A day to remember at the 1988 Masters
One of the first things I did when I landed the job as Travel Editor of GOLF Magazine in October, 1987 was arrange to attend the Masters the following spring. My boss hemmed and hawed. He said the only way I could attend the storied event as an accredited media member would be to impersonate the Equipment Editor, who would be leaving on Wednesday after the Par 3 Contest. This was back in the days when the media credential was a round green metal button with a name on the front and a pin on the back. No heavy security, no photo ID. I said OK.
Like everyone who goes to Augusta for the first time, I was struck by the scale of the place, its reserve and perfection, and the discreet peek it offered into the upper echelons of Southern society. After walking the course the morning of the first round, I decided to explore the upstairs portion of the clubhouse. There in the Champions locker room, reserved for past winners of the Masters, was 1982 winner Craig Stadler. He sat alone on a bench, reading a newspaper by sunlight on his crossed leg. I wandered to the front of the building, to the verandah that nearly juts into the canopy of the great oak on the back lawn. There to my left sat Gene Sarazen, resplendent in his plus fours and two-tone spectator shoes. He was talking to Ken Venturi, who was leaning up against the rail, smoking a cigarette, and giggling. They seemed to be laughing about something that happened a long time ago. Walter Hagen’s name came up a few times.
Around noon, I ran into Ron Riemer, one of the magazine’s top ad guys. He invited me to join him for lunch in the Men’s Grill—with his pal Tom Weiskopf. Weiskopf was and probably still is smarting from his four runner-up finishes in the Masters. Thankfully, he has embarked on a design career which seems to bring him more happiness than competitive golf ever did. And yet the rancor endures. “You should see this f…… place when it’s off season, when they’re not getting ready for the Masters,” Tom said in his flat Ohio accent. I patted my lips with a green napkin and took another bite of my $3.25 chicken salad sandwich.
During lunch, I was struck by the number of players who entered the room, how buoyant they seemed, and how pleased they were to be competing in the season’s first major at the ultimate gentleman’s club. Curtis Strange, in his bright red pants, then the world’s top-rated player, grinning from ear-to-ear. He would win the U.S. Open later in the season. Greg Norman, his magnetism palpable the moment he appeared, shaking hands and kidding around with his Aussie pals. Fit and tanned, he looked like a champion surfer. Everyone figured he would win a closetful of green jackets when all was said and done.
After hiking the verdant layout’s hills until mid-afternoon, and after spending a considerable amount of time at the par-five 13th hole to absorb the perfection of its setting–banked fairway, serpentine creek, sloping green framed by flowers and pines–I started searching around for my fellow editors. There were none to be found. It turned out the boss was an early bird. He arrived early and left early. The last car had already departed for the rented house in the distant Augusta suburbs. I was stuck.
I wandered out into the grassy parking lot and ran into Dick Taylor, the late golf scribe and a fixture in Southern golf circles. I related my predicament. “Well, Brian, I’m not going that direction, but let me introduce you to my friend the Colonel. He’s right here.” We walked up the center row of cars to a pearl white Coupe de Ville with the trunk open. There were 10 or 15 people standing around the car. Dick introduced me to the Colonel, told him I needed a ride home. “Have a beer, son. We’ll get to that later,” he said in a booming voice. Deep in the trunk was a case of Bud on ice. I helped myself.
When the case ran dry, and when most of the cars in the lot were gone, the Colonel told me to hop in the car. I did as told. Our first stop was The Green Jacket, a popular restaurant and watering hole that did brisk business during Masters week. As we approached the porte-cochere, the Colonel jammed on the brakes. “Hey, Squire!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. Sure enough, the dapper Sarazen was making his way to the entrance. He stopped and turned. The Colonel leaped out of the car and ran to the old pro like a 36-handicapper in desperate need of a swing fix. Even from 60 feet away, I could see Sarazen looking at my new friend quizzically, nodding his head, smiling his wry smile, and pretending to remember that the Colonel was one of the first to congratulate him on his epic double eagle in 1935. The grin on the Colonel’s face as he reapproached the car was worth the whole trip.
The Squire tees off as a ceremonial starter