Dan JenkinsJune 25, 2008

Dan Jenkins: The first Masters I covered

Ben Hogan
Augusta NationalBen Hogan during the 1951 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

So there I was at my first Masters in 1951 -- the first of 56 in a row, as it happens -- and after being overwhelmed by the enormous size of the course, I couldn't wait to go running around looking for Henry Picard to see if he was still playing golf in a starched shirt and necktie.

Back then Augusta was the only place where you could see a lot of the legends, thanks to Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts.

If there were no Ben Hogans and Sam Sneads around at the other tour stops in those days, you were left to make your own fun with the Marty Furgols, Chandler Harpers and Jerry Barbers of the world.

But Augusta gave you nostalgia along with the thrills.

Like most normal humans on their initial visit to the "cathedral of pines," I was immediately struck not only by the corridors of towering pines but also by the bigness of the place and the botanical wonders.

Biggest and greenest fairways I'd ever seen. Biggest and greenest greens. Biggest and greenest trees. Whitest sand. Yellowest and reddest flowers. Bluest ponds.

The scenery is always impressive, of course, but there's nothing like the first time you see it. Especially when you encounter the 10th through the 13th holes -- Amen Corner as it would come to be known, courtesy of Herb Wind's quill. (I know Amen Corner is really the 11th through 13th, but I always include the 10th hole.)

The first time you soak in the beauty and dangerous options of those magnificent holes -- the greatest four-hole stretch in all of golf -- well, that's when you gasp the loudest, or blurt out something like, "Whoa, wow."

Excuse me. Did I just say "Whoa, wow"? Summon the nurse.

I was at the Masters in all those early years of the '50s to cover the tournament for The Fort Worth Press -- but primarily to report on everything Ben Hogan did, said and ate.

However, there was still plenty of time in a day to track down and watch other stars. See if they lived up to the fame and fortune and legendary status I'd attached to them from looking at newsreels and still photographs.

Gene Sarazen and Billy Burke turned out to be as easy to find as Henry Picard's starched shirt and necktie. Sarazen and Burke were the geezers in the knickers.

I say geezers because I was a mere college kid of 20 at the time, and they were practically 50 years old, for goodness' sake. Fifty was older in those days than it is now, of course. Medical science agrees with me on this.

The geezer Sarazen caused smotes on various foreheads that year as he finished in a tie for 12th in the tournament when he sculpted a 71 in the final 18 that was the second-lowest round of the day.

Other boyhood heroes were tracked down during the week. I made sure that Sam Snead was wearing a straw hat, that Horton Smith, "the Joplin jigger juggler," was still the thin man, that Lawson Little still wore his trademark white-duck trousers, that Jimmy Demaret was colorfully attired, that Lloyd Mangrum, "the riverboat gambler," had kept his mustache, that such famous oldies as Craig Wood, Denny Shute, Vic Ghezzi and Johnny Revolta still looked and swung as they were supposed to look and swing.

In the end it was a pleasure to report that Ben Hogan had kept his memory intact. Five years earlier he had lost the '46 Masters by a stroke to Herman Keiser by three-putting the last green.

He had taken an oath that if he were ever again in contention coming to the final hole, he would let a black-widow spider crawl inside his shirt before he would put his second shot on the green above the cup.

This time, needing a par for a 68 and no worse than a bogey 5 on the last hole to clinch the victory, Ben intentionally played short of the green with his approach shot, leaving himself a simple chip. Whereupon he delicately played it short of the flag and sank the putt for the win.

I remember it being one of the nicest things Hogan ever did for the press. He saved us from having to write about Skee Riegel.

EDITORS' NOTE: This first appeared in the April 2007 issue of Golf Digest


WATCH: GOLF DIGEST VIDEOS

Dan Jenkins: In His Own Words