April 7, 2016


The Forgotten Story of ... the 1966 Masters (Scott Murray, 6 April 2016, The Guardian)

Arnold Palmer wasn't particularly happy with his short game. There were only a couple of days to go before the start of the 30th Masters Tournament, and he was already struggling to make his wedges and putter talk on glacial greens which were only going to get faster once the Augusta greenkeeper took one last wheel around the place on his mower.

So shortly after breakfast on Tuesday morning, Palmer set off in his personal twin-engine jet to Chattanooga, a couple of hundred miles away. He collected a new pitching wedge and a couple of putters, made some alterations to the wedge he was already using, and was back at Augusta National in time for coffee at elevenses. The most expensive club repair of all time? Probably. But certainly the most stylish. You have got to love Arnie.

The gentle whimsy of Palmer's 500mph groove-tweaking jaunt was, sad to say, not the sole aviation story that required reporting on the eve of the Masters. Tragedy struck the defending champion Jack Nicklaus hours before he was due to tee off, when he was told four close friends from his home town of Columbus, Ohio, including childhood playing partner Bob Barton, had been killed in a plane crash en route to Augusta. "I'm heart sick," whispered a crestfallen Nicklaus. "Bob and I grew up together. We started playing golf together. I've lost a great friend." Still, the show had to go on, and he made an earnest promise: "This tragedy has made me much more determined in what I hope to do this week."

As ever at Augusta, the stars of yesteryear were in attendance. Here's the legendary Guardian writer Pat Ward-Thomas, with a contemporaneous roll call of "the old masters whose golf down the generations has given the occasion its stature ... the imperishable spirit of Bob Jones has overcome his grievous affliction and he is in his cottage across the way by the last green ... the ageless Gene Sarazen ... Craig Wood, so youthful looking and handsome that it is hard to believe he tied for the Open at St Andrews more than 30 years ago ... the great Byron Nelson who this afternoon was presented with a replica of the Ryder Cup by his team ... Jimmy Demaret, Cary Middlecoff, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan, the mightiest of all, the shots pure as the light still gleaming from his clubs. His presence is no sentimental gesture."

Ward-Thomas had that damn straight. "I am not here for sentimental reasons," confirmed the 53-year-old, nine-time major winning, two-time Augusta-taming Iceman. "I am here to win."

Also raging against the dying of the light, albeit in a more gentle form, were the 1908 US Open champion Fred McLeod and Jock Hutchinson, winner of the Open Championship in 1921, the first American to do so, albeit a naturalised one, born and raised in St Andrews. (Amazingly, that Open win was very nearly not Hutchinson's most notable feat that year. During his march to the Championship, he came breathtakingly close to recording two hole in ones in a row, having aced the 8th before hitting his drive at the short par-four 9th to a couple of inches. But we digress.)

McLeod and Hutchinson, octogenarians both, creamed ceremonial opening drives down Tea Olive, then played the front nine for stakes of a beer a hole.

With the 1966 Masters under way, the grieving but steel-willed Nicklaus took early control.

Posted by at April 7, 2016 7:45 PM