter around Rice's neck....
WELCOME TO WEST VIRGINIA, interrupts a sign at the Ohio River
bridge. A few minutes later the Cadillac exits the freeway and
rolls into Parkersburg for gas. "You have to understand," his
son says, working the pump. "There was big money on Hogan at 4
to 1, and Dad was five strokes ahead after two rounds."
And you have to understand, too, that the Masters, in those
days, was less a solemn major-cum-flower-show and more a
high-stakes Calcutta. Club members, some with up to $50,000 on
Hogan, might have been hoping that the leader, a 20-to-1 long
shot from Springfield, Mo., would have car trouble or contract
food poisoning. Unseen forces did, in fact, switch his
third-round starting time without telling him--he almost missed
his tee time--and someone arranged a change of caddies.
"Oh, yeah, they gave me a 13-year-old kid," the old man says,
returning to the car with a bag of potato chips and a can of Dr
Pepper. "By the second hole he was dragging my clubs. I stopped
and demanded a real caddie."
No experienced caddies, he was told, were available.
Opening the passenger-side door, the old man says, "I am going
to drive some. If not, let me out, and I'll hitchhike."
It's not like the old days. I-77 has tamed the mountains and
bypassed the coal towns, making West Virginia safe and scenic.
The Cadillac growls up grades with no effort, leaving the father
and son with little to do but listen to LeAnn Rimes on the radio
warbling her admonition not to lose "the light in your eyes."
The younger man says, "That Bobby Locke must have been the
greatest putter who ever lived." The old man says, "I might have
put Horton Smith ahead of him." And the old man pictures Locke,
the great South African player: "Knickers and long hair, called
everybody Laddie. From the sand he'd pick the ball off like it
was on a tee. He said, 'I don't like the splosh'"--Locke-talk
for the explosion shot.
As the sun climbs, you almost expect to see a vintage Plymouth
or Packard roar by in the passing lane, an adult arm out each
window, cigarette sparks bouncing on the pavement. The Tour
moved by automobile in the old man's day, and the names of
cherished travel companions are always on his lips--Johnny
Bulla, Duke Gibson, Bob Hamilton, Chandler Harper (who teamed
with the old man to win the 1942 Miami Four Ball), Jug McSpaden,
Byron Nelson, Henry Picard. A family friend back in Akron had
spoken with feeling of those pioneers, telling how they doubled
up in dollar motels and crossed deserts in caravans. "One time,"
the friend said, "Herman and Ky Laffoon and Bob Hamilton drove
from the West Coast to Miami and had 15 flats along the way."
"How many flats?" the old man asks. "Well, I don't know."
The old man is more definite about the classic travel tale
starring Laffoon--definite, he says, because he and Hamilton
were in the trailing car. "We're going along, and I say, 'Look
out,' 'cause there's sparks under his car like maybe the
tailpipe's draggin', and we're afraid it's going to catch fire
or blow up. I catch up and get him stopped, and Ky holds up this
putter he's been draggin' out the window. He says, 'See this
putter? It's too heavy, and I'm takin' some weight off it.'"
The son, in a later telling, has Laffoon saying, "I'm just
grinding down a wedge." That's the version he remembers from his
childhood in the '50s, when his father cut back his golf and
worked as a club pro. The stories enthralled the youngster, who
had his father's given name and was known in the family as "our
Masters baby." (When the old man came back from the war in 1945,
his wife said it was time to have a child. "When I win a big
tournament," he joked. The boy was born on Feb. 1, 1947--barely
nine months after the '46 Masters.) He loved the way his father
yelled "Boom!" when he was telling about the right rear axle
that broke on his '34 Plymouth during a drive back from Canada.
But now, as the Cadillac slides out of the mountains into a
broad farm valley, he finds himself mentally editing the old
man's stories--putting the right club in someone's hands,
correcting the year, rescuing the critical detail.
The stories mean a lot to him.
Around noon, the Cadillac plunges into the East River Mountain
tunnel, coming out in Virginia. Wytheville gets the nod for
lunch, and the two men pick a Bob Evans Restaurant just off the
highway. The old man orders turkey with mashed potatoes and then
holds his left wrist while clenching and unclenching his fist.
Asked if he hurt something, he says, "No, I just exercise it.
