The Fateful Corner

Then another scene in this unusual and now contrapuntal drama took place. Bill Kerr, a member of the Augusta National Club who is very experienced in rules, although he was not serving on the rules committee this year, had been hurried down to the 13th to lend what assistance he could in clearing up the controversy over Palmer's proper score on the 12th, a terribly important factor at this stage for Palmer, for Venturi, and for everyone in contention. After Palmer had hit his second, Kerr ducked through the ropes onto the fairway, and Palmer related the facts to him. They talked it over for two or three minutes. In Kerr's unofficial opinion, Palmer had had a right to lift—it would still have to be officially decided. As Palmer headed for the green, shouts broke out all along the line as the grapevine communicated the news to the thousands clustered along the hillside that Palmer had been given (however unofficially at this point) a 3 and not a 5.

Palmer is a very resolute customer. From the beginning, believing himself to be entitled to lift on the 12th, he had argued his opinion forcefully but not to the point where he had allowed it to upset him. He had hit his great second on the 13th with no particular show of bellicosity but perhaps with a visible pinch more of his always formidable determination. On the green, he proceeded to cap the absorbing crescendo of excitement by holing his 18-footer for an eagle 3. Venturi, having pitched eight feet from the cup on his third, made a very gallant effort to hole for his birdie—and did. However, instead of being a stroke ahead as had appeared to be his position on the 13th tee, he was now two strokes behind with five holes to play.

On the 14th—both players talked the rules question over on the tee with Bob Jones—Venturi fell another shot behind when he three-putted. On the 15th hole Palmer and Venturi were officially notified that Palmer's score on the 12th was a 3. Down the stretch both of them wobbled a bit. Venturi three-putted both the 15th and 16th, though he finished with a fine birdie on the 18th for a 72 and a four-round total of 286. Palmer went 1 over par on the short 16th and three-putted the 18th for a 73 and a total of 284. Palmer's somewhat loose finish ultimately presented two of his pursuers, Fred Hawkins and Doug Ford, playing together, incidentally, with a chance to tie if either could birdie the 18th. Hawkins, who had come sprinting down the stretch like Silky Sullivan with birdies on the 15th and 17th, missed the 16-footer he had to get on the home green. Ford, the defending champion, missed from 12 feet. Ford had previously failed to hole a five-foot putt for a birdie on the 17th, but his best chance, ironically, had come back on the portentous 13th. Nine feet from the cup in 2, the man who is perhaps the finest clutch putter in golf had taken three to get down on the breaking surface of this fast, subtly contoured green. Ford's first putt was running dead for the cup when, a foot from the hole, it slid a hair off the line to the left. The putt he was left with coming back couldn't have been over 16 inches. It broke like a whip, caught only a corner, stayed out.

The rules of golf are very touchy and troublous things to administer, and my own feeling on the subject is that if a man is notified he has been appointed to serve on the rules committee for a certain tournament he should instantly remember that he must attend an important business meeting in Khartoum and tender his exquisite regrets to the tournament committee.

Granting the difficulty of the job, it was nonetheless unfortunate that the member of the rules committee working the 12th hole sector didn't know his job well enough to make an immediate and proper decision on the buried ball. In truth, as rules go, it wasn't a really tough one or an involved one. Because of the soggy condition of parts of the course after the heavy rains, the tournament committee had invoked for the final day of play a local rule permitting the players to lift, clean, and drop without penalty any ball which became embedded "through the green" in its own pit-mark. (You will find this explained under "Local Rules" on page 58 of the 1958 USGA Rules Book.) Since the term "through the green" takes in all parts of the course except the tees, greens, sand traps, and water hazards, it clearly applied to the rough in which Palmer's ball pitched and stuck. One possible explanation of the indecisiveness of the official who was handling the 12th was the fact that the ball was embedded only a foot or so below the bankside trap and, since some of the sand had been washed out of the traps by the rains, he may have been uncertain whether or not the area in question was rough or part of the hazard. However, the ball clearly lay below the well-defined outline of the trap.

All in all, it was unfortunate that the rules question arose at such a crucial juncture of the tournament, and it was extremely fortunate that the confusion which developed did not untowardly affect the play of the contenders or the ultimate winning and losing of the tournament.

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