The 1956 masters will go down in the books as the tournament won by a smiling, tousle-haired fellow named Jack Burke. It will also go down in the memory of golfers for a long time to come as the Masters that a lanky young amateur named Ken Venturi lost.
For three dazzling days Venturi was within reach of a prize no amateur in the history of the Masters has ever been able to seize. But the Masters is a drama in four acts, not three, and on the fourth day it was exit Ken Venturi and enter Jackie Burke.
It is always too glib to state that any 72-hole tournament is won or lost on any one hole. At the same time, the winning and the losing of the 20th Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club last week was decisively influenced by the way the three men leading the field fared on the 71st. The par-4 17th, which measures exactly 400 yards, requires that the drive be accurately placed between two hefty pines which patrol the "landing area" of the uphill fairway and then demands a skillful approach to the slightly plateaued green, especially when the pin is located, as it was on the final day, some 20 feet directly beyond the forward edge of the bland, white trap that guards the entrance to the green.
Late Sunday afternoon, with the wind still prowling over the course as the fourth and final round wore on, the three leaders came to the 17th—Cary Middlecoff, Jack Burke Jr., Ken Venturi, in that sequence and almost in succession. An hour and a half earlier it appeared that Middlecoff, defending champion and perhaps the finest golfer in the world over the 12 months since that victory, had killed his chances on the front nine of catching young Venturi, who had led the tournament from the opening hole and who carried a four-stroke margin into the final round. On the 5th and 7th holes, Middlecoff had suffered two inexplicable lapses, four-putting the 5th for a double-bogey 6 and picking up another double bogey on the 7th when he fluffed a comparatively simple little pitch into the trap he was attempting to pitch over. Computing their relative scores through the 7th hole, Cary had trailed Venturi by six shots. When he came to the fateful 17th, however, he was only one shot off the pace at that exact moment, due in a measure to Cary's settling down and in an equal measure to Ken's sudden loss of form after he had made the turn. With the gate still open, Cary mis-hit his approach to the 17th, his chip was feeble, he needed three putts—yet another double bogey. In the final analysis, this did it. He parred the 18th and finished with a total of 291.
INJUNCTION TO A GHOST
Some 10 minutes after Middlecoff had taken his costly 6, Jack Burke, paired with his sidekick Mike Souchak, came to the 17th. One of the most genuinely appealing persons in golf, the son of a professional who tied for second in the 1920 U.S. Open, Jack, the perennial rookie of the year, has for almost a decade been one of the game's most accomplished players, but he had never been able to break through and win a major championship. The 1956 Masters seemed beyond his grasp too. Four shots behind Middlecoff and a full eight behind Venturi at the start of the final round, Jack had played steadily and well if not brilliantly. Unregarded and unwatched, he had ghosted his way, when the leaders faltered, to within a shot of both Venturi and Middlecoff after the 15th hole. He parred the 16th. On the 17th, helped by a big following wind, he swatted a long drive up the hill. He cut his approach with his eight-iron neatly over the trap to some 15 feet from the hole. He sank the putt for a birdie 3. ("I didn't think the ball would reach the cup," he later commented. "That wind just absolutely took that ball in.") Souchak enshrouded Jack in a bearlike embrace and whipped him on: "C'mon, man, They're still making bogeys out here. Let's go." Burke—and for the first time he realized that he could win—managed his par on the 18th and finished with a total of 289.
Some 10 minutes after Burke had made his birdie, Ken Venturi came to the 17th. For the first three days Ken had been practically the whole story. He had played in the event once before, in 1954, the year that Billy Joe Patton almost did the impossible. Ken qualified for an invitation that year on the strength of being a member of the 1953 Walker Cup team. He had tied for 16th, which earned him an automatic invitation to the 1955 Masters, but had been unable to attend. His enforced absence last April and his solid reputation as one of the country's finest young players were the reasons he drew a special invitation this year from the previous winners of the Masters, who annually select one player not otherwise qualified to play in the tournament.
