Interview: Larry Mize reflects on his incredible pitch and run in 1987
It is a shot to rival Tiger’s chip, Sarazen’s 4 wood or Bubba’s wedge. Lawrence Hogan Mize’s pitch-in on the 11th green of the 1987 Masters left Greg Norman stunned and allowed this humble Augusta native to claim a Green Jacket.
It was his fourth time as a Masters competitor, but he had looked across the property for many years as a youngster growing up nearby. He began his 1987 tournament as one of eight players to go under par on a wind-swept first day and followed it with two 72s to trail co-leaders Ben Crenshaw and Roger Maltbie by two after 54 holes.
Mize was tied for the lead going to the par-5 15th and after a fine drive fired a 6 iron 190 yards into the pond next to the 16th tee. Mize took bogey, to move one behind Crenshaw.
He made par at the next two holes before striping a drive down the last and knocking his approach to five feet. He trickled his putt home and, after Seve Ballesteros joined him on a three-under 28 total, Norman narrowly missed with a 20ft birdie putt to win. So it was a play-off. Ballesteros three putted the 10th green and when the Australian found the 11th green and his opponent missed it right, he looked set for his first Green Jacket…
I think I appreciate winning the Masters even more with every day.
As you get older, you look back with ever-growing fondness about the things you have achieved over the course of your career.
Clearly, that was my greatest moment. Even now over 25 years later, it’s hard to believe it happened in fact.
As a local boy, it was even more special to me. Growing up in the shadow of Augusta National and the Masters Tournament, going there as a kid it was a dream just to play in the tournament and then to win was just unbelievable.
It is clearly special to win the Masters for any player but it was probably just that bit more special for me, being local and having been there to watch as a kid.
Tickets back in the ‘60s and ‘70s weren’t as hard to come by as they are today so my dad was able to get some and we went along. It was just an amazing place for a young boy to go to. There are drool marks on the fence round Augusta where I used to look over and dream of playing.
Then at the age of 13 (in 1973) I worked on the scoreboard on the 3rd hole. And to think, that week I thought it couldn’t get any better than that! Then we moved away to Columbus and I had to start watching the tournament on television instead.
Jack was my favourite player and when I went to the Masters as a young boy I loved going to the range and watching him hit ball after ball.
I enjoyed watching them all in truth – it was a real education and it opened my eyes about how good you needed to be to compete at that level.
In 1973 when Tommy Aaron won by catching Peter Oosterhuis and holding off JC Snead, I was sitting there with headphones on in the rain trying to make out the scores coming in to me.
It was tough work and I was nervous in case I got something wrong, but it was real fun. I was like a kid in a candy store.
Spectating at Augusta was great, working there was even better – and then I got the opportunity to play in the tournament.
I made my debut in 1984 and finished 11th. I was pretty pleased with that. As we all know, rookies don’t usually go very well at Augusta National.
I made the cut the following year but was never in contention and then finished 16th in 1986 when Jack won. It was special just to be on the course that final day.
I was still smarting from not going on to win the Players Championship from a good position and nearly missed the cut after rounds of 75 and 74. I improved slightly in the third round with 72, then posted my first round under 70 at Augusta with a closing 65, the day’s joint lowest score, alongside Jack. It was very important – that 16th place got me an invitation for the following year’s Masters. So, I knew I could play the course and I started to feel comfortable at that level; I made the cut in all four Majors that year.
I started nicely in 1987 with a 70 and followed with two 72s. I was two off the lead after 54 holes. I played well on Sunday to get into the play-off, but I knew I was an outsider going into it. I was up against two legends of the game.
However, I went in confident from the standpoint of playing 72 holes and they hadn’t beaten me. I had also just birdied the last to get to the extra holes.
So I was focused on my game and I was just telling myself to keep playing. You can’t go out there thinking ‘oh my gosh I am playing two
There are drool marks on the fence round Augusta where I used to look over and dream of playing. When Seve bogeyed the 10th it was surprised – and I was just thinking ‘my odds are getting better!’.
Greg is a great and I still had my hands full but I knew I only had one to beat. And it worked out well on 11 for me…
It was a difficult chip, for sure, but I knew I just had to put it on the green and give myself a makeable putt to put a bit of pressure on Greg, who had a long birdie putt across the green.
So I just wanted to make a good aggressive shot… and thankfully the hole got in the way of it. If it hadn’t hit the hole, I thought it might end up eight feet away. Norman thought it would be four feet away. I would have had a very makeable putt for par, that’s for sure.
It was certainly the best shot I’ve ever hit – how could you beat that?! I was elated and, as everyone saw, my caddy and I got very excited.
One of the lasting bonuses of that shot is that I get to go back every April and attend the Champions Dinner. It is a really, really fun night and I look forward to that every year. It’s full of great champions and I always enjoy it. I enjoy going back and playing the course every April too – it is always a privilege.
The course had to change to take into account the way people hit the ball these days. OK, one or two might be a bit severe, but it is still playable. It is still playable even for me – I just have to play well enough.
It was something they needed to do but maybe on the likes of 7 and 18 they could have not lengthened it quite as much.
There is still a premium on your short game but I’ve always thought your irons are the key; look at the guys who have won there – Bernhard, Jack, Seve – they are usually good iron players.
If you can’t control your irons you won’t put your ball in the right parts of the green and if you don’t do that you will have great trouble two putting. It used to be a fairly easy driving course as Major venues go but it is so much harder these days. The fairways used to be soft and quite open but it is a harder driving course now.
The 13th has always been one of my favourite holes.
It is a great par 5, a brilliant driving hole and with all the dogwoods and azaleas it is a real pretty one too. It is just a beautiful hole.