Fifty-one weeks a year, a member of the Augusta National Golf
Club may have a life. The week of the Masters, the membership
exists to execute the wishes of the chairman, who is Jack
Stephens. The job of the chairman is to execute the wishes, in
perpetuity, of a former chairman, Clifford Roberts. And Clifford
Roberts loved the par-3 tournament and the course on which it's
played. That explains the following conversation between a
member and Phil Mickelson last week.
Member: "I want to thank you, Phil, for supporting the par-3."
Mickelson: "You don't have to thank me. I love playing in it."
Member: "I want you to know we appreciate it."
Mickelson: "Anybody who doesn't play in it is missing out on a
lot of fun."
Member: "The people who don't play in it, we know who they are."
Last Wednesday at 1 p.m., the 39th playing of the nine-hole
par-3 tournament began on the course designed by Roberts and the
late George Cobb. The little course, opened in 1958, would have
been built along with the big course, in the early 1930s, except
for two things: 1) Bobby Jones didn't want it; 2) the club
couldn't afford it.
That's correct. Augusta National once had money worries. In the
early years of the tournament Roberts, the most patrician of
men, held his nose and authorized trick-shot exhibitions,
closest-to-the-pin competitions and long-drive contests to drum
up some practice-round gate. (In 1955 George Bayer was the king
of the long whackers with a grand poke of 275 yards.) Roberts
knew he was on a slippery slope, the same greasy hill that at
lesser events, run by imperfect men, led to five-hour pro-ams,
shiny cars floating atop greenside ponds and tournaments named
for aging singers wearing dickeys. The Masters never descended
into that particular hell.
Instead, the par-3 tournament was invented. The first winner, in
1960, was Sam Snead, who went around in 23 strokes, four under
par on the 1,045-yard course. For his good works, Snead won not
a penny. This no doubt irritated him. For Snead, golf was
gainful or it was not at all.
Which might explain what happened in the 1991 tournament. The
Slammer, at 78 years and 11 months, played in the afternoon's
first group and shot a 24. He then retired to the clubhouse for
a refreshment. O.K., for refreshments. Over the course of the
afternoon three other guys matched Snead's 24, but nobody
improved upon it. Snead was "roused from the clubhouse,"
according to the tournament's official yearbook, and the four
guys at three under congregated for a playoff on the tee of the
ticklish 8th, a 120-yarder with a green surrounded by water.
Snead promptly pulled a Len Mattiace, although it wasn't called
that then, flying his tee shot over the green and into Ike's
Pond. Some say Snead's club was an eight-iron, some say a five.
Regardless, it was too much, and Snead got what he wanted. He
turned on his spikes and retired, again, to the clubhouse. Rocco
Mediate won the tournament and a beautiful punch bowl--but no
money, of course.
It hardly needs to be said that the Rockman did not win the
tournament proper that week because of the jinx. You might think
that the jinx--nobody has won the par-3 tournament and the
Masters itself in the same year--is a joke. If you do, you are
not alone. Last week, on Jack Nicklaus Day, a dim reporter asked
Nicklaus when the jinx began, and he said, in that charming but
dismissive way of his, "Whenever you guys started writing about
it." Other authorities are not so sure.
"The question is, is it a coincidence or is it really a jinx?"
asks Sonu Khera, a student of the nine-holer. Khera, a native of
Punjab, India, is a hypertension researcher at the Medical
College of Augusta and, one week a year, a Pinkerton guard on
the par-3 course. "If it is a coincidence, it is one big
coincidence," she says. "I feel that after they win the par-3
and start the tournament, the win is in the back of their minds
the whole time. It haunts their game."
In 1990 something really weird happened. Ben Wright, the
television commentator, awoke one morning early in Masters week
with a dream lingering in his head. Wright had dreamed that
Raymond Floyd won both the nine-hole event and the 72-hole
tournament that very week. He told Floyd, the '76 Masters
champion, of his vision. Floyd revealed that he believed he
wouldn't win a second green coat until he had won the par-3 for
the first time. Well, wouldn't you know. On par-3 Wednesday,
Raymondo came to the 9th hole in a six-way tie. Ten feet.
