You know, a trip to Augusta National wasn’t always the annual pilgrimage it has become today.
Dr Alister MacKenzie’s finest work was built during the depths of the Great Depression and, incredible as it might seem now, the club struggled to attract members.
Bobby Jones was persuaded out of retirement to give the first Masters some star quality. Except it wasn’t called the Masters back in 1934.
It was the Augusta National Invitational Tournament.
That competition only came about after the fledgling club failed to persuade the USGA to bring the US Open south and it’s said invitations were issued because chiefs were worried players might not turn up if they were asked directly.
In David Owen’s excellent book, The Making of the Masters, he also revealed initial intentions were to keep the field deliberately small so the club’s members could tee it up in the morning.
Owen also writes that to ensure spectators had places to sit, Augusta National’s chairman, Clifford Roberts, borrowed chairs from two local funeral homes.
Plenty of players declined their invitations, one of whom was Gene Sarazen – a golfing titan of the age.
Sarazen had won six majors by 1934 and initially indicated he would play before backing out late on to embark on an exhibition tour of South America.
Horton Smith won the inaugural Augusta tournament. Sarazen, whose other golfing achievements included inventing the sand wedge, regretted his decision greatly.
He made sure he was available 12 months later and one shot in the fourth round helped propel the tournament, and the course, into the juggernaut it is today.
Coming to the par-5 15th, Sarazen trailed leader Craig Wood by three shots. With 235-yards left to the flag, the American launched a 4-wood at the target.
Never rising more than 30 feet off the ground, it carried the water hazard and skipped towards the hole.
The celebrated sportswriter OB Keeler wrote the ball: “bounded once – twice – and settled to a smooth roll, while the ripple of sound from the big gallery went sweeping into a crescendo – and then the tornado broke.”
Lovely words but it was the foremost voice of his generation, and a founding member of Augusta National to boot, Grantland Rice, who summed it up best.
He called it the ‘shot heard round the world’, cleverly alluding to the start of the American War of Independence in 1775.
An albatross, or a double eagle as the Americans frustratingly call it, is rare enough now. Back then, they were almost unheard of.
In fact, in the history of the Masters, there have only been four. The last was Louis Oosthuizen’s at the second hole in 2012.
After making up the deficit on Wood in one hole – and in such stunning fashion that the scorers receiving updates by telephone thought Sarazen’s effort referred to the par-3 16th – the two went toe-to-toe in a 36-hole play-off the next day.
It was an anti-climax. Sarazen won by five and picked up the last of his major wins.
But far more important was the effect it had on the fledgling tournament. It was suddenly vaulted into the public consciousness and has thrived ever since.
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