The 13th Hole of the Augusta National Golf Course, the scene of the annual Masters Golf Tournament, is a par five some 470 yards long which doglegs sharply to the left. Rae's Creek, which follows along the left side of the hole, cuts across the width of the fairway just before the green and then bends back to patrol the green tightly along the right. It is the strategic sinuosity of the creek, of course, that makes the hole one of the most demanding tests on America's outstanding inland course. The golfer who follows a fine drive with a daring second over the water and onto the green is in a position then to pick up a stroke on par, and sometimes two, and this can frequently turn a fair round into a good round and a good round into a great-one. On the other hand, the golfer who follows a fine drive with a daring second that does not quite fill the bill generally receives a very stern comeuppance. It is the rare Masters indeed when the 13th is not the stage for some dramatic turn of events, and the 19th Masters, which finished this week, was certainly no exception.
On the first day of the tournament, Sam Snead, the defending champion, came to the 13th two under par and playing just as precisely as those figures would indicate. He laced out a long drive and, with a little wind in his face, elected to play a spoon for his second. The shot cleared the creek with yards to spare, but Sam had pulled it a shade and the ball thudded into the wet sand on the far wall of a newly remodeled side-hill trap just off the edge of the green. After nicking away a little sand with his hand, Sam was able to identify the buried ball as the one he was playing, and then he got down to the bitter business of extricating it. Standing on the turf outside the trap, a foot or so above the ball, in his first attempt he succeeded only in driving it deeper into the sand. That was three. On his next attempt he hit the ball flush on the top with the blade of his wedge and moved it not at all. Four. Holding his poise, remembering that a ball lacerated such as his was now, legally can be deemed unplayable and a new ball substituted without loss of stroke, Sam, after checking with the officials, made just such a substitution. On his third attempt the ball trickled down the face and into the center of the trap. He was out in six, finally, and down in two' putts for an eight. It was an utterly unfortunate, typically Snead, experience, and the wonder was that Sam could accept it with the stoicism he displayed and finish the round with four pars and a birdie. But Snead, who had come to the Masters exuding the sunniest disposition of his postwar career, was thereafter in a far less expansive and confident mood.
MEET DR. MIDDLECOFF
On the second day of the tournament, Dr. Emmett Cary Middlecoff, a "voluntarily unemployed dentist" as Bob Jones described him, and perhaps the most accomplished tall-man player the game has produced since "Long Jim" Barnes, came to the 13th five under par. Capable of very hot streaks, Cary was enjoying an extremely calorific day. He had opened with a birdie, followed it with four pars, and then had gone off on a terrific burst of four consecutive birdies. This had brought him to the turn in a record 31. Starting back, he had started to cool off, not much, mind you, but a few degrees nonetheless. He played three comfortable pars and this brought him to the 13th.
When a golfer is off on a hot round in a major tournament, the foreknowledge of the prodigies he may continue to perform and also of the sudden disaster that can overtake him heightens everything he does. Every little movement takes on a meaning of its own. This may explain, in a superficial way, why Middlecoff is one of the most exciting golfers to be with when he is off on one of his sub-par dashes, for few modern athletes can contrive to pack as many fidgety movements into an afternoon's work.
Middlecoff can rarely play a shot without working up to it with several tugs at the vizor of his cap, a brief exploration of the territory stretching before him, a long gander at his target, a movement of repose as he hikes his trousers, a little unloosening of the neck muscles, a pause to dry his right hand on the seat of his trousers, another tug at the vizor, another brief exploration, and so on—all this accompanied by a frown of furious concentration. Beneath the parade of gestures there is the complete absorption of a high-strung, intelligent, emotional individual playing an extremely nerve-racking game. And it is this abiding intensity, of course, that Middlecoff communicates to his galleries and which explains the charged atmosphere he creates when he is pouring it on. On the 13th he pushed his tee shot to the high or right side of the fairway. There was an absolute hush the length of the gallery—stretched out some 300 yards along the roped-off fairway—as Middlecoff went with his spoon on his second. He hit a fine, solid shot, and as the ball cleared the creek and landed on the green and rolled to the back edge, a series of shouts went up the length of the line of spectators. These salvos bounced off the pines on the ridge across the fairway and the area reverberated with a sound not unlike artillery fire on a distant battlefield.
