The Masters And Amen Corner

| April 3, 2012 | 0 Comments

Masters week is here!  Once again, Augusta National will put its lofty reputation on the line.  Wednesday is Par Three day before the tournament begins on Thursday and concludes Sunday April 8, 2012.

The Masters is the most treasured tradition in US and international golfing circles.  What truly makes the Masters so special is that each year competitors play the same course.  And, each year the course engulfs players, caddies, balls and fans, all lured by the magical mystique that is the Masters.

In 1930, Bobby Jones managed to become the only player to capture the four Grand Slam tournaments in a single season.  At that time, the Grand Slam consisted of the US Amateur, the US Open, The British Open and the British Amateur.

Today, the Grand Slam season kicks off with the challenging Augusta National, the most treasured piece in Jones’s design resume. Jones was the quintessential competitor the game has ever known.  After winning the final leg of the US Amateur, he had to be protected from the throng by a platoon of Marines.

Masters - Bobby Jones

Masters - Bobby Jones

Prior to heading to Great Britain for the first Grand Slam event, Jones lost his first tune-up of the year before sweeping through the field in the Southeastern Open in Augusta.  His margin of victory was 13 strokes.

He arrived in England in time to lead the Americans in capturing the Walker Cup.  For his play, Jones was awarded the prestigious Golf Illustrated Gold Vase.  Bobby had played in his first national tournament at the tender age of 14.   The child prodigy and honors student did not win his first professional tournament until 1923.  He immediately became the man to beat.

By 1930, Jones had won just about every tournament except for the British Amateur.  He was focused for the year’s first Grand Slam leg.  The Amateur was staged at the Olde Course at St. Andrews, one of Bobby’s east favorite tournaments.  It is said that the year before he had left the course in the middle of a round in a “less than companionable mood.”

In 1930, Jones was up to the task. In the match play event, Jones snuck by a few close calls in the early rounds.  In the 36-hole match play finale, Jones toppled highly regarded Roger Wethered, 7 and 6 to capture leg one of his prestigious slam. The win instated Jones as the favorite at the British Open.

The Open was held at Royal Liverpool North in Holyake.  The course was challenging for its treacherous rough and unpredictable wind.  Jones scored 70 and 72 in the first two rounds.  He carried a one-stroke lead into the final round where his 75 stood up against top challengers Leo Diegel and MacDonald Smith.

Upon his return from England, Jones made his way to Interlachen Country Club in Minnesota, where the US Open would be played.  After two rounds, Jones was close but not in command.  Just as he had done in the 3rd round at Royal Liverpool, Jones surged to a 68, opening a 5-stroke lead in the Open. Again his final round of 75 netted him the third leg of the Slam.

Meanwhile, the public rallied around the conquering hero.  In 1930, the US Amateur was held at Merion Cricket Club.  Jones was medallist in the first two rounds with 69 and 73.  In the match play portion of the tournament, Jones won the first three matches easily.  In the semifinals, Jones silenced Jess Sweeter 9 and 8.

In the finals the battle-tested Eugene Homans was considered to have upset potential.  In the 36-hole final Jones closed the championship out on the 11th hole of the back 18.  Mr. Bobby Jones was the talk of the land.

At the conclusion of the season, Jones retired at age 28.  His resignation letter took the golfing community by surprise.  Always the consummate professional, Jones had a bigger idea for the sport he loved.

In 1931, Jones and selected associates purchased a failing nursery and set about building his dream golf course. Over the years, Augusta National has undergone various changes.  The most notable was the reversal of the nines.  What was originally designed as holes 2, 3, 4 are now 11, 12, 13, otherwise known as Amen Corner.

Amen Corner

Amen Corner was labeled by the eminent golf historian and Sports Illustrated reporter, Warren Wind during his coverage of the 1958 Masters.  Wind was an accomplished musician prone to Jazz.  He maintained that the phrase Amen Corner came from the famous Jazz recording of Milton Mezzrow’s “Shoutin’ in that Amen Corner.”  Wind was described by Augusta National President Hootie Johnson as the “greatest golf reporter that ever lived.”  Wind’s coverage of the Masters assured the tournament’s place in history.

Amen Corner

Amen Corner

Wind first used the description in his Sports Illustrated article as, “On the afternoon of the recent Masters golf tournament, a wonderfully evocative ceremony took place at the farthest reach of The Augusta National Course – down in the Amen Corner, where Rae’s Creek intersects the 13th fairway near the tee, then parallels the front edge of the green on the short 12th and finally swirls alongside the 11th green.”