A cool and careful golfer, the slim young man seemed a certain winner when he arrived at the 63rd tee with a six-shot lead over Middlecoff. Then things began to go sour. He went over par on the 9th when he missed a three-footer. He slipped a shot over on the 10th and the 11th, pushing two fairly short putts off line, and he slipped another shot over par on the 12th, the 14th and the 15th, quite unable to recover his concentration and his poise under the pressure. He got his par on the 16th. Jack Burke was just finishing the 18th when Ken came to the 17th, and he knew he needed two pars to tie. His drive was more than adequate. He hit his iron to the green firmly, a little too firmly, considering the strength of the wind behind him. The ball bobbled over the back edge of the green and rolled some seven or eight yards down the bank. It took him 3 to get down. That, in effect, was the tournament. Ken parred the 18th and finished with a total of 290.
Contested under what Bob Jones called "the hardest playing conditions we've ever had in this tournament," the 20th Masters was as flavorful as ever, thoroughly exciting and basically unpredictable from start to finish. Here, in summary, is the course it took from day to day:
The wide Georgia sky was a heavy gray, and a light drizzle (which kept up most of the day) was beginning to fall when Freddy McLeod and Jock Hutchison, traditionally the first pair out, teed off at 10:12 on Thursday morning. Jock, who won the British Open in 1921 and who is now 72, missed a four-footer for his birdie on the long 2nd but rectified matters on the next par 5, the 520-yard 8th, by flicking a wee niblick pitch over a green contour and into the cup for his 4. He made the turn in 42, as did Freddy, who won the U.S. Open in 1908 and is now 74. On the in-nine, Freddy ran into a slew of 6s and finished with a 48 for a 90, but Jock kept right on purring along, adding a 41 for a most respectable 83. With those great old hands of his, Hutchison was carrying the ball about 220 yards on the average off the tees but he was not entirely happy with his driving. "You know what I'm doing, Fred," he said, displacing his economy-sized cigar for a brief moment. "I'm not turning enough going back."
Jock's score, of course, didn't stand up very long. As a matter of fact, it is hard to remember a Masters in which the field collectively scored so low on the opening day. While the drizzle did not make the fairways overly heavy, it did make the greens wonderfully approachable and puttable.
MAD STRETCH IN THE RAIN
Early in the afternoon Doug Ford posted a 2-under-par 70, and shortly afterward Shelley Mayfield came in with a 68 after an extremely well-played if explosive round. This was quite a shot in the arm to Mayfield's fans, for Shelley annually experiences a lot of trouble in getting off on the right foot in this tournament, an affliction Gene Littler also suffers from. Partnered with Henry Cotton (who looked about as British as mom's apple pie in a blue baseball-type cap), Gene, after a wobbly 38 out, fought his way home in 35 for a 73, a working figure at least. This was the same score—73—that four other strong contenders had to settle for: Jimmy Demaret, Mike Souchak, Julius Boros and Sam Snead, still a little overweight and undertournamented after his season in the sun.
Along with Mayfield's, there were four other sub-70 rounds. Tommy Bolt was 68, holding his poise and everything else in check after suffering through a double bogey on the 9th. Ben Hogan was around in 69—a steady rain of 15 4s and three 3s, a round reminiscent of Jones's classic 66 at Sunningdale which was also devoid of a 5 or a 2. Cary Middlecoff was 67. One under par at the turn, Cary went off on one of his characteristic "mad stretches," birdieing the 11th, then the 13th, then the 14th and then the 15th. Middlecoff must surely be one of the great rain players of all time. "It seems to keep me from thinking too much, when it's wet," he was explaining after his round. "I know I can carry the ball a long way. I know my ball will stop on the greens. I stop being too meticulous. A wet course just seems to clean my mind out."
