END OF AN ERA
After 45 up-and-down years, Doug Ford bids farewell to the Masters
This is an article from the March 23, 1998 issue
I can't walk 18 holes anymore--my legs won't take it," says Doug
Ford, who has played every Masters since 1956. "I figure this
will be my last Masters."
Ford's life changed forever on April 7, 1957, when he beat Sam
Snead to win at Augusta. Ford was the '55 PGA champion and a
four-time Ryder Cupper with a magical short game, but from that
Sunday forward his name has been linked to the Masters. For 40
years he has attended the annual Champions' Dinner with Hogan,
Palmer, Nicklaus et al., all of them wearing the green jackets
they put on once a year. But "walking around like a big shot,
like you belong" among golf's grandmasters, as Ford puts it, is
only one perk the champs enjoy. Another is a lifetime exemption
into the tournament's select field. That's why dozens of players
who might win the '98 Masters won't be invited while Ford, who
has no chance, will.
"Galleries love us old guys," says Ford, 75, who has given fans
plenty to love in his record 45 appearances. It doesn't bother
him that he has finished last four years in a row, has broken 80
only twice in his last 10 Augusta appearances and hasn't shot
par there since the Nixon Administration. He didn't brood over
missing the cut by 30 last year, finishing with a 94 that was
the tournament's second-highest score ever. "I had a bad day,"
He was the Lanny Wadkins of his day, a fiery competitor who
played fast. "A Harley-Davidson golfer, that's me," he says. Yet
his most vivid Masters memory is of a lull in play. In 1957 at
the par-5 15th, he decided to go for the green in two. "I'd done
the same thing the day before and knocked it in the water, but I
had Snead behind me, and I was never any good at playing safe,"
His caddie George (Fireball) Franklin said, "Use your four-iron.
It'll cost me $100 if you go in the water."
"Give me my three-wood," Ford said. "They only remember you
around here if you win." His ball cleared the water by inches,
and he birdied the hole. An hour later, watching his bunker shot
at 18 roll into the cup, the new Masters champ threw his sand
wedge so high it may still be spinning among the dogwoods.
He nearly won again in '58, when Arnold Palmer beat him by one.
Ford went on to win the Canadian Open in 1959 and 1963. He
earned $335,886 in 13 winless years on the Senior tour, and
today he plays and teaches in Lake Worth, Fla. Still, his
trademark has been his annual return to Augusta, where his
sputtering game can resemble a Model T on a freeway. Some fans
ask why such an antique plays on with no hope of making the cut.
"Bob Goalby would needle me, too. 'Why don't you quit?' he'd
say. But I love the tournament. I love the nostalgia," Ford says.
Nostalgia is a tangible part of his life. He keeps Masters
mementos, including a silver cigarette case dated 1957 and
etched with the players' names, on his mantelpiece. "I treasure
it," he says. Another souvenir stays in Georgia: "The jacket's a
little tight. It's still a 42, but I'm a 43 now."
This week he will play at the Legends of Golf in Summer Beach,
Fla., then return to Doug Ford's Lacuna Country Club in Lake
Worth. A lacuna, of course, is an empty space, a hollow. Ford
will have one on his calendar if not in his heart when the
Masters goes on without him in 1999. But if you say his poor
scores might be a reason to bow out, you'll start him fuming.
"I'm not embarrassed to shoot 80," he says.
What about last year's 94?
"Too much gambling, that's all," he says. "I was shooting for
the pins on the back nine."
DALY, DAY BY DAY
While serving himself heaps of cookies last week, John Daly said
he was ready to win again. "If you combine the mental and
physical, this is the best I've ever played," he said before
firing a 64 on Sunday to tie for fourth at the Honda Classic.
Can he win at Augusta National, a course that fits him almost as
well as it suits Tiger Woods? "I'm not ready to say that, but I
will say I've never been hitting it so good going to Augusta,"
Daly, who can seem so weighed down by his marital and
chemical-dependency woes that his smile comes as a surprise,
brightened when asked about Tour treats. "Everyone knows about
the milk shakes at Castle Pines, but they have great hot dogs at
the MCI, and the Honda's going to be famous for these chocolate
chip cookies," he said. "They're incredible!" He said he had
found solace in surrendering to food. "My chocolate craving is
so bad, I'm not going to worry about my weight anymore." Yet as
he gets fatter--closer to 250 than to his listed weight of
195--his game keeps getting fitter. "I practice more now. I used
to go to bars and get smashed for 12 hours," he said. "Now I
just eat and play golf, and I'm finally learning to grind every
hole. If the last few years have taught me anything, it's not to
He finds himself looking forward to Augusta and beyond. "As long
as I keep doing the right things daily, I'll be prepared for the
majors. I just have to keep taking baby steps," said the Tour's
THE SHAG BAG
They Are the World: Rumors of the European tour's demise may be
premature. Last week's Moroccan Open, won by Stephen Leaney,
capped a four-event desert swing that had some players
congratulating themselves for skipping U.S. Tour events. "I'm
delighted I chose the European tour these first few weeks rather
than the West Coast swing on the PGA Tour," said Ernie Els
(below), who skipped Morocco but leads the money list with
[pounds]279,520. "When you think of the weather they had and the
glorious sunshine we've experienced, there's no comparison."
Hail Irwin: At last week's Toshiba Classic, Hale Irwin, last
seen here as a missing person on a milk carton, snapped his
two-month winless streak with a Sunday 62 that left the '97
Senior tour player of the year in a celebratin' mood. As he left
the course, Irwin said, "Tell SPORTS ILLUSTRATED it can take me
off the milk carton. I'm not lost anymore."
