The Masters

Big Memories. Little Memories. Best Memories.

It turns out that what happens behind the scenes at Augusta leaves an impression that lasts a lifetime

April 2012

Most of us select our most cherished Masters moments from the highlight reel, our favorites emerging from scenes of historic back-nine charges and collapses, spectacular shots and celebrations on the 18th green. For the players, the palette of experiences is softer, more varied and, often as not, an event that happens outside the main competition. Only the Masters, with its Par-3 Contest, Champions Dinner, honorary-starter ceremony and unique practice rounds, presents so many opportunities for special memories.

I played in the 1980 Masters as a result of winning the U.S. Amateur in 1979. I played with Fuzzy Zoeller, the defending champion, the first day. I was extremely nervous and didn't play very well. On the par-4 11th hole, I sniped my second shot to the left with a 4-wood. My ball took Andy North's name off the leader board near the pond there. After a penalty drop, I chunked my next shot into the water. I ended up making an 18-footer for triple-bogey 7. Fuzzy, meanwhile, made a birdie 3. I was feeling pretty low as we walked to the 12th tee. Fuzzy being Fuzzy, he said, "Look, you just made a 7, and I made a 3. Added together, that's 10. Divide by 2, and now you've got 5. Regardless of what the scorecard says, par on that hole ought to be 5. So together, we made par. Don't worry about it."

When I started playing in the Masters, in 1988, they re-paired after the first round. That year, as U.S. Amateur champion, I played the first round with Larry Mize, the defending Masters champion. That night, when I phoned for my time on Friday, a woman said, "You'll be teeing off at 8:35 a.m. with Mr. Palmer." That I remember my tee time shows what a big deal it was to me. Arnold didn't play very well, but he was so gracious. On the 18th hole, he was on the left side of the fairway, and I was on the right. When I looked over, Arnold was waving me over. "Right here," he said, pointing to a spot just short of the fairway bunker. "Right here." And he proceeded to tell me about his getting distracted at that spot in 1961, when he had a one-stroke lead over Gary Player. And how he hit a poor second shot into the greenside bunker and made a double bogey to lose by one. "I think about that mistake every time I stand on the 18th tee," Arnold said. "Don't ever do what I did." After the round, Arnold signed a cap for me. I put a pin from that Masters on the cap. Every year I played I put a new pin on it. That cap Arnold signed for me has 12 pins on it.

I met Clifford Roberts in Puerto Rico when he made a visit there in 1959. He pointed to me and asked Ed Dudley, "Can this little man play?" Ed said, "Yeah, he can play." Mr. Roberts said to me, "How would you like to play in the Masters?" I said, "But Mr. Roberts, I've never won anything." He said, "I hereby declare you the champion of Puerto Rico. You're playing." And that's how I got invited to my first Masters.


Lee elder arrives for his first practice round
at Augusta, in 1975. Photo: AP

I earned my invitation to the Masters by winning the Monsanto Open the week after the 1974 Masters. That was an awfully long year leading up to the 1975 Masters. No black man had qualified to play until then. Before the tournament, I anticipated having a lot of problems around the club, problems with the gallery and problems with the people of Augusta. That was not the case. My party and I were received very well, I think because it was now a dead issue. Driving up Magnolia Lane was an incredible thrill, and in fact I was shaking more than when I actually went off the first tee on Thursday. The first person to meet my automobile at the gate was Clifford Roberts, who gave me a warm welcome. That certainly was something I hadn't expected.

For four years I had been trying to get a date with a beautiful girl named Marci, to no avail. She lived in Las Vegas, and I would always look her up when I came to town. Marci knew very little about golf and was not impressed by me being a tour player. Her dad, who I was friends with, kept telling me, "Be patient." Finally, in 1993, I pulled out the stops and asked Marci if she'd like to go to the Masters with me as my date. She said, "What is the Masters?" I said, "It's sort of the Kentucky Derby of golf." That convinced her. We had a great week. We hit all the hot spots--Hooters for dinner and Krispy Kreme in the mornings. I made the cut in the tournament, and the whole experience kind of blew her away. When the week was over and I had to head for Hilton Head and the next tournament, Marci cried because she wanted to go with me instead of back home to Las Vegas. Marci and I wound up getting married. We've been together ever since. The Masters was one heck of a first date.

fred couples AT THE MASTERS

Fred Couples, in his first masters, in 1983, couldn't
keep up with a fast-walking Jack Nicklaus.
Photo: Augusta National/Getty

My first couple of years as a pro, we played in threesomes on the PGA Tour, and I got used to that pretty fast. It didn't matter what the pairings were or who I played with, I always felt relaxed and played my own game. But in my first Masters, in 1983, I played in a twosome with Jack Nicklaus. He about walked me to death. I couldn't keep up with him. Jack was the fastest walker ever. I'd get to my ball, and Jack would already be at his ball, arms folded, waiting for me to hit. He couldn't have been nicer and was just doing his thing, but Jack being who he is at Augusta, I felt this weird pressure to move at his pace between shots. I just couldn't find my rhythm. I'm not very good when I feel rushed. I played OK but could have done better. The fact there were things that could catch me by surprise really made an impression on me.

I always came into Augusta National on Monday morning. I'd spend the day chipping and putting, and then, at about 4 p.m., I'd play nine holes by myself. In the 1980s, most of the spectators were gone by late afternoon, and sometimes I was the only player out there. In 1986, I was getting ready to hit on No. 1 when who walked up but Sam Snead. He asked if he could join me, and for the next 2 hours he told stories nonstop. He gave so much detail about the famous exhibition matches he played against Bobby Locke in South Africa in 1946, and how Locke beat him 12 out of 16 times. It was just one story after another, and on the ninth hole he even outdrove me, a big thrill for Sam and for me, too. I shot 63 in the third round of that Masters, set the course record. But when I think of 1986, I think of my nine holes with Sam.

The first round of my first Masters, in 1993, I made the short walk from the practice putting green to the first tee with several minutes to spare. At the same time I was handed my scorecard, pin sheet and rules sheet, the starter announced, "Tom Lehman, now driving." I fumbled for my club, glove, ball and tee, scrambled to the tee and snapped it left into the trees. Andrew [caddie Andy Martinez] told me that it was still three minutes before my official time, so I asked the starter about it. He said, "Sir, at Augusta National, we like to be teed off by our starting times."

One year I lost my contestant's badge. It's one of the worst things a player can do. I went to the registration desk and got another one, but it wasn't easy. Fast-forward four or five years later. I get a package in the mail from an ordinary address in Augusta. Lo and behold, it's my badge. The owners of the house we'd stayed in wrote they'd found my badge while cleaning around their washing machine.

Subscribe to Golf Digest
Subscribe today