Just a little over 10 years ago a letter from a proud father in South Africa arrived at the Augusta National Golf Club. It was addressed to Clifford Roberts, who, along with Robert T. Jones Jr., ranks as co-founder and overlord of the Masters. The writer stated that his son had a splendid record (same enclosed) as an amateur and had turned professional. Ever since his son was a boy, the letter advised, it had been the lad's ambition to travel to America and play in the Masters and meet Bobby Jones, his idol, about whom he had read so much. The father wondered if Mr. Roberts would consider sending his boy an invitation. The young man had no money for the trip, but if he received an invitation, the father said, he would "pass the hat" among his friends to raise funds for the plane ticket.
Such letters arrive at Augusta frequently during the months preceding each Masters Tournament. They come from governors of states, mayors of cities. Congressmen and occasionally rulers of countries, all espousing candidates for what has become the most eminent invitational tournament in golf. As is their practice in such situations, Jones and Roberts discussed the letter from South Africa. They made inquiries among various golf officials and checked the young man's background. It was discovered that not only was his competitive record impressive, he was also highly regarded as a youngster of good character. A decision was made to send him an invitation, and Roberts cabled the father: PASS THE HAT.
It was as a result of this correspondence in 1957 that Gary Player first came to the U.S. He made a respectable showing in that Masters, finishing in a tie for 24th after a nervous 77 on opening day. The following year he was invited again, it being an unofficial policy of Roberts and Jones to ask a foreigner for a second time no matter how he performs initially. "We feel that many factors might keep a foreigner from playing his best on his first visit here," says Roberts. "He deserves a second chance."
Although Player did well on the pro tour in 1958, including a second-place finish in the U.S. Open, he missed the cut at the Masters. But in 1959 he moved up to eighth. In 1960 he reached sixth, and in 1961 he was the winner.
"That," says Cliff Roberts, "was one of the most heartening things that has happened in connection with our event. It was the culmination of the development of the international phase of the tournament."
Although it is seldom thought of in that connection, the Masters has been a pioneer of international golf competition. Long before there was a Canada Cup or an Eisenhower Trophy for which the Thais and Pakistanis and Zambians could compete, golfers from half a world away were coming to Augusta to try to shake the aura of invincibility that the Americans had established for themselves in the pro game. Among the first of these was Bobby Locke, who arrived at Augusta for the 1947 Masters on Wednesday, picked up his credentials, inquired about his starting time and teed off the following morning without ever having played a round of golf in the U.S. He shot two 74s while getting used to things, then finished with 71-70 for 289 and a three-way tie for 14th with Lawson Little and Dick Chapman.
In 1950 Roberto de Vicenzo flew up from Argentina to make his Masters debut. Speaking virtually no English, he entered a small restaurant in Augusta to get some breakfast just after his arrival. "A fellow was having breakfast at a nearby table," De Vicenzo recalls, "and I motioned to the waiter, trying to make him understand that I wanted the same thing the other man was eating. Instead, the waiter brought over the man's bill. I did not have breakfast that morning—and I don't make signals anymore." By the end of that week De Vicenzo had fattened up on the competition, closing with rounds of 73-71 that brought him a tie for 12th with Horton Smith. This week De Vicenzo is making his eighth