Middlecoff strode to the green and inspected, sighted, scrutinized and deciphered the line of his long, long, putt. They change the location of the pins every day at the Masters, and on this, the second day, it was positioned at the front of the long, slippery green some 82 feet away. The precise distance is known, to be sure, only because Middlecoff sank that putt, and the curious thing was that everyone in the gallery felt he might very well do it. Middlecoff eventually tapped the putt, and no ball ever looked whiter than this one did as it ghosted its way just below the center folds of the shadow-strewn green and rolled and rolled and slowed down and then crept off a final slight break and fell into the hole. And then, those salvos again.
Cary Middlecoff's eagle, because of how and when it happened and the further fact that he went on to win this Masters Tournament, will undoubtedly be referred to time and time again as long as the game is played. Eight thousand persons may have been lucky enough to have witnessed it, but like the number of people who now claim to have seen Sarazen's double eagle and the small army that apparently came over on the Mayflower, the count will surely rise from year to year. Very possibly, it is the longest putt of any consequence holed in a major event since Bob Jones got one into the cup on the fifth green at St. Andrews from 120 feet away in the 1927 British Open.
THE MIDDLE GUARD
After the 13th, Middlecoff came in in even par—a birdie on 15th, a "bogey" on the 17th where he three-putted—for a 65, seven under par. Accordingly, he did not equal the course record of 64 set by Lloyd Mangrum back in 1940 when the Augusta National was younger and less difficult, but what he did do was to take charge there and then and he never did relinquish his grip until he finished his fourth round two evenings later with a margin of seven strokes over the runner-up, Ben Hogan. In this respect, the margin of victory, it was the most decisive triumph in the history of the Masters.
The only day of the tournament which Middlecoff did not dominate was the opening day. The Masters nearly always gets more than an even break from the weather and, sure enough, on Thursday morning, despite prediction of intermittent showers, the sun began to break through the overcast just as the first starters, Freddy McLeod, U.S. Open Champion in 1908, and Jock Hutchison, British Open Champion in 1921, drove off and ambled down the fairway accompanied by Johnny McDermott, the first American-born golfer ever to win our Open. A short time later, Billy Joe Patton was called to the first tee. Lurching into his drive with characteristic abandon, he pushed into the small pines in the rough. When he played a superb recovery 15 feet from the pin—why, it seemed that last year's Masters was still going on. At the end of Billy Joe's first nine, though, you knew it was another year. He was out in 39 and he never really did get the bit in his teeth from that point on. The old guard was up front, as always in the Masters: Snead at 72 (despite his 8), Ben Hogan at 73, Lloyd Mangrum at 74. The young guard had fairly strong representation in Mike Souchak at 71, Bob Rosburg at 72. The in-between age group that, for lack of a better tag, must be called the middle guard was in good shape, too: Middlecoff was 72, Julius Boros, 71 and Jack Burke out in front of the pack by four strokes with a handsome 67.
If the scores ran somewhat higher than they generally do in the Masters, the explanation was that the course was playing considerably longer than in previous years. This was due to the heavy, lush growth of the grass in the fairways which cut down the roll on tee shots to a minimum. The course looked different in one other respect. Two weeks before the tournament the southeast sector was hit by a severe "cold freeze," and among the many victims were the dogwood and the other southern flora that line the fairways at the Augusta National. They were missed, but the beauty of the setting is founded on the greenness of the grass and the pines and the golf values of the terrain, and the Augusta National looked just about as lovely as ever. As one old Augusta hand put it, "Son, let's face it. Here you have the Grace Kelly of golf courses—beautiful from all angles and in all weather."
