This article first appeared in the April 18, 1983 issue of Sports Illustrated.
In what was supposed to have been a thrilling parade of the green jackets through the Georgia pines last Monday afternoon, Severiano Ballesteros stepped out quickly over the first four holes and marched, almost without a hitch, to his second Masters championship. Ballesteros, one stroke behind Raymond Floyd and Craig Stadler and one ahead of Tom Watson and Jodie Mudd at the start of the final round, had a birdie on the 1st hole, an eagle on the 2nd, a par on the 3rd and a birdie on the 4th—that’s four under par through four holes, gang—and from there on in the 47th annual Bobby Jones picnic the menu consisted only of Spanish omelettes.
Certainly, later in the day, Ballesteros would have his usual flirtations with calamities down there around Amen Corner on the Augusta National’s back nine holes. But he thrives on trouble shots and gives off the feeling that there isn’t any place on a golf course he can’t escape from. When he won his first Masters, in 1980, he practically ran away and hid from everyone, building himself a 10-stroke lead at one point in the final round, but his aggressive style got him into difficulty and he drifted back to the same four-stroke margin of victory by which he won this time.
It’s well remembered that when Ballesteros triumphed at the British Open at Royal Lytham in 1979, for his first major win, he hit so few fairways off the tee that he was often mistaken for a gallery marshal or a parking-lot attendant. Still, up and down he got, over and over.
What Ballesteros did last Monday was so typical of him, of the style he established at Royal Lytham, that it was almost like watching reruns. First, he went out and killed a golf course that was quite breezy and frustrating. On the 1st hole he sent a seven-iron knifing into the wind and it settled only eight feet from the flag. Birdie. On the twisting, downhill par-5 2nd, he slammed home two wood shots and slam-dunked a 15-foot eagle putt. At the tricky 3rd, a par-4, his seven-iron wasn’t on line, but his 20-foot putt barely stayed out for what would have been another birdie. Then on the brutal 205-yard par-3 4th, against a wicked wind, he smashed a two-iron that ate up the flag and left him with only a two-foot putt. By now his challengers were reeling and muttering.
Ballesteros was paired with Watson, who got to watch all of this up close. Floyd and Stadler were directly behind him, so they were privileged to be eyewitnesses as well. The rest saw it on the scoreboards, and sometimes that can be even more depressing. “The first four holes were the best I ever played in my life,” Ballesteros said afterward. “If people say I’m lucky after that, I want to be a lucky golfer for many years.”
Ballesteros was in the tournament all the way. His first-round 68 had placed him only a stroke out of the lead, his second-round 70 had kept him in the same position, and his third-round 73 hadn’t done him any real damage; he was still that single stroke away. His closing three-under 69, largely wrought by his outgoing 31, brought him home with a total of 280, eight under par, and made him $90,000 richer.
Two shots saved the victory for him on the back nine—and two lucky breaks, which always go along with winning. His iron shot on the dangerous 12th hole cleared Rae’s Creek, all right, but only a steep embankment kept the ball on the premises. Instead, it came back down into a spot where he could not only find it, but hit it. He played on to a bogey four, holing a very nice three-foot putt at a time when some real erosion might have set in.
Besides, the competition never got organized. Watson massacred the par 5s in this Masters, just as Ballesteros did—they were 13 and 10 under—but Watson putted poorly, and it finally affected his driving. Floyd, generally as tough as they come when he’s up front, never made anything happen. Stadler, another gutty competitor, looked forever as if the gods were against him, and he kept finding ingenious ways to get rid of his clubs. The two-hand stick-in-the-mud was his most colorful. That Watson, Floyd and Stadler could go out to put heat on Ballesteros and each other in the money round and come limping home with 73, 75 and 76, respectively, may be one of the mysteries of the year.
When all of the green jackets but Seve’s disappeared into the dogwood, the runner-up position was shared by Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, two young Texans who went out early and came in with a 68 (Crenshaw) and a 69 (Kite). Crenshaw’s 68 was the low round on Monday, and he could look back and see that an opening 76 on Thursday, when it seemed as if everyone but Horton Smith broke par, may have cost him his first major title. Crenshaw fired two-under 70s in the second and third rounds; he was thus eight under for the last 54 holes. He said of his terrible first round, “I shot a dial tone. I couldn’t get a number.”
Crenshaw might have summed up Ballesteros the best, however: “He’s a natural. He’s the most imaginative player in golf. He knows how to invent shots because he grew up that way, playing with only one club—and sometimes at night. Seve’s never in trouble. We see him in the trees quite a lot, but that looks normal to him.”
That Ballesteros chipped in for a par 4 on the very last hole was typical of the way he does things. The only thing wrong was that he didn’t chip from out of tall grass or from behind a spray of azaleas.
But then it was an odd Masters all the way. It took three days and a bit to complete the first two rounds, and through it all the tournament had a slightly skewed look. When it wasn’t raining, guys were playing golf in darkness, and frequently they were guys who had never had anything at all to do with the Masters. Even the caddies were different, at least some of them, and one was a young woman, as the Masters for the first time allowed the contestants to use their regular tour caddies (or relatives, for that matter) rather than the caddies provided by the Augusta National club for the classic that Jones started back in 1934.
There were other oddities. The Friday round was washed out early, at 8:25 a.m., because Rae’s Creek already looked like the Savannah River and the sky was the color of burnt country ham. It was rescheduled for Saturday but wasn’t completed that day either because of rain interruptions and darkness. The second round was finally finished on Sunday. Saturday was also the day the players were sent off in threesomes instead of the traditional twosomes, off of the 1st and 10th tees as if this were Pensacola or something. And Saturday not only ended with no official leader—because two groups were still out on the course when night fell—it also ended with no Jack Nicklaus.
Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. What year was this? They were the two biggest stories of the first two rounds, regardless of what the scoreboards told everybody. Thursday found the course soft and the weather windless, the greens holding the most indifferent of iron shots. There were actually 28 sub-par scores and a one-round record of 12 eagles. And despite the fact that Floyd was among the trio of leaders—the others being Gil Morgan and Jack Renner, all of them at five-under 67—it was Palmer’s four-under 68 that claimed every headline from Georgia to Zimbabwe.
Obviously, the tame conditions helped Palmer, now 53, to tame the layout he once owned. A close look at the Thursday scores revealed 10 former Masters winners at par or better—none of them Nicklaus. Well, if Charles Coody, Gay Brewer and Billy Casper could do it, why not Palmer?
Palmer himself had least expected it. As he left the practice area to head for the first tee, he’d said to his caddie, “Well, let’s go to the slaughterhouse.”
It was said that only a week earlier Palmer had been joking around at the Bay Hill Club in Orlando, Fla., where he spends much of his time playing “scat,” a complicated golf betting game, with cronies. There he’d been sighted and overheard on a practice green bending over an eight-foot putt and mumbling in the tones of a TV commentator: “If Arnold Palmer can make this putt, he’ll be the 1983…” No one counted how many times he missed.
Alas, after he shot a 74 in the second round, Palmer’s game caught up with him on Sunday when the real Augusta National course showed up in breezy winds and firming-up greens. He had a 76 despite an eagle on the 13th hole, and was out of things, but he had certainly given the event the kind of excitement it needed. Morgan ultimately claimed the 36-hole lead on Sunday morning after he got out and played the 17th and 18th holes he hadn’t been able to finish the day before. So after rounds of 67 and 70, Morgan was the man on top at 137, but he isn’t what you call exciting.
After Palmer’s pyrotechnics on Thursday, Nicklaus, the other genuine superluminary present, caused all the commotion on Saturday that wasn’t brought on by the lousy weather. The sky was the same color as it had been on Friday, and the average length of a round, rain and squeegee delays included, was about six hours. This had nothing to do with Nicklaus’ withdrawal. He had posted a one-over 73 in the first round and had felt all right on Friday when he had nothing to do except hit a few practice shots late in the day after the worst part of the rainstorm had passed. But when he came to the course on Saturday, he hit practice balls and felt a slight spasm in his back. He went into the clubhouse and chinned himself on a doorway, hoping to work it out. He rolled some putts and even went to the tee to begin his round. But after three practice swings, he smiled, shook hands with his playing companions, wished them luck and started back for the clubhouse. Nicklaus’ 25th Masters was over before it had really started.
“It’s no big deal,” he said later. “I just didn’t want to go ahead and play and maybe hurt myself.” Back in 1980 at the World Series of Golf, Nicklaus’ ailing back had forced him out of a tournament, but it had never happened in a major championship.
Other things kept giving this Masters a funny look until the reliables took over. There was, for instance, Jim Hallet. He was an amateur, the only amateur to make the halfway cut, in fact, and therefore the low amateur in the tournament. He was also the low hockey player, because that’s how he holds a golf club—as if it’s time for a slapshot—and he swings at the ball as if at some French Canadian’s skull. His golf ball even has Boston Bruins stamped on it. Really.
But Hallet, who’s in fact a former hockey goalie for Bryant College in Smithfield, R.I., got into the Masters because his slapshot did well for him in last year’s U.S. Amateur. He fired a 68 just like Palmer on Thursday. It was the second-lowest round ever registered by an amateur in the Masters. He then sneaked around for a 73 in the marathon second round. A 78 on Sunday took Hallet out of contention, but at least it wasn’t the 87 that Calvin Peete had to suffer through that day. It’s a score so bizarre as to defy description; it did, however, suggest that Peete, who had been in the hunt through 36 holes, must have suffered an injury or illness. Not so, said Peete. “The golf course got in the way,” he said. Monday was better for Peete, but not by much. He had an 80 and finished in 49th place—last among players who made the cut.
A word about two other peculiarities of the 1983 Masters: There was a man in the field who wore knickers, and he wasn’t Gene Sarazen, and he had four acupuncture needles in his right ear. That was Payne Stewart. Stewart had one of the better rounds on Thursday, a 70. He would disappear soon enough, especially after his second shot on Sunday hit a lady in the head. But one of his statements would live on. Asked why he had the needles in his ear, Payne said, “One is for temperament, one is for concentration, one is for anxiety, and I can’t remember what the fourth one is for.” The lady wasn’t injured by the shot, but Stewart’s memory apparently wasn’t jogged by it, either.
Watson deserved most of the credit for the change that allowed players to bring their own caddies. He said to Tournament Chairman Hord Hardin, who’s a retired lawyer, many weeks ago, “Suppose you had to go into your biggest trial and you were told you couldn’t use your own legal secretary? That’s what it’s like for us at Augusta.” Hardin’s answer wasn’t long coming: “Mr. Watson, you plead a very strong case.”
Watson brought along Bruce Edwards, his regular tour caddie, but George Archer, a past champion, got a Stanford sophomore named Elizabeth Archer, a javelin and discus thrower on the women’s track team and the reigning Garlic Queen of Gilroy, Calif., which considers itself the garlic capital of the world—not that many other towns have claimed the honor. From the minute Elizabeth heard that the golfers could bring their own caddies, she said, “Dad, it’s got to be me.” Elizabeth must have done something right at Augusta; George finished tied for 12th.
It may have been only coincidence that three of the men in the forefront of Monday’s scramble were players who brought their own caddies: Floyd, Watson and Ballesteros. Stadler kept the Augusta caddie who had helped him to the green jacket last year. But the toughened-up and dried-out golf course and a scrambling Spaniard had more to do with the outcome than anything else. Craziness was by then a memory.