Heroes of the Masters Golf Tournament
More than any other major championship, the Masters Tournament cherishes and celebrates its champions.
Each April the champions return to Augusta National for the annual Champions Dinner—one of the most elite gatherings in sports—to catch up with old friends, maybe play a little golf, and happily peel back the gauze of time and savor very special memories. While each champion is accorded respectful treatment and consideration, those who have won multiple green jackets hold a special place in Augusta National’s pantheon. Here’s to the supreme champions.
Nicklaus’s first Masters victory came in 1963 and he followed it two years later by shooting a tournament record 271 which led Jones to say, “Jack Nicklaus is playing an entirely different game, and one which I'm not even familiar with.” A lot of other players had the same feeling. Nicklaus came back the following year and became the first player to successfully defend his title. In his 1966 victory he beat Bruce Crampton by three strokes and was the only player to shoot four sub-par rounds en route to becoming just the third wire-to-wire winner. His win in 1975 was one for the ages, as he became the first five-time champion by edging Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf by a stroke, thanks in large part to a dramatic 40-foot birdie putt on No.16. Finally, he picked up his sixth green jacket in 1986 when, at age 46, he shot a final-round 68 with his oldest son, Jackie, on his bag. It was an incredibly popular and emotional victory. Later, CBS golf analyst Ken Venturi told Jim Nantz, who had just finished his first Masters telecast, “Jimmy, you may be lucky enough to broadcast 50 Masters,” Venturi said. “But you’ll never live to see a greater one than the one you saw today.”
Arnold Palmer became the first player to win four green jackets, making Augusta National the stage for some of his greatest performances. He loved Augusta and Augusta loved him. That he burst into prominence at the same time television was just starting to exercise its influence on the game’s popularity was serendipitous. He brought a level of joy and excitement to the game that had seldom—if ever—been seen before.
His first three victories were hard-won affairs. In 1958 he edged defending champion Doug Ford and Fred Hawkins by a stroke. Two years later he birdied the final two holes to nick Ken Venturi by one. In 1962 he beat Gary Player and Dow Finsterwald in a playoff. Finally, in 1964 he caught something of a breather when he beat Nicklaus and Dave Marr by a comfortable six strokes. As he and Marr stood on the 18th tee, Palmer asked Marr if there was anything he could do to help. “Sure Arnold,” Marr said. “make a 12.”
In 1996, when he was still an amateur—one of the greatest in history—Tiger Woods played a practice round at Augusta with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. When they finished, Nicklaus told writers that someday Woods would win more green jackets than he and Palmer combined. With four victories, he’s made a pretty good start. Woods’s first win came in 1997, when he crushed the field, winning by 12 strokes. He broke Jack Nicklaus’s 72-hole scoring record set in 1965 by a stroke and became the youngest Masters champion in history in just his third start at Augusta. When he putted out on 18, CBS anchor Jim Nantz said, simply yet dramatically, “There it is, a win for the ages.” Woods won again in 2001, beating David Duval by two strokes and then successfully defended his title with a three-stroke win over South Africa’s Retief Goosen. His fourth win came in 2005 when he beat Chris DiMarco in a playoff.
Will he win more green jackets than Nicklaus and Palmer combined? One thing is certain: it will be fun to watch him try.
Jimmy Demaret was the first player to win three green jackets and, like Arnold Palmer, he had a ball doing it. He was alternately known as “Sunny” or “Colorful” Jimmy Demaret and either adjective suited him just fine. In an era of blues, grays and tweeds, his wardrobe was a fashion kaleidoscope. One evening at a cocktail party, a woman asked him how he developed his sense of fashion.
“My daddy was a painter down in Houston,” he said.
“Portraits or landscapes?” she asked.
“Houses,” he said. “But he was the Michelangelo of housepainters.”
He was beautiful…and he was also a helluva player.
In 1940 he beat the formidable Lloyd Mangrum by four strokes. In 1947 he edged Byron Nelson and the amateur Frank Stranahan by two. In 1950 he also beat Jim Ferrier by two. To get some sense of how good the competition was in those days, Sam Snead won in 1949, ’52 and ’54 while Ben Hogan won in 1951 and ’53.
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Demaret’s skills as a shotmaker were often overlooked but one person who knew just how good he really was knew a little something about the art himself—Ben Hogan.