THE CLAUDE HARMON BOYS' CLUB
On Friday, the second day, until Middlecoff began to percolate, the key figure was the leader, Jack Burke. A member of that talented coterie now being alluded to as the Claude Harmon Boys' Club—it is made up of the young men who have served as Claude's assistants at Winged Foot and includes such other top-notch young players as Mike Souchak, Al Mengert, Dick Mayer, and Shelley Mayfield—a great deal has been expected of Jack for quite some time, but he inveterately has been unable to get through a big championship without coming up with one poor round. Here, when it was important that he stick close to par, he had a 76. In some ways Jack played a sturdier round than his score would suggest. But he still misses his shots in just the wrong places. Middlecoff, on the other hand, played his poor shots when they hurt him least, and beyond this, throughout the tournament he putted far better than any man in the field, always holing the crucial ones. This was clearly evident on Saturday, the third day, when Middlecoff had taken over the leadership at the halfway mark with his total of 137, four shots ahead of Hogan, six ahead of Burke and Snead, seven over Rosburg, eight over Souchak and nine over Boros. It was patent that if any of these challengers was going to overhaul Middlecoff he had better get going, and quick. None of them could buy a putt. Hogan, emerging as the only serious challenger as the afternoon wore on, three-putted three of the four par 3s, and what could very easily have been a 69 became a 72. Middlecoff, on the other hand, confronted by a possible 74, got home in 72. On the 17th, with Hogan breathing down his neck, he holed a tough 10-footer after a very timid approach putt. And then on the 18th, lying two off the edge of the dipping green, he rapped in a curler some 25 feet long. They made quite a difference, those two clutch putts. Middlecoff entered the final round with his lead of four strokes over Hogan still intact, and you can use a lead of that size when Ben is stalking you.
On Sunday, the day of the final round, Middlecoff was not scheduled to tee off until 1:42, a half hour after Hogan's starting time. Waiting to get out is hard even on golfers of phlegmatic make-up. The five and a half hours from 8 o'clock, when he awoke, until 1:42 were murder for Middlecoff and by his own account the longest 20 hours he has ever spent. "I bought the Sunday papers on Saturday night," he recounted later, "but I purposely held off reading them till Sunday morning. Well, I read the funnies and drank some coffee, and it still wasn't 9 o'clock. Then I decided to play some records on the phonograph to kill some time, things like Glenn Miller. I thought I played those records for hours. I was ready to throw the machine out the window. I checked the time and it was still only 10 o'clock. Then I got out some magazines and read them for what seemed like hours. At 11 o'clock I bathed and shaved and ate a big breakfast here at the club and killed time in the locker room and hit a few shots down the practice fairway, and then it was nearly 1:42. I thought it would never come."
THE MAN TO BEAT
Playing about three holes in front of Middlecoff (who was partnered with Nelson), Hogan (who was partnered with Boros) began his pursuit coolly and methodically. Ben's play during the tournament reflected to some degree that he hadn't had the time he would have liked to tune his game up. He had planned to give himself a two weeks' prep at Augusta but he had been called back to Fort Worth by a business problem. Nonetheless, he was hitting the ball well from tee to green, and had he been putting, on Sunday he might have been able to put Middlecoff under considerable pressure. He had an eight-footer for his birdie on the 2nd, a 12-footer for his birdie on the 3rd, and another 12-footer on the 4th. He missed them all. He three-putted the 5th from 35 feet. When he missed an eminently holeable birdie putt on the 6th from seven feet, his bid was over. The only man Middlecoff had to beat now was Middlecoff.
Cary was chattering nervously as he played, but he was hitting the ball hard, not taking too long over his shots, and all in all playing very efficiently until he came to the 5th, one under par. Then, on this rugged 450-yard par four, he tried to belt an extra-long one and duck-hooked his tee shot into a shallow trap. He hit a very wobbly recovery with his five-iron, catching the ball too high and rolling it only some 75 yards down the fairway. An unimpressive seven-iron shot put him on the lower deck of the two-level green. His approach putt from 30 feet below the cup slipped five feet past, but he holed the big one coming back and it did him a world of good. Byron Nelson, who can bring in a horse like Eddie Arcaro, relaxed him further with a little chatter about nothing at all on the 6th tee, and Cary proceeded to pump a good iron toward the flag It struck on the apron before the green and hopped up some 14 feet from the cup. He banged it in for his bird. Then he followed with a much more authoritative birdie on the 7th, holing for a birdie three after a crisp wedge approach to 10 feet.
