By Bryan Hollister… It’s that time of year again, folks. All over the world, new gloves are being bought, sleeves of balls are flying off the shelves, and tee boxes everywhere are being viciously re-landscaped by hackers in pursuit of the dream.
Golf Fever, like Spring Fever, is tightening its grip on humanity.
Heralding for many the official start of the golf season, Augusta National is hosting The Masters tournament this week, an invitation only event that matches the best golfers in the world against not only each other, but one of the most storied golf courses around.
Begun in 1934 as the “Augusta National Invitation” Tournament, The Masters has seen its fair share of legendary golfers and memorable moments, both good and bad. Lets look back on what I consider the top 10 memorable moments or shots in Masters history.
10. (1975) Lee Elder’s Historic Tee Shot
No, Lee did not win the Masters in 1975, but he did do something historic: with his opening tee shot he became the first black player to qualify for and play in the Masters tournament. You see, Augusta National was not just a “Men Only” club at the time, it was a “White Men Only” club. In fact, Augusta wouldn’t even open membership up to blacks for another 15 years after Elder played.
Lee’s play was nothing spectacular, but his heart was. In mid 1975, racial disharmony was still felt throughout the country, especially down south. Even though he faced death threats so serious that he rented two houses near the course, and never went out in public alone, he still teed off and played.
Though he never won a major, he won the hearts of many with his courage.
9. (1961) Gary Player, International Superstar
There were no spectacular shots over water. Player didn’t have any amazing saves from greenside bunkers. He din’t shoot a hole in one. Heck he didn’t even come close to tying or breaking any course records.
Except one: with his last putt at the 18th hole on Sunday, Gary Player became the first non-American to win the Masters tournament. He wasn’t the first to play, but he was the first to break through. 27 years after it’s inception, the Masters became truly international.
8. (1986) Greg Norman pushes himself out
Greg Norman is considered by most to be not only one of the greatest pure ball strikers in the history of golf, but also one of the best to never win the Masters. It wasn’t for lack of effort, mind you: Norman was close plenty of times, but just couldn’t seem to seal the deal.
One of those moments came in 1986. Norman started the final day of the tournament tied for the lead with Seve Ballesteros, but a double bogey on the 10th hole dropped him out of the top spot. Never one to give up, Norman plugged along and put himself back in a tie for first with a birdie on 17.
But it wasn’t to be: after a fabulous tee shot Norman pushed his approach wide and into the gallery, causing him to make bogey on the 18th when all he needed was a par to force a playoff.
7. (1987) Larry Mize: From caddy shack to Green Jacket
Okay, maybe not the caddyshack, but the scorekeepers shack at least.
Mize first appeared at Augusta National as a teenager working the scoreboard on the third hole. By 1987 he had been on the PGA Tour for 7 years, exhibiting solid play but limited success. Then came the Masters.
Locked in a three-way tie for the lead after 72 holes, Mize went on to make one of the most memorable shots in Masters History. After knocking Seve Ballesteros out on the first hole of extra play, Mize and his opponent moved on to the 11th hole. A wayward tee shot left Mize 46 yards off of the putting surface and all hope seemed to be lost.
Apparently hope had other plans. From 46 yards out, with a sand wedge, Mize hit a beautiful shot that went in for birdie. His opponent missed his birdie attempt, and just like that Larry Mize won his first, and ONLY, major championship.
Oh, his opponent? Greg Norman.
6. (1960) Arnold Palmer: last second shots for the win
You knew when Arnold Palmer was on the charge: Arnie’s Army let the whole world know.
Such was the case in 1960. Two years removed from his last Masters victory, Palmer was late into Sunday’s round and trailed Ken Venturi by two shots. After surviving Amen Corner, Palmer steeled himself for the final stretch and went birdie-birdie on 17 and 18, snatching the victory from Venturi by one stroke.
Palmer would go on to win the Masters again in 1962 and 1964, but none had a finish quite like his final round in 1960.
