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You can be assured that I will be glued to my television set this weekend for the final two rounds of the Masters at Augusta National. It’s still my favorite tournament, partly because of my first visit to the holy grail of golf back in 1972 when I was a golf writer with the Tulsa Tribune.
Since I had been with the Abilene Reporter-News the previous year when Charles Coody surprised a lot of folks by winning the title by two strokes over Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller, I some how convinced the sports editor to allow me to get credentials.
Since the baseball writer was also going to Florida, I hitched a ride with him in the newspaper’s airplane. My first time in a small plane, so I was a little scared, but wasn’t about to pass up that chance.
My memory has faded a little, but I do remember writing my column and saying that it was hard for pictures and even words to do justice to that first trip down Magnolia Lane to the Augusta clubhouse. You have to experience it to really believe just how beautiful the emerald fairways and greens look with all the botanical wonders blooming in dazzling colors. It was very special to a young man from Texas.
Being in the same press room with all the top writers in the country also got me dreaming that one day I would be joining them. Jumping ahead, it didn’t take long as I was hired by Golf Digest 15 months later after writing a feature about one of the golf professionals in Tulsa for its Golf Shop Operations Magazine.
While I wished I had saved the other stories that I wrote that week, I do recall that Jack Nicklaus led wire-to-wire despite being over par on both weekend rounds, finishing three strokes ahead of Bruce Crampton, Bobby Mitchell and Tom Weiskopf. Not much drama like some of the recent Masters has provided.
One of the highlights for me was having my name drawn as one of the media who got a chance to play the course Monday morning with the same tees and pin placements from Sunday’s round.
I had been making a habit of shooting in the 70s on some of the best courses in Tulsa and my goal was to do it at Augusta. I just needed a par on the 18th to accomplish this. After driving into the fairway, I pulled my approach to the left of the green. If that had happened in the tournament, the fans would have stopped it from rolling away from the green. No fans that morning. That’s when the baseball writer approached and said the pilot wants to leave right now because of storms. He already had my luggage and briefcase in the car. So I never got the chance to finish the round.
Even after almost 50 years later, I do recall how excited I was when I hit my approach over the water and on the green on the 12th, making a par. After a good drive on the next hole, I decided to go for the green with my 3-wood , but ended up in the high grass near the creek. I did manage to get up and down for another par, making a tricky four-footer. After another good drive on the 15th, I never had a doubt about my second shot, hitting an iron short of the water at what I hoped was about 90 yards from the green. My wedge shot stopped just four feet away and I made the birdie!
I did return to Augusta two more times when I was working at Golf Digest, but just got to stay for the practice rounds since the publishers needed my press passes for the tournament. I really didn’t mind since the magazine had allowed me to play the previous weekend in the Golf Writers of America tournament in Myrtle Beach.
Guess I can do a little bragging. I won that event in 1975 and again in 1999, something I’m proud of.