We see Amen’s Corner every year, but has it ever been so precisely described?  Reading Wind’s words you can almost taste the importance of these holes in the outcome of the yearly event.  Ironically, the “evocative ceremony” was the unusual play of Arnold Palmer, who played two balls on the12th hole awaiting a controversial ruling.  Palmer then went on to eagle the 13th downing Doug Ford and Fred Hawkins in capturing his first of four green jackets.

Amen Corner has been described quite differently by a number of players but the competitor who scores well on these holes is always a contender for the green jacket.

When asked about the three holes, Robert Trent Jones, jr. said, “If Odysseus was sailing on his great Odyssey and he knew he had to sail between Scylla and Charybolis, he probably would not have set out.  It would have put him at such a disadvantage if he failed to navigate through the rocks and thus, Amen Corner during the round would be a stunning reminder of the difficulties that her winds so famously recounted when you say ‘Amen’ when you are through those holes safely.”

Bobby’s erudite description will most likely not be described as eloquently by this weekend’s  players.

In 1987, Larry Mize won a playoff between he, Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros, who was eliminated on the 10th hole.  At the decisive 11th hole, Mize was wide right.  Norman was above the hole and on the green.  Remarkably, Mize sank his 140 foot chip shot.  Norman missed his birdie putt and Mize claimed the win.

The 11th hole is a par four called White Dogwood.  Jerry Barber (1962), Brad Faxon (2002), KJ Choi (2004) ad Rory Sabbatini (2006) have eagled the hole.  The highest score ever recorded was a 9 by Dow Finsterwald (1952), Bo Wininger (1958), Griff Moody (1980), and Charles Howell (2006).

Howell’s nine came about via a penalty shot that errantly found the greenside bunker.  Three shots later he escaped the trap and two putted for a smooth nine.

The best score recorded on the Par 3, 12th hole, named Golden Bell, is one. Claude Harmon (1947), Williams Hyndman (1959), Curtis Strange (1988) all recorded cherished aces.  The proud owner of the highest score, 13, is Tom Weiskopf (1980), a four-time runner-up at Augusta National.

Weiskopf’s troubles began when his 7-iron tee ball spun back into Rae’s creek.  From the drop area, Tom hit four more shots into the creek.  Later, he bemoaned his fate saying that he had a perfect lie for his second one but the beautiful shot had too much spin and recoiled in the water.  It was all downhill for Tommy after his opening round 13 on the12th .

In the great tradition of Schuyler Meadows golfers elite, Herb Ellis and Bernard F. Conners, Tom echoed familiar words, “I’m extremely embarrassed.  I should have gone back further from the drop area for my relief. I’ve never been so disappointed.  But, I’ll be back there to tee off tomorrow.”  Wonder how many units Weiskopf had riding on that one?

On the 519-yard Par-5 13th, Azalea, Jeff Maggert is the sole owner of a double eagle 2 (1994).  The highest score recorded in Masters play is a 13 by Tommy Nakajima (1978).

Nakajima pulled his tee ball and found a Rae’s Creek tributary on the left. With his penalty shot, Tommy then played safely to the fairway.  Things took a turn for the worse when his fourth shot came up short landing squarely in the Creek in front of the green.  At this point, a desperate man, who did not speak English, opted to play the ball out of the creek.  The silent gallery knew not how to react when his brave effort erupted from the water only to strike his misplaced golf shoe.  Yup, that is a two-stroke penalty.  Tommy’s drama was not over. When handing his wedge to the caddie, the blade caressed the water, another two-stroke penalty.  This time he dropped and found the green.  Two putts later he was down in 13.

When asked his score, he replied, through his interpreter, that he had lost count.  “I promised myself I would make an eagle but I tried too hard, so I messed up.”  A lesson learned.

Rae’s Creek

Rae's Creek

Rae's Creek

Rae’s Creek is named for a prosperous Colonial trader, who built his grist mill near his home on the creek. Rae’s estate grew to more than 8,000 acres.  Levingston Skinner built the largest dam on the creek ad created a 40-acre lake, now home for large mouth bass. However, the creek’s appetite for errant golf balls is more apparent than the bass.

The Creek is 10.7 miles long. Rae’s Creek has 74 tributaries.  The most authoritative descriptions of Rae Creek are offered by historian Michael White.

The Nelson Bridge testifies to Byron Nelson’s 1937 Masters championship earned with a birdie on the 12 and eagle on the 13th.  Hogan’s bridge commemorates his 72-hole score of 274, the lowest 72-hole score of the era.

Tomorrow, dial in for the London bookmaker odds for the Championship.

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