The Masters is built on lore. The heroic shots of Sunday afternoons. The tragic failures. It is the glory of the game set against the backdrop of azaleas, a falling spring sun and (warning: cliche alert) a cathedral of pines.
Monday, the day after the Masters, is also filled with heroic shots and tragic failures. Alright, mostly tragic failures. Plus flailing swings, disposable cameras, cheap golf shoes and, oh yeah, all that stuff about the azaleas. It’s the day when a few members of the media, chosen by lottery, are allowed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play Augusta National Golf Club. It’s a day when divots die ugly … and often.
It was 1994 and Boston Herald golf writer Joe Gordon went for the par-5 15th green in two and missed it just right of the bunker. He faced a delicate chip shot over the trap and watched his trickling shot hit the pin and drop for an eagle 3.
“I’m prancing all over, really putting on the act,” Gordon said. “I say, ‘Nobody but Gene Sarazen has ever beaten me on this hole!’ It was quite a display.”
After he teed off at 16 (where he air-mailed the green after being mis-clubbed by his caddie) and walked past the 15th green, Gordon heard a roar and shouts of celebration from the 15th fairway. Another player had just holed out from the fairway, apparently for a double eagle 2.
“I told my group to go on ahead, I’ve got to do a column on this guy,” Gordon said. “While I watched him approach, I got angrier by the minute. I thought, am I a golfer or a journalist? Today, I decided, I’m a golfer. I finally decided, screw the story. This guy just topped my 3 with a 2, so screw him, too. I left and never got his name.”
Ed Sherman of the Chicago Tribune hadn’t played golf all year and hadn’t made a par when he reached the 12th hole on his manic Masters Monday. A lefty, Sherman hit a beautiful, drawing 5-iron shot over the bunker to within four feet of the cup. “It was the best shot I’ve ever hit,” said Sherman, who made the putt despite literally shaking. “I checked the stats; there were only four birdies there Sunday. Sure, I made birdie without the pressure of Sunday at the Masters, but those guys didn’t make birdie with my swing. I own that hole. And I’ll be saying that until I’m 80.”
Golfweek’s Jeff Rude, playing the ninth hole one year, noticed ABC broadcaster Mike Tirico coming up the adjacent first hole. He watched Tirico’s caddie, walking 50 yards ahead through the pine straw in the left rough, arrive at Tirico’s ball and kick it from behind a tree into a better lie with an open shot to the green. “The caddie looked up, saw me watching and we locked eyes,” Rude said. “Then he put his finger to his lips and goes, shhhhhh! The next time I saw Tirico, I asked him how his lie was on the first hole at Augusta. Mike said, ‘Great, why do you ask?’ I didn’t tell him.”
Hank Gola of the New York Daily News is an inveterate golfer. “I remember my round at Augusta shot by shot,” he said. “Every time I go out on the course to watch the tournament, I remember where I hit it. I remember four-putting the first hole. From that point on, I didn’t want to pull the trigger on any putts.”
He shot 42 on the front nine, then parred his way through Amen Corner. “That was the thrill of my life,” he said. “Even after the four-group, 45-minute wait on the 12th tee.”
Gola’s goal was to break 90. He came to the 18th hole needing only a bogey to realize his dream. He hit his drive into the right trees, then hit a 4-iron shot left of the green just below the TV tower. “From there I hit the chip shot of my life,” Gola said. “It rolled down to a couple of inches. I’ve got a tap-in for 88. My caddie starts picking up the ball and I scream, ‘What are you doing? I’ve got to make that for 88!’ I felt like I had just won the Masters.”
Bucky Albers of the Dayton Daily News stood on Augusta National’s first tee on a long-ago Monday and realized he’d forgotten something. “That week, of all weeks, I had just gotten bifocals for the first time,” he said. “I never thought about it until I looked down and saw two balls. There’s a line in the middle of the lens and the top half of the ball doesn’t match up with the bottom half. I decided I’d try to hit the top half and I whacked a low liner into the left trees. I scrambled around and made an 8 or something. And, of course, I hadn’t played golf since the previous October. So I was slapping it around out there.
“I was playing with Shav Glick, who had a plane to catch. Shav had to go after 16. He had a big staff bag and didn’t want to walk in, and Gary Nuhn from my paper was waiting at the hotel for me, and I felt bad about that because it was taking quite a while to play. So I drove Shav in and never played the last two holes. It’s more of a travesty now than it was at the time. People still ask me if I ever played Augusta National, and when I say I did, they’re always impressed. I don’t tell them I didn’t play 17 or 18.”
There was shock and awe when Rob Oller of the Akron Beacon-Journal played on Monday a few years ago. He was shocked because he teed off on the back nine first. He wasn’t expecting that.
“I parred 10, then I went eight over par through Amen Corner,” Oller said. “Yeah, I went double, triple, triple. I skulled one at No. 12. I’ll take that shot to my grave. You at least want to get one airborne there. I watched mine go short of the creek, then I hit it into the creek. To do what I did at 12 — I felt like I was on the greatest stage in sports and threw a gutter ball. It was a horrible shot; I’m not in denial about that. But it’s Shangri-La, where Hogan and Jones walked. It’s where Jack won in ’86. Certain places are hallowed ground. I don’t even remember playing Amen Corner because it happened so fast. I would have liked to have played the front nine first, just to build up to it. They throw you out there, the 10th hole is like a ten-story drop, you’re wide-eyed. You’re in awe and then — it’s over.”
Golf Channel analyst Brian Hewitt got to play in the early 1990s as a replacement for an Associated Press technician who’d been picked in the lottery but wasn’t able to play. “The round took six hours and I wished it had taken ten,” Hewitt said. “I never wanted to leave. There were four groups backed up on the fourth tee. I could’ve sat there all day. I’m sitting on a little brown bench wondering if Sarazen or even Bobby Jones himself had ever sat on that bench. I couldn’t get enough.”
At the par-3 sixth, Hewitt hit a shot to the back left portion of the green and the pin was on the back right. His caddie shook his head and Hewitt asked, what’s wrong with that shot? “He said, you can’t get to the hole from where you are,” Hewitt said. “Sure enough, 12 minutes later, I made a 20-footer for a five. I four-putted, and the fourth putt was a 20-footer. That was my Augusta moment.”
He had another. He was playing with AP photographer Len Ignelzia, who pulled out a camera to take photos of the group going across the Hogan Bridge to the 12th green. Weeks later, Hewitt called him to ask about the pictures. “Len tells me he was so excited, he actually forgot to take the lens cap off his camera,” Hewitt said. “That would be like me forgetting to show up for a one-on-one interview with Tiger Woods. So I never got the picture.”
Hewitt has the memories, though. So does everyone lucky enough to play the day after the Masters.