Most of golf’s memories seem to come from The Masters. The other majors have had their drama. The Open Championship has the famous “Duel in the Sun” between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson and Van de Velde’s meltdown at Carnoustie. The U.S. Open has Ben Hogan’s one-iron at Merion, Arnold Palmer driving the green at Cherry Hills in 1960 and Watson’s chip in at seventeen at Pebble Beach. Golf aficionados all have their favorites.
But even the casual golf fan has their favorite Masters memories. Perhaps it’s because the tournament is the only Major played over the same venue for the past eighty-five editions, or maybe it’s the beautiful setting Augusta National presents for some of the toughest competition each year. No matter. Even non-sports fans can tell you something about The Masters.
“The azaleas’ in bloom,” my favorite non-sports fan said. “That shot on TV they show with the triple-arch bridge and the azaleas in the background. That’s really pretty.”
“Pimento cheese sandwiches,” was another favorite among the ‘non-golf’ crowd. That was a surprise. At what other event does something at the concession stand available for $1.50 make the ‘memories’ list? Hot Dogs at the Super Bowl? Beer at Daytona? Cracker Jack at the World Series? Hardly.
This weekend’s Masters’ broadcasts will be the highest rated golf telecasts of the year, by far. You could call it a rite of spring, especially for those who are in the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Mid-West where they’re more likely to see snow out the window than green grass.
“That’s for sure,” my friend ‘Keeter,’ who still lives up north told me. “When you see that green grass at Augusta, you know it’s the first week of April and The Masters.”
Among the sports crowd, and especially golf fans, there’s a definite split in their favorite Masters moment. For the plus fifty-five crowd, without exception they say, “Nicklaus in ’86.” Jack’s birdie putt on seventeen, punctuated by Verne Lundquist’s “Yes, sir!” call is a memory they can conjure up instantly.
For the under fifty-five crowd there’s a generational shift, as you might expect.
“Tiger in ’97,” is the answer my forty-nine-year-old friend ‘Pineapple’ instantly said when asked about his favorite Masters memory. “I was on my honeymoon in Hawaii with my first wife watching that. It really had a big effect on me. She wasn’t happy that I spent time watching TV.”
He mentioned later that might have been a hint why she was his first wife.
Checking with most of my over-55 friends, they can recite where they were when Jack made his charge and won in ’86. All had different moments that made a mark on their memory bank after that.
“I really liked it when Jordan Spieth won,” ‘Big Beef’ said recalling Spieth’s win in 2015 after a runner up finish the previous year. “Just the way he handled himself.”
Big Beef is a big sports fan and although he doesn’t play any longer, thoroughly enjoys watching golf. A player’s demeanor, winning or losing, makes a difference.
“He played the right way, did the right things,” he added. “He really confirmed to me what a gentleman I think he is. His dedication to his sister and his family, that really sticks in my mind.”
The “BQ” still plays a lot of golf, better than ever with a new knee. He quickly rattled off Jack’s victory in ’86 but followed that quickly with Larry Mize’s win in 1987.
“I happened to be at The Masters that year with you,” he recalled. “And the tension coming down the stretch with everybody there was amazing.”
Often forgotten about the ’87 finish is the fact that Mize had tied with Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros at -3 after seventy-two holes. Ballesteros missed a short putt on the first playoff hole to be eliminated in the sudden death playoff. Norman looked to have the advantage after he and Mize hit their approach shots on eleven. Then Mize famously chipped in from off the right of the green to take the Green Jacket.
“We didn’t walk down to ten or eleven for the playoff, so we saw Seve walking back up ten and knew he was out,” BQ explained. “We went over to the clubhouse and looked in the window to watch what happened on eleven. When Mize chipped in, the place erupted.”
Then he added, “But what was most memorable was that evening I got invited to play Augusta the next morning. And that’s a whole other story.”
My friend “Ghost of Chuck” and I also have attended The Masters a few times together. Ghost picked Tiger’s win in 1997 as his most memorable, but for a very different reason.
“April 14th is my wife’s birthday, and we were in Big Sur to celebrate that year,” he began. “We stopped in a little bar on the road to get something to eat and asked the bartender if we could watch The Masters. Turns out she was from England, moved to Haight-Ashbury in the sixties and was still a self-proclaimed ‘hippie’ now working in a bar. She said to us, “The Masters? What’s that?”
“I explained about the golf tournament and Tiger and she turned it on and really got into it. Then all of the sudden the power in the whole bar went out. And the bartender said, ‘We need to finish watching, come with me.’”
The three of them went outside, the bartender getting in, how Ghost described it, her ‘Magic Bus’ and said, ‘Follow me!’
“We started driving and my wife looked at me and asked, ‘What are we doing?’ I just said, ‘We’re going to watch The Masters!’ And we ended up at some guys’ house down the road and watched Tiger’s historic win. And that was different.”
I’ve been covering The Masters since 1979, missing only 1982 when my oldest daughter was born that weekend. Thirty-nine years ago, yesterday. I’ve got plenty of memories over those forty-two years and every one of them great. The most special are the times I’ve had the chance to take my family and friends to see Augusta National and The Masters as a place and a golf tournament. It’s a time, I hope, if they’re like me, they’ll never forget.