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Rookies to win the Masters

The story of the first ever Masters

Rewind 86 years for the remarkable tale of how Horton Smith won the first instalment of Bobby Jones’ new tournament in 1934
 

If the inaugural Augusta National Invitational Tournament was to be a success Bobby Jones would have to feature as a player. He didn’t especially want to do so, but the club’s co-founder Clifford Roberts was well aware of Jones’ draw – the US Open receipts from 1930, the year he captured the Grand Slam, were $23,382; the following year they almost halved to $12,700.

Jones was also in charge of invitations and, as such, all the great and good of the golfing world – the likes of Craig Wood, Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen and Horton Smith – assembled in Georgia in March 1934.

It wasn’t a major and there was no Green Jacket but there was plenty of interest thanks to Jones’ playing return.

Despite having retired four years earlier, he was installed as a 6-1 joint favourite with Paul Runyan, an in-form New York professional. Smith and Wood were rated 10-1 chances.

In the preliminary tune-up of a Scotch foursome, Jones partnered with Ross Somerville and the pair shot a best-ball 76. Jones missed no fewer than nine short putts.

On Thursday March 22, at 10.02am, Johnny Kinder struck the first shot in the tournament that would soon be known as the Masters.

It came from the 10th tee – not until the following year were the nines switched.

At 10.36am, Jones, the president of the club, got his comeback going alongside Runyan. Thousands were there to follow him, including Smith who wasn’t off until 1.41pm.

The Missourian was the last player to defeat Jones in a tournament, four years earlier at the Savannah Open, and he would watch the great man struggle further on the greens.

Smith shot a 70 for a share of the three-way lead, then led on his own by a shot after Friday and Saturday. None of which registered much with the press who focused solely on Jones. Smith’s efforts got not much more than a brief mention in the papers.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the majority of the 1,500 spectators followed Jones and Hagen on the Sunday. The president’s putting would improve and he eventually finished 10 shots back in a tie for 13th – a showing he reflected on with typical modesty.

“I hope to make the Augusta National tournament a fixture every year and I expect to play in this event next March,” he told Grantland Rice of the Spokesman. “I am sorry that I didn’t play better but I think that is unimportant.

“I am also glad that this idea of invincibility is shattered. The game still dominates the player and there is no-one even close to be being a superman. I know I am not. My short game broke up badly. I simply lost my putting stroke before the tournament started and this in turn affected my short pitching and chipping.”

At the business end of the tournament, Smith was reeled in by a closing 70 from Wood before a birdie from 12 feet at the 17th – now the 8th – regained the lead. In the end he would hole a downhill four-footer to become the first ever winner of what is now the Masters.

Smith repeated the victory two years later and left his mark on the club when he suggested moving the 7th green back and to the right, installing pines down the left-hand side to match those down the right and adding five bunkers around the green.

What was the weakest hole on the property quickly became a very precise approach and is still one of the more uncomfortable tee shots.

In 2013, Smith’s Green Jacket, size 43L, sold at auction. It was thought to be lost but was then discovered by a distant family member after hanging in a closet for decades. It went for close to $700,000.

Reminisce about classic tales from Augusta on our dedicated Masters website, in association with Titleist.

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Mark Townsend

Been watching and playing golf since the early 80s and generally still stuck in this period. Huge fan of all things Robert Rock, less so white belts. Handicap of 8, fragile mind and short game

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