How Gene Sarazen left his mark on Masters history
8th April 1935
Augusta National Golf Club, Georgia, United States.
Gene Sarazen missed the first Augusta National Invitational – it became the Masters Tournament in 1939 – as he had been playing on a worldwide exhibition tour.
Sarazen arrived in Georgia having not seen the course and with the further handicap of a new putter, the wand that had won him three of his first six Majors having recently been stolen.
Nevertheless the diminutive New Yorker opened with rounds of 68 and 71 to sit in a share of second, four behind the unfortunate Henry Picard.
On day three it was Picard’s bad luck to have a club going walkabouts. The American, who hadn’t dropped a shot in 38 holes, found himself in a greenside bunker at the 3rd.
Requesting his sand wedge it soon became apparent that it hadn’t made the trip from the clubhouse as an admirer of the club had removed it and forgotten to put it back.
Rattled, he then dropped four shots in three holes and didn’t threaten again that week. Three years later Picard would claim his only Masters victory.
In his place at the top of the leaderboard stepped Craig Wood, a 68 taking him to -7 with Sarazen three back. This was before the days of leaders playing with leaders and Wood set off four holes ahead of Sarazen.
The Squire would be paired with Walter Hagen, somebody he clashed with on the course due to their differing personalities and their day began with Hagen keeping his playing partner waiting on the 1st tee. “Somebody get Grandpa” yelled Sarazen before their round finally got under way.
In its inaugural year the front nine was played as the back nine and was switched by Bobby Jones primarily because of the morning sunshine which would clear the early frost and allow play to begin sooner.
Wood reached the turn in 39, missed a 20-inch putt at 10 but then picked up four birdies to finish on -6. The American, who had been pipped late on the previous year, headed to the clubhouse with his wife where they were persuaded to pose for pictures with the winner’s cheque.
Back at 14 Sarazen was scrambling for his par before finding himself nestled down in the grass to the right side of the 15th fairway. News had reached him of Wood’s four-round aggregate so laying up wasn’t an option. Nor, given the lie and the pond guarding the green 235 yards away in the distance, was to hit a 3 wood.
In his bag the 33-year-old had a new 4-wood, a Turfrider, designed to do just that. Jones had now made his way down from the clubhouse to watch the closing holes. For him the shot was magical: “His swing into the ball was so perfect and so free, one knew immediately that it was a gorgeous shot.”
Taking off on a low trajectory but rising to clear the water Sarazen began running after the shot. It hit the front of the green, bounced slightly left and then came the roars as it disappeared.
Sarazen would joke in later years that while 22,000 people claimed they had witnessed the shot, the true figure was more likely in double figures.
It took several repeated attempts over the telephone to relay the albatross – the first of 18 to date in the Majors – back to the scorer who thought the par-3 16th was being talked about.
The shot didn’t win Sarazen the tournament but, in fact, got him into the only Masters 36-hole play-off. In cold and damp conditions he won by five, making pars at the 15th both times.