But the round of the day was the 66 (32-34) compiled by the relaxed and affable Ken Venturi, who has played a great deal of golf with Byron Nelson and whose shotmaking shows it. Ken was off with an incredible rush, four consecutive birdies. He dropped a stroke to par on the 10th and then really set up his round with an eagle 3 on the famous 13th, that 470-yard dogleg where the green is backed by a hillside of red and pink azaleas and fronted by the waters of Rae's Creek. After an only moderately long drive Ken elected to try to carry the creek, smashed a three-wood well onto the green and holed a tough, uphill 20-footer. (When his playing partner, Billy Joe Patton, who was 14 feet from the cup after a magnificent four-iron, then holed his putt, the gallery had the rare treat of watching two men both eagle the same hole.) Venturi finished calmly with four pars and a birdie on the 16th and became, with his 66, the first amateur ever to hold the undisputed lead in the Masters after the first round.
A gusty wind swept over the course until late in the afternoon. It made the Augusta National a much rougher customer to deal with. Abetted by the intermittent sunshine, the wind dried out the greens a bit and, though they remained on the slow side as far as putting went, it was no longer prudent to play approach shots boldly for the flag, as most of the players had done with considerable success on the moist first day. And there was always the wind to reckon with.
To cite one extreme example, Bob Rosburg, with the wind stiff in his face, decided he would need a four-iron to hit that long, lean 12th green which runs at a traverse to the tee some 155 yards away. Just as Bob moved into his shot, the wind shut down abruptly and completely, as if someone had pressed a button. The ball, with nothing to fight its way into, flew over the creek before the green, over the green, over the steep bank of rough behind the green, over the fence and out of bounds. The wind then resumed as suddenly as it had stopped. Rosburg stayed with his four-iron and this time hit a lovely shot 10 feet from the stick.
The 12th also gave Ken Venturi some bother. His tee shot, a four-iron, finished high up the bank beyond the green, and he had no alternative other than to flick the ball delicately down and accept two putts and a bogey 4. At the time this happened, the mild-eyed, easy-gaited San Franciscan was still leading the field, but he had just previously taken a bogey on the 11th and there was some trepidation among his swelling gallery that the young man might at length be feeling the pressure. He certainly had not up to that point. He had gone out in 34, 2 under par, by dint of some steady, intelligent shotmaking and an exciting eagle 3 on the long, uphill 8th. Venturi began this hole anything but auspiciously, slapping his drive far to the right. It was headed deep into a grove of pines when it hit a tree trunk and ricocheted back onto the fairway. Ken then powdered a big three-wood all the way to the right-hand apron of the punchbowl green, some 40 yards short of the pin tucked just about six feet beyond and below the crest of a sizable ridge. Ken was all set to play the shot with a seven-iron. He changed his mind at the last moment, switched to a six-iron, and played a beautiful running chip that just did crawl up to the top of the ridge and had that one turn left that started it trickling down the far side of the ridge—and into the cup.
Far from folding after his bogeys on the 11th and 12th, Venturi, back to even par for his round at that point, played his way home, birdie, par, birdie, par, par, birdie—and almost as effortlessly as that. His 69, the lowest of the four sub-par rounds of the day, gave him a halfway total of 135 (equalling the 36-hole mark set by Picard in 1935 and tied by Nelson in 1942). It also gave him a comfortable four-stroke lead over his closest pursuer, Cary Middlecoff.
A MUTTERING MONOLOGUE
Venturi has a compact, fairly rhythmic swing but it is only when his hands enter the hitting area that he suddenly becomes a truly impressive golfer. Like his mentor, Nelson, and his colleague, Harvie Ward, he has a solid control of the club at impact and he hits his shots, his irons particularly, with exceptional firmness and style. The excellence of his putting these first two days was somewhat surprising, though. He was not an especially good putter before entering the Army in 1954, and it was the one department of his golf game he was not able to practice during his tour of duty overseas in Austria, there being no putting greens in the town in which he was stationed. In his last big championship, the 1955 British Amateur, his ragged touch on the greens was the deciding factor in the ding-dong third-round match he lost to Billy Joe Patton 1 up.
Concentrating only sporadically, quite unlike Ben Hogan, Ben Hogan needed 78 blows to get around. Sam Snead, muttering an endless monologue of disgust, needed 76. As the old Scotsman said, "It's nae possible but it's a fact." At the halfway mark in the tournament they have dominated for so many years, Snead and Hogan were 14 and 12 strokes, respectively, behind the pace setter.
