BOB WEST ON GOLF — These Masters birdies will always be remembered

Published 12:06 am Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Everybody reading this who can claim to having made two birdies at Augusta National, site of the Masters since 1934, please raise their hand.

OK, then, how about anybody lucky enough to witness Jack Nicklaus win a major, with legends like Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen in the field.

Wow! Can I be the only one?

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With the Masters still fresh on the mind of all golf fans, and a shortage of material for this week, it seems like a good time to share a retired sports writer’s incredibly good fortune. Hard to believe it’s been 56 years since the first leg of an improbable parlay came together.

It all began at the U.S. Amateur in Tulsa in September of 1965. A terrific player from California named Cesar Sanudo, who was bound for Lamar University’s golf team, finished second to Bob Murphy. In those days, the winner and runner-up received at invite to the next Masters.

Shortly after his arrival at Lamar, Sanudo was assigned to room with a guy from Missouri who would quickly learn he was not nearly good enough to play for an elite LU team. But the roomies hit it off, the guy from Missouri took a part time sports job at the Beaumont Enterprise and seven months later they headed for Augusta.

Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Cesar didn’t have a car. I did. And though just a part timer at the Enterprise, I was able to secure a media credential for what would be the 30th Masters. The cherry on top of it all was a policy allowing a limited number of media to play the course the day after the tournament ended.

As someone who had attended exactly one professional tournament, I was churning with anticipation. That Masters was loaded with so many magical names it was dizzying for a small-town kid from Missouri. Just seeing and working in the massive Quonset hut housing all the big-name writers of the day was a thrill.

Sweetening the pot, I was the third name on the list of media signed up to experience Augusta National on Monday.

Cesar couldn’t adjust to the greens and missed the cut after rounds of 81-78. So, I followed Nicklaus, Palmer, Hogan and the other legends. But then I got blindsided. Nicklaus, Gay Brewer and Tommy Jacobs finished the tournament in a three-way tie.

In those days, that meant an 18-hole Monday playoff.

It also meant the media signed up to play were screwed. Talk about a downer. My dream of playing Augusta National had been crushed. Thankfully, some 11 years later, there would be another opportunity.

I managed to obtain a media credential to cover Bruce Lietzke in the 1977 Masters, with the ulterior motive of getting to play on Monday. This time there was no playoff, this time I got my crack at Augusta National, this time I would walk away with the ultimate one-up in golfer conversation.

After sweating a playoff or bad weather all week, I was able to exhale when Tom Watson beat Nicklaus by two shots and Monday dawned with bright sun and few clouds. It was actually going to happen.

All these years later many of the memories are intact. I birdied 7 and 16 and shot 83. That’s not as good as it sounds. Changes to Augusta National over the years have made the course much tougher, probably four to six strokes for an average player.

We did, however, play the course exactly the way Watson and Nicklaus played it on Sunday. Same tees, same pins, same green speed. A saving grace was each writer being assigned an Augusta caddie. Without them to read the greens, putting would have been a circus.

Among the many vivid memories is shaking so badly on the first tee I feared missing the ball. As it was, my drive ended soaring way right, traveling maybe 150 yards and ending up under the massive scoreboard that is easily visible when you watch on TV.

My birdie on 7 followed a down-the-middle drive of probably 225, an 8-iron to 10 feet and a center-cut putt. Today that hole is close to 100 yards longer. On 16, with the pin close to where it was this past Sunday, I got away with a pulled 5-iron to 20 feet past the hole and sank the 2.

Space doesn’t permit a rehashing of more, which I could easily do in great detail. Suffice to say, there are flashbacks every time I watch another Masters.

CHIP SHOTS: In the Super Saturday Senior 2 ball at windblown Babe Zaharias, the team of Gene Jones, Rick Pritchett, Thad Keishnick and Tom Brown won the front with minus 1. Even par won the back for the foursome of Randy Monk, Gerald Huebel, Don MacNeil and a ghost player.

The Friday 2 Senior 2 ball at Zaharias saw the team of Mike Brown, Tony Trevino, Dan Harrington and Ron Hicks take the front with minus 4. On the back, the team of Earl Richard, Bob Byerly, Larry Lee and Richard Menchaca prevailed with minus 2.

Closest to the pin winners were Dwayne Morvant (No. 2, 5 feet, 2 inches), Ted Freeman (No. 7, 5-0), Harrington (No. 12, 6-8) and Richard (No. 15, 7-8).

Format for the Wednesday Zaharias DogFight was all points count. Placing first with 32 points was the team of Kenny Robbins, Ron LaSalle, Bob Luttrull and Jerry Watson. Second with 31 points was the foursome of Brown, Larry Johnson, Roy Martinez and Randy Jackson.

Closest to the pin winners were Ed Holley (No. 2), Steve Wisenbaker (No. 7), Morvant (No. 12) and Robbins (No. 15).

Golf news should be e-mailed to rdwest@usa.net.