He turned in 34, and thereafter he had only one other rough passage. He went two over par on the 10th with a six when he pushed his iron into a trap by the green and took two to get out. He was still shaky playing the 11th, and here he received an exceedingly good break on his approach to that dangerous green; he came up much too quickly on his two-iron and the shot never climbed more than three feet above the ground. It had the line, however, and kept bounding down the slope and over the mounds and finished well on the green. A weak approach putt again left him a five-footer and again, as on the 5th, he made it. His last attack of jitters was over. He played a fine birdie two on the 12th. "I don't see what can happen now, do you?" he asked Nelson as they walked to the 13th tee. "No," said Byron.
And nothing did happen. From that point on Middlecoff played wonderful golf shots and he played them with tactical intelligence. He played short of Rae's Creek with his second on the 13th and got his par, which is all he wanted. A very easy par on the 14th. A birdie on the 15th. Another easy par on the 16th. A harmless bogey on the 17th when he three-putted. Then the 18th, the last hole on the long journey home. A big drive. A six-iron—and Cary never did hit a more perfect shot. The ball spun around the rim of the cup and subsided three feet away. He holed that putt for a 70 on the round and a total of 279.
It was in all ways a magnificent victory for the 34-year-old son of a Memphis dentist who had trained for dentistry himself but gave up his practice in January, 1947 to try the much more precarious one of drilling irons for the pin. A year and a half later he won the National Open. "I was enough of a neophyte not to know what I was doing," Middlecoff remarked of that victory at the presentation ceremonies. "I found it was harder after that. I wondered if I was ever going to win another big tournament." Well, everything comes to him who waits and who outplays the opposition by seven solid strokes.
THE BIG FOUR, HANDS DOWN: Clifford Roberts, tournament chairman, Runner-up Ben Hogan, Champion Middlecoff and Club President Bob Jones seal the Masters.
MIDDLECOFF OF MEMPHIS
Emmett Cary Middlecoff was born to both dentistry and golf. His father, Dr. Herman, who has a lucrative dental practice in the Middlecoffs' home town of Memphis, is also a low-handicap golfer, and he broke Cary (who dislikes the name Emmett) to the game at the age of 7. Cary won his first important tournament—the Memphis Prep—when he was 17 and the City Championship at 18. He took his dental degree, spent the next two years as an Army dentist and in 1946, before being discharged as a captain, he played to the quarter finals of the U.S. Amateur. Chosen for the 1947 Walker Cup team he declined the honor to turn pro. He won his first professional start (and $2,000) at Chorlotte, N.C. and that first year collected about $7,000 on the pro circuit. He takes his wife Edith with him on the golfing trail. His biggest previous win was the 1949 Open. Tall (6 feet 2 inches) for a top golfer, and now 34, he is noted for his compact swing and jumpy nerves.
THEY ALSO TEED OFF
Stan Leonard, Canadian star who finished with 292, fired one of Augusta's six sub-70 rounds, but suffered generally from low trajectory with his fairway woods.... Dick Mayer (293) was wild off tees first day, finished with three fine rounds.... Skee Riegel's 294 was his top showing in a major event in some time.... Frank stranahan (295) had two finishing 71s, his best golf since turning pro.... Jay Hebert (295) would have been a contender with some better putting.... Walter Burkemo (295) ruined chances with closing 77.... Peter Thomson (297) suffered from lack of length.... Gene Littler (298), overgolfed and listless, never got started.... Tommy Bolt (298), decidedly off form—particularly on the greens—was through after third round 77.... Ed Furgol (299) eliminated himself with misjudged approach on 7th hole of third round.... Billy Joe Patton (310), three over par after first 8 holes, was never a factor.... Horton Smith (315) kept his record of having played and finished every round since the first Masters in 1934.