To get back into the battle with Venturi and Middlecoff, the players still within hailing distance of the two leaders were faced on Saturday with the necessity of firing an extremely low round. For the second day in a row, a twisting wind was abroad, blowing much more fiercely than the day before and forcing the golfers to hunch low over their putts on the particularly exposed greens to avoid being blown off balance. Under these conditions—any man who broke 78 had shot an able round—it was not surprising that no one broke 72, the par for the course, and that only three players equaled it—the veterans Mangrum, Boros and Snead. Mayfield, with an 80, and Bolt, with a 78, were clear out of contention. Ford and Burke got around in 75, but since this was also the score which Venturi and Middlecoff negotiated, the day ended much as it had started; the tournament had apparently resolved itself into a two-man competition, and Venturi was still leading Middlecoff by four strokes.
The focal point of the day, of course, was Middlecoff's pursuit of Venturi. Playing three twosomes behind the cool young amateur, Cary quickly closed the gap between them. Aided by two 15-foot putts that dropped for him, he was out in 35 to Venturi's 40. At this point he had not only caught his man but had moved out in front by a stroke, and it looked for all the world as if Middlecoff might add another stroke or two to his lead before the round was completed. Venturi had been playing much sturdier tee-to-green golf than his score indicated, but he had missed three or four eminently holeable putts going out, including a two-footer on the 9th. His luck, that always important ingredient of good scoring, was not running as well for him as it had been. On the 7th, a shortish par 4 where his tee shot finished at the edge of the rough, the back of his ball ended up snuggled against a pine cone. It was impossible to move the pine cone without moving the ball also. Ken attempted on his approach to cut beneath the cone and then contact the ball, but the shot failed to come off and the ball plopped into a trap before the green. He came out to six feet and then threw his par away by missing that putt.
Venturi proceeded to go five strokes over par when he bogeyed the 11th. Then, when it seemed that the young man had had it, he pulled himself together and began a most remarkable mid-round comeback.
Since Venturi goes about his business with the assured deliberateness of a grizzled relief pitcher, it was rather in character that his surge commenced with a fine bit of judgment: on the 13th, with the pin set in the far right-hand corner, he chose to play his second shot short of the creek. He made this conservative strategy pay off by pitching to within five feet of the cup with his wedge and holing the putt for his first birdie of the day. He followed this with a birdie on the tough 420-yard 14th, holing from six feet after cracking a great seven-iron approach that actually ran over the corner of the hole. With the wind in his face on the long 15th, he again played his second purposely short of the pond before the green, again pitched up to five feet with his wedge, and holed that one. Ken finished with par, bogey, par, but his brilliant run of three consecutive birdies had altered the whole complexion of his round—and Middlecoff's renewed pursuit. Cary birdied the 11th and matched Venturi's birdie on the 13th, which compensated to a degree for the three strokes he lost to par on the 10th, 12th and 14th. He came to the 18th, that rough finishing hole that is more than 400 yards long and all uphill, needing a 4 for a 73 that would have left him only two shots off Venturi's total. Cary's approach drifted into the trap at the right of the green. He made a fine recovery, his ball coming to rest five feet or so above the cup on this fast, slanting green. He missed that putt and then he missed his two-footer coming back.
So it was a 6 and a 75, not a 4 and a 73, and for all his elegant golf in the wind, Cary's chase had ended precisely where he had begun it: four strokes back.
While everyone was shuttling between Middlecoff and Venturi and working out arithmetical tables that would have done credit to Einstein, Jack Burke, the invisible man in between, quietly made up stroke after stroke, nine strokes in all, on the leader. He had almost completed his fine 71 (35-36, with 29 putts) before either Venturi's gallery or Middlecoff's gallery (or, for that matter, Burke's "gallery") appreciated that Jack was a serious contender, let alone a possible winner.