I've got a little arthritis." Smiling, he adds, "I don't know
why. I'm only 82."
The cap he's wearing--black, with THE TRADITION printed on the
crown--also requires some explanation. The Tradition, a Senior
tour event held the week before the Masters, in Scottsdale,
Ariz., has its own champions' dinner, to which winners of all
the majors are invited. Even the old man's fear of flying can't
keep him away from that dinner, which, he notes with enthusiasm,
pays $3,000--twice what the Masters pays. "I'm going to wear
this hat all week," he chortles. "That's a great tournament."
The Masters may not be on his hat or in his heart, but it's
certainly on the old man's mind. As they eat, the two men replay
the final hole in '46, which the old man figured he had to par
to avoid a playoff, although a bogey did it.
"Hogan was charging, and you could hear the applause behind
you," the son says.
The old man nods. His playing partner that day was Nelson, who
was the perfect sportsman and an ally. An excited crowd climbed
the hill behind them, while club members with money on Hogan
waited at the green, distressed. He describes his shot from the
fairway, how it hit the flag and "ricocheted right about 12 or
"Is that all?" the son interrupts.
"Maybe 30 feet," the old man allows.
"Everyone says you hit a four-iron on your last approach, but it
was a seven-iron." The son turns in his chair. "They've got
Dad's seven-iron in a glass case at Augusta National. You can
still see the ball mark from that last shot--right in the middle
of the face."
The old man smiles, remembering how it felt to beat Hogan. He
left Augusta, he says, with $2,500 for winning and perhaps
$1,000 more from the bookmakers. He left, as well, with a
thousand eyes looking daggers at his back.
The afternoon miles go quietly, with country and western music
on the radio and long pauses between stories. Spring has come to
North Carolina, laying lavender blossoms on the median and
turning the hardwoods pale green. The Cadillac stops in
Statesville for gas, barrels through downtown Charlotte around
four o'clock, and exits onto I-20 West. The day's drive ends at
5:15 p.m., at a Days Inn in Columbia, S.C., about 70 miles shy
of Augusta. In the motel office the old man opens his wallet and
lays out $99 for two nights, ignoring his son's offer to pay. A
sign on the counter reads ABSOLUTELY NO REFUNDS AFTER 15 MINUTES.
In their room the old man discusses his plans for Tuesday:
coffee, drive to Augusta, check in, breakfast or lunch on the
veranda, walk a few holes, sit for hours under an umbrella with
his daughter's family ... and finally, the champions' dinner.
Afterward they will return to this room, the young man and the
old, and early the next day, 24 hours before the tournament gets
under way, they will head back to Akron. The door is open, and
the nose of the Cadillac is visible just beyond the threshold,
its bumper a mirror in the sunlight, the engine clicking as it
"I don't know where they came up with that 'dark horse winner'
stuff," the son says, still thinking of '46. "I've never liked
that. You were the ninth-place guy on the money list, and you
lost a playoff to Hogan earlier that year in Phoenix."
"Hogan was the greatest player in the world," the old man says.
"In that Phoenix playoff we tied two holes, and then Hogan went
over the green on the third. I had 12 or 15 feet for birdie, and
he pitched the son of a bitch in. Of course, I missed my putt."
The two men are silent for a moment. "We won't start too early,"
the younger man says. "You don't want to get too tired."
The journey ends, as it always does, in bumper-to-bumper traffic
on Augusta's Washington Road. "Park, five bucks," the old man
says, reading a sign by the roadside. "That's cheap, if you stay
He has his windbreaker on and the Tradition cap. His eyes follow
people on foot, while his son works his way into the left lane,
ready to turn at the gatehouse. And finally, they see the sign
at an opening in the tall hedgerow: MEMBERS, PLAYERS, HONORARY
The son waits for oncoming traffic to clear and then turns in. A
uniformed guard steps up on the passenger side and bends
forward. The old man lowers his window and says, simply: "Herman
The guard smiles. "All right, Mr. Keiser. Go right on in."
The Cadillac rolls forward, under the canopy of magnolias--but
slowly, like a processioner at a wedding. The son leans over the
wheel and looks up at the arching branches. He says, "It doesn't
get any better than this."
In a wavering voice the old man concedes the point. "It is
beautiful, isn't it?"
On this they're in complete agreement.