5. (2004) Phil Mickelson: Lefty finally breaks through
Yet another golfer heralded as “Best not to win the Masters”, Phil Mickelson broke with tradition and proved to the world that you CAN have success playing on the wrong side of the ball. Strangely enough, he’s actually right-handed.
Mickelson attacks courses with a combination of power and incredible finesse; very few golfers exist who have his touch around the greens. And that touch was crucial in 2004, the year he FINALLY broke through.
The final round of the 2004 Masters was a slugfest between two of the games big hitters: Mickelson and South African Ernie Els. Back and forth all day long they traded the lead, throwing eagles and birdies at each other like nobody’s business.
The most important one came on 18. Mickelson lined up an 18 footer on the 18th hole and sank it for birdie, giving him his first major victory. He would follow his performance two years later by wining the Masters again, making him one of the few players to win more than one Masters tournament.
4. (1996) Greg Norman: Monumental collapse
Greg Norman’s collapse in the last round of the 1996 Masters goes down in history as one of the worst chokes ever. Leading by six strokes headed into Sunday, all Norman needed was a decent round of golf and he would walk out of Augusta with the privilege of eating dinner in the champion’s lounge for the rest of his golfing career at Augusta National.
Apparently he enjoys eating with the “little people”.
In one of the worst meltdowns ever seen, Norman’s lead had completely disappeared by the 12th hole, allowing Nick Faldo to assume the lead. Norman tried to stage a comeback, but the 16th hole would be the end of it. Norman duck hooked his tee shot into the water, ending any hope of a comeback, and solidifying his place in history.
Although he won twice that year, Norman was never able to return to the form that had once propelled him to No. 1 in the golfing world.
3. (1965) Jack Nicklaus: Playing a new game
Jack Nicklaus was the alter ego to Arnold Palmer: where Palmer was fit and chiseled, Nicklaus was pudgy and moon-faced. Where Palmer was a charismatic personality, Nicklaus was more subdued. Where Palmer would sometimes attack a course, Nicklaus was methodical and certain of his shots.
This seemed to change in 1965 at the Masters. Shot after shot, Nicklaus wowed the galleries with beautiful drives, finesse shots around the greens, and rock solid putting throughout the tournament. When all was said and done, “The Golden Bear” had posted a winning score of 271: a record score that would stand for 32 years, which prompted the great Bobby Jones to opine that Nicklaus played “a game with which i am not familiar”.
2. (1997) Eldrick “Tiger” Woods: Hello, World
This was the phrase in 1996 that heralded the beginning of one of the greatest golf careers to date. After winning both the PGA Rookie of the year and the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the year honors in 1996, Tiger was poised to take the golf world by storm in 1997.
At the Masters in April, Tiger started off on an average pace, shooting a 1-under 70. What followed were three consecutive rounds under 70 which, as the last putt fell and the roar from the crowd was matched only be the intensity of the now infamous fist-pump, gave Woods an 18-under par 270, breaking the record that his idol, Jack Nicklaus, had set seven years before Woods was born.
Not only did Tiger break the overall record, he also won by the biggest margin ever (12 strokes), became the youngest player to ever win the Masters (21 years, three monhs, and 14 days old), and became the first non-white person to win at Augusta.
1. (1986) Jack Nicklaus: Swan Song for the Golden Bear
Poor Greg Norman. Even when he didn’t collapse, there seemed to be someone there in the wings to overtake him.
Such was the case in 1986, when Norman played himself out, then back in, then back out of contention for the Masters title. Of course, in 1986 that someone in the wings was none other than Jack Nicklaus.
At the age of 46, Jack Nicklaus was in the twilight of his professional competitive career when he came alive on the back nine on Sunday. As Norman faded, Nicklaus rose: following a front nine 35, “The Golden Bear” turned in an amazing back nine 30, including going eagle-birdie-birdie on 15, 16, and 17. After finishing his round with a par on 18, he waited, probably impatiently, to clinch his 18th and final major and become the oldest player to ever win at Augusta.
And with that, folks, we conclude this journey through Masters history. If I missed your favorite, by all means tell me about it. If you disagree, tell me why. If you simply wish to add an honorable mention, then as always, the comment section is open.