Of course, it is never an altogether happy occasion when a golfer who has played as handsomely as Venturi did most of the way lets a tournament slide from his hands. The heartening aspect is that in Venturi's case it is not mere persiflage to say he will probably win many important tournaments in the years ahead. He should; he is that good a golfer. And he has the cool concentration one always associates with the foremost golters.
And if there was one golfer whom it was a pleasure to see walking in the door that had been left open by both Venturi and Middlecoff, it was Jack Burke. The measure of the man, in brief, was the reply he made a few years ago when a friend asked him why he didn't comport himself more like a celebrity-athlete—the life was his for the doing. "That's easy," Jack answered. "I choose to spend a good proportion of my time with my wife and our kids because 20 years from now I'd like to have a few other things in my life than just the joy of being recognized when I walk into a restaurant." The green coat of a Masters champion becomes Jack, and Jack becomes the green coat.
BURKE SMILES cover faces of winner Jackie and wife Ielene. These expressions were mirrored in the faces of his fellow pros in one of golf's most popular victories.
SATURDAY'S HERO KEN VENTURI
Virtually born with a spoon (of the golfing variety) in his hand, Venturi has been playing serious golf since 9. Father and mother are both golfing buffs, and recently his father left business to run the golf shop at a San Francisco municipal course...Through high school and San Jose State College Ken's whole life was golf. Won the first of his three S.F. City titles at 17, has also been California State Champion. While still in college, Ken caught the eye of Ed Lowery, big Lincoln-Mercury dealer in San Francisco and member of the executive committee of the U.S. Golf Association. Lowery gave him job as car salesman, which meant he would be one of the promising young amateurs Lowery sponsors...Ken was member of 1952 Americas Cup and 1953 Walker Cup teams, won all his matches. As Walker Cup player he was automatically bid to the 1954 Masters, where he finished 16th...Ken was drafted in 1954 and assigned to Fort Ord, where commanding general, a golf enthusiast who had just built a course at the fort, saw that he got time for practice. Ken spent his last Army year in Austria where he picked up the putter he used so well for three days at Augusta...Last fall he resumed his job with Lowery (he has sold 47 cars since September), and has had time for daily golf as well, including matches with Amateur Champ Harvie Ward, another Lowery salesman-golfer. Until Masters has failed to go under par in only two tournament or exhibition rounds this year (at Phoenix Open where he tied for sixth). Recently has been coached by Byron Nelson, close friend of Lowery's and godfather of Ken's month-old son. Cool and confident, Ken says his big goal this year is U.S. Open title.
SUNDAY'S WINNER JACK BURKE JR.
Like Venturi, John Joseph Burke Jr. (Jackie to the public, Jack to his friends) has been a golfer since age of 7. When only 12 he shot a 69, first qualified for U.S. Open at 16, turned pro at 19. Now 33, his youthful appearance earned him Bob Hope's gag, "The pro at Boy's Town," although his real home club is big Concord Hotel in New York's Catskills...Until he won Masters, his first major championship, Burke seemed in danger of developing chronic runner-upitis, not having won a tournament since Inverness in Toledo in 1953. "I was beginning to think I'd never win one," he said. "Second place is nice, but it gets awfully tiring after a while" ...After four war years, Jackie returned to golf under wing of Veteran Jimmy Demaret, who had been his father's assistant when Jackie was youngster. Easygoing Demaret tried to teach serious young Jackie to relax. "Jackie always had the shots," says Jimmy, "but he takes his game too seriously. I tried to teach him to slack off a little bit and loosen up." Jimmy also taught Jackie his love for flashy golfing clothes...Jackie's first big victory was Metropolitan Open in 1949. Then, after long string of seconds, he changed from blade to mallet-type putter in 1952, quickly won four straight on winter circuit and took second in Masters before again assuming also-ran role. However, in three years as Ryder Cup player (1951-53-55) has never been beaten...Still maintains official residence in Houston, with comely wife Ielene and two small sons, but spends most of year on pro circuit. His $6,000 winnings at Augusta put him among top earners this year. Like Venturi, his goal is U.S. Open, where his father tied for second in 1920.