“Jimmy Demaret taught me an awful lot of shots,” he explained. “I would have learned them eventually but Jimmy already knew them.”
High praise from the master.
Samuel Jackson Snead will indelibly be linked with the Masters Tournament. Not only did he win three green jackets but he came second twice. Perhaps just as important was the fact that coming from Hot Springs, Virginia, he was incredibly popular throughout the south at a time when many of the tournament’s patrons drove to Augusta.
“The Slammer” won the 1949 Masters by three strokes over Johnny Bulla and Lloyd Mangrum. He beat Jack Burke, Jr. by four in 1952 but it was the 1954 Masters that remains the stuff of legends. He and his great rival, Ben Hogan, met in an 18-hole playoff that featured the two best players in the game. Snead went on to win, 70-71 in what Bobby Jones described as the “greatest Masters I’ve ever seen.” Almost until the time of his death in 2002 he could describe every shot both he and Hogan hit.
“It always felt good to win a tournament, especially one of the big ones,” Snead said. “But it always felt special if you could beat Ben because it meant you beat one of the best.”
Bob Jones always wanted the Masters Tournament to symbolize the international nature of the game. To that end, from the beginning of the tournament invitations were sent to the best international players, both professional and amateur.
Jones was delighted, then, when in 1961 South Africa’s Gary Player became the first international champion when he edged amateur Charlie Coe and Arnold Palmer by a stroke. Player’s remarkable career (he was just the second player to complete the professional “Grand Slam” and won nine major championships and six Champions Tour majors) was truly a triumph of the will. He practiced like a dervish. He was fanatical about fitness at a time when many players avoided lifting anything heavier than a can of Bud. When it came to sheer determination and a will to win, he was unmatched. He might have been—pound for pound—the greatest player who ever lived.
Gary Player won his second Masters in 1974 by beating Tom Weiskopf and Dave Stockton by two strokes, but it was his victory in 1978 that was surely the most inspirational. Paired with a young Seve Ballesteros from Spain, Player shot a final-round 64 to beat Rod Funseth, Hubert Green and Tom Watson by a stroke. After Player putted out on 18, Ballesteros embraced him with tears in his eyes.
“Today, you teach me how to win the Masters,” he said. He would win two.
Throughout his career, Gary Player taught a lot of people a lot of lessons—and not just about golf.
England’s Nick Faldo (or Sir Nick if you want to be oh-so-correct about the whole thing) brought a steely determination and a fierce work ethic to championship golf and the result was three Masters and three British Open victories. Faldo’s first green jacket came in 1989 when he beat Scott Hoch in a playoff. He successfully defended his title the following year when he again won in a playoff, this time over 1976 champion Raymond Floyd. But his most dramatic victory came in 1996. He began the final round six strokes behind Australia’s Greg Norman and then watched as his playing companion suffered one of the most comprehensive and painful collapses in the history of the majors. Norman struggled to an almost–unbelievable 78 while Faldo was icily impeccable, posting a 67 to win by five strokes. It was a remarkable triumph for Faldo and a testimonial to his skill, patience and mental toughness. For Norman it was another crushing defeat—perhaps the most devastating of all.
If there ever was a golf course that seemed ideally suited to Phil Mickelson’s game, it is Augusta National. The course rewards length and power (check); a skillful and imaginative short game (check); courageous shotmaking (check); and a certain amount of daring (check and double check). The result is three green jackets. Mickelson won his first Masters in 2004 by beating South Africa’s Ernie Els by a stroke. He won again in 2006, edging another South African, Tim Clark by two. But it was his 2010 victory that might have been the most dramatic, since it came a year after both his wife, Amy, and his mother were diagnosed with breast cancer. The key moment in the final round came on the par-5 13th when he drove into the trees on the right. Conventional wisdom dictated that he pitch safely back into the fairway but Phil Mickelson is scarcely conventional. He spotted a small opening in the trees and squeezed a 207-yard 6-iron to four feet. He made a birdie and kept him momentum alive. When he was greeted by his wife on the 18th green, there weren’t a lot of dry eyes in the place.
Eight players have won the Masters Tournament twice. Interestingly, they are all members of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Jose Maria Olazabal