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Fond memories looking back on Masters’ Weekend

With Masters weekend coming up in April 1960, a friend and classmate, Carey Williams, Jr., looked me up with the news that he had an extra ticket for Sunday’s final round if I would drive him over to Augusta.

Carey had wrecked the family car a couple of times, and his father who preceded him as publisher of the Greensboro Journal-Herald, relegated his son, a colorful and unforgettable character, to hitchhiking and bumming rides.  To close the deal, Caray said he would pay for the gas for the trip.   

Gas in those days cost about 30 cents a gallon which meant his generous offer to underwrite the cost of the trip over cost him no more than $4.00. The only other expense would have been lunch.   Don’t remember if we stopped at a concession stand for one of those signature pimento cheese sandwiches or not.

What is remembered is that the view of the course and grounds, the colorfully dressed galleries, the ultimate resonance of green–never knew that putting surfaces could be so pure and becoming–the fairways and the greens giving off a glow of perfection that made you wonder how nature and the environment could be so kempt and in such immaculate order.  If only the latent virus, which has knuckled us under, had the life of a cigarette butt at the Augusta National!

Then there was the competition.  My eyes then could behold thunderous tee shots, soaring specks accelerating in generous blue skies.  Seeing golfers not flummoxed by balls coming to rest in cavernous bunkers—subsequently exploding masterful shots which always seemed to come to rest in makeable one-putt range.  The greens appeared to be as tight and firm as the pool tables in Sumner’s pool room back home.   At Sumner’s, however, there were no slopes, undulations and mounds to traverse.   I marveled at the players’ honed and skillful proficiencies.

That memorable Sunday was the day, I joined Arnie’s Army.  After touring the Augusta National at a time when the topography offered little walking challenge, we wound up behind the 18th green for the final groups to finish. 

We saw Ken Venturi complete his round and become the leader in the clubhouse, a term with which we were not familiar until reading the Monday morning Atlanta Constitution.

The giant scoreboard between the 10th and 18th fairway, was as impressive as it was informative.  We heard this big roar which soon was confirmed on the scoreboard that Arnold had tied Venturi with a birdie 3 at Nandina, the 17th hole.

As the gallery at No.17 flowed to the east side of the course, enveloping the final fairway, we saw Arnold walk up to his tee shot which came to rest in perfect position.   His approach shot tracked close to the pin.  I was overwhelmed with his accuracy, seeing the ball land on the green and dance close to the hole.

You could feel the energy of the crowd.   Anticipation coursed through the late afternoon shadows, bringing hopes for confirmation of what everybody pined for–another birdie putt.

Arnold, walking about fluidly, lined up his putt, but suddenly backed away.  Though faint, he could hear the movie cameras whining.   He asked that they be silenced.  Compliance was honored.  He calmly stroked the putt into the cup as thunderous and enduring applause brought about the most magical of moments.  It was his second Masters victory.

I had seen Georgia defeat Tech on Grant Field in 1957 to break the drought and again in Athens in 1958.  I had seen every game, including the Orange Bowl in the Bulldogs’ championship year of 1959.   Those were unforgettable highlights that linger in my mind’s eye today, but the magnitude of the Masters sensation was unequaled.

I have the good fortune of not having missed a Masters tournament since that soul-stirring afternoon.    Spending time in Augusta in April is a tonic that intrigues and defines the golfing season.  I have files, notes–even scrapbooks–and tape recordings of Masters officials, competitors and champions through the years.

Of particular interest were the foreign players.  I learned about Australia from conversations with Jack Newton, Spain from Seve   Ballesteros and South Africa from Gary Player and Bobby Locke.  On a trip to South Africa, there was an invitation to visit Player at his ranch.

The Masters brought about a motivation to incorporate the U. S. Open and the British Open on my annual calendar.  There were side trips involving those two national opens, especially the British which opened up avenues to see much of Europe, including several capitals of Eastern Europe.

Reaching out and touching the historical sites and shrines of Europe has been a stimulating and uplifting highlight.  I have made lasting friendships, getting to know people via bed and breakfast accommodations.

The Masters experience took me out of a provincial cocoon and made me realize that broadening one’s horizons often had to do with curiosity and enterprise.   I’ll always be indebted to the Masters for stimulating an education beyond the classroom.