Fuzzy'll Have the Crow: Nutritionists blanched when Tiger Woods
announced the menu for this year's Champions' Dinner:
cheeseburgers, fries, grilled chicken sandwiches and milk shakes.
Go-Go Golf: Former PGA teaching pro Jay Larson, the Tiger of
speed golf, matched his age at California's Camarillo Springs
Golf Club when he jogged to victory in a recent tournament. The
42-year-old took just 42 minutes to play 18 holes. "You play
your best golf when you take your mind out of the game," says
Larson, who shot 71.
Two Short Putts, One Short Fuse: Tap-ins were the top story at
last week's Welch's/Circle K Championship in Tucson. After Dana
Dormann missed an 18-inch putt on the final hole, Helen
Alfredsson's three-footer for birdie made her the LPGA's first
two-time winner this year. Alfredsson and her surgically
reattached hamstring have already won $184,013. The bottom story
was Laura Davies's fourth missed cut in her last five
tournaments. Davies was tuning up for this week's trip to
Phoenix, where she hopes to win a fifth consecutive Standard
Register Ping and vast bonus money. At Tucson, however, she shot
73-71, then tried to relax on the tennis court. Instead she
reportedly smashed her racket to pieces. Asked her plans for the
rest of the weekend, the 1996 player of the year said, "I don't
know. Maybe I'll commit suicide."
Titanic Trouble: Upon missing his 31st consecutive cut at last
week's Honda Classic, Chip Beck said, "I'm a sinking ship. Most
people are scared to death to be near me."
He's O.B. Like other celebs, Conan O'Brien gets free golf clubs.
His office above the Late Night with Conan O'Brien studio holds
two gleaming sets of Pings. "I don't have time to play, so I'm
using them as paperweights," he says.
CHEERS FROM THE GALLERIA
"It's not just shopping," says Lea Thompson of the life of a
Senior tour wife. "It's friendship and computer classes and
rooting for your man and shopping." Each winter, Senior players
including Lea's husband, Leonard, receive packets from
tournament organizers detailing the special events and
entertainments at each tour stop. "We tear into that right
away," she says. By the time the men gather in Hawaii to open
the season, their wives--many of whom handle family finances and
schedules--are ready to roll.
Charlotte, N.C., site of the Home Depot Invitational, is prime
turf for fine furniture. At the Cadillac NFL Classic in Clifton,
N.J., "they send us to malls, and then we go to a play in New
York City," says Joanna Ziegler. Park City, Utah, where the
Seniors play the Franklin Quest Championship, is a mecca for ski
equipment. Las Vegas, home of the Senior Classic? What else but
footwear? Imelda--correction, Lea--Thompson once bought 32 pairs
of shoes there. "They were only $5 a pair, so I bought all the
shoes in the store that were my size and some that weren't," she
For the wives, at least, last week's Toshiba Senior Classic in
Newport Beach, Calif., was jumping long before Hale Irwin edged
Hubert Green on Sunday. Tuesday brought a health workshop
featuring CPR training. Thursday began with a buffet in a
jewelry store where the wives ate breakfast, but nobody bit on a
$17,000 platinum watch. There were also computer classes
sponsored by Toshiba ("Better than last year, when we couldn't
turn the computers on," Thompson says), a
Japanese-style-painting class and a meeting at which Merrill
Lynch served financial advice and high tea. Then a shuttle bus
zipped the wives to glittering South Coast Plaza, the grandest
mall on the tour.
"Call me a professional shopper," Thompson said as she strode
toward Nordstrom department store, where $5 won't buy shoelaces.
"I know this place by heart." There were three shopping days
left until the tour hit the road.
Good Samaritan in Big Hat Gives Research a Shot in the Arm
No matter who wins the Standard Register Ping tournament,
Michelle McGann will pick up some crystal. While in Phoenix,
McGann, who has diabetes, will receive a crystal bowl as the
1998 recipient of the LPGA's Good Samaritan award. "Diabetes is
my most formidable opponent--my daily prayer is for a cure," she
says. McGann, who once had a severe insulin reaction at a junior
tournament and passed out on the fairway, takes twice-daily
insulin injections and makes sure she has fruit, crackers or a
peanut butter sandwich in her golf bag to prevent another such
episode. McGann had her best year in 1996--not only because she
won three times and earned $498,561 but also because that year
she launched the Michelle McGann Golf Classic, which has raised
more than $500,000 for diabetes research.
A Healthy 20th For King Arnold
The king played like a commoner last year at the tournament he
hosts. Arnold Palmer shot 81 on Thursday and withdrew on Friday.
Still, his presence meant more than the scoreboard could show.
The '97 Bay Hill Invitational marked his return to competition
after prostate-cancer surgery--an emotional moment for Palmer
and his fans. "We've got nine or 10 boxes of letters and
telegrams in storage," says Palmer's spokesman, Doc Giffin.
"We're collectors." This week Palmer marks his 20th anniversary
as tournament host. The Golf Channel will film him as he
glad-hands fans and tries to make the cut, and the resulting
documentary is sure to have a happy ending no matter what he
shoots. Arnie's followers don't expect good play from their hero
anymore, just a few more chances to salute him.
What do these players have in common?
They are the only players since 1970 to win a PGA Tour event by
a dozen shots or more.