Draino. Punch bowl. Four days later Floyd lost the tournament on
the big course to Nick Faldo in a playoff. Is that creepy or
what? Three years after that Chip Beck won the par-3...and
finished second in the tournament. Coincidence? We think not.
Jinx? You decide.
One thing's for certain: Wednesday afternoon is a time for high
jinks. Wacky things happen annually at the par-3. In 1982 Gene
Sarazen played with an orange ball. That same year Fuzzy
Zoeller, the noted jokester, wore knickers. A few years ago
Mickelson and Ben Crenshaw traded clubs on one tee and thereby
their orientation to the ball. Last year a very tall basketball
player, David Robinson, caddied for a rather short golfer, Corey
Pavin. The height differential of that looper-player duo, 16
inches, is not a record. Almost every year some kid barely a
yard tall caddies for his or her father. At some point the kid
sneaks in a few shots. When that happens, the spectators,
numerous and appreciative, titter with delight.
There is much charm associated with the par-3. There is a
closest-to-the-hole contest on each hole, and the distance is
measured in inches, regardless of how far the ball is from the
flagstick, unless the shot is holed in one, which has happened
38 times in 39 years. Last Tuesday, Sandy Lyle, '88 Masters
champ, actually played a practice round on the par-3 course,
attracting a little group of enchanted fans. They put their toes
right up to the greens without touching them, like art patrons
at a museum, breathing on the masterpieces but making no contact.
The par-3 course at Augusta National was probably the first of
its kind in the U.S. and is certainly the most beautiful.
Flowers and flowering shrubs are everywhere, and the holes go
uphill and downhill, winding around two ponds teeming with bass,
carp and snapping turtles. On Sept. 29, 1977, Roberts--in poor
health but still lured by beauty--concluded his life with a
handgun at the edge of one of the ponds, Ike's. It was his
favorite place at the club.
There are 11 holes in all--the original nine, designed by
Roberts and Cobb, plus two more holes, designed by Tom Fazio in
1987. For the tournament, seven of the Roberts-Cobb originals
are used, and the dramatic Fazio holes become the 8th and 9th.
(The course record, 20, by Art Wall and Gay Brewer, is pre-Fazio
and therefore has an asterisk next to it.) The shortest of the
holes is the 2nd, a 70-yarder. The longest is the 6th, 140
yards, over water all the way. Last Wednesday, after Arnold
Palmer dunked two in the drink there, Nicklaus, his playing
partner, moved up the tee markers by 72 inches. The King ignored
Nicklaus, changed neither his tee position nor his club and hit
his third shot hole-high. On 9, Palmer stiffed one, 39 inches,
closest of the day. More crystal for Winnie.
Last Monday night at a dinner for Masters invitees from
overseas, Stephens urged his guests to do what they could to
break what he calls "the superstition." This, he said, would be
an appropriate year to do it because of what had happened a
fortnight earlier at the Jamboree, the club's annual
member-member tournament. For decades no team had won the
Jamboree par-3 and the Jamboree itself in the same year, until
this year, when the Jamboree jinx was put out of its misery.
Several of the internationalists said they found Stephens's pep
talk--pep is not a word one commonly associates with
Stephens--inspiring. They were eager for Wednesday afternoon to
When it finally did, it came with warnings of thunderstorms. At
2:45 p.m. sirens sounded, and players and spectators departed
from the course en masse. A storm was coming in fast, and when
it arrived, the rain was torrential. The tournament was never
resumed, and dozens of players either did not finish or did not
start. For this year, anyway, Lee Janzen, who doesn't play in
the par-3, is off the hook. He says that he would rather
practice on Wednesday afternoon and that the par-3 greens are
slower and softer than the greens on the big course. What he
doesn't know is that he's on a list. At the other extreme there
is Lyle, whose practice evidently helped. The giant Scot shot
24, low man among the 16 finishers. He won last year, too, and
is the first back-to-back winner. As for the jinx? Well,
Stephens can recycle his pep talk 12 months from now. Lyle
struggled on the big course. He shot 74-77 and missed the cut.
He's ready to try to win both again in '99, though. "There's no
jinx," Lyle said. "It's just the way things happen." He paused
for half a moment, then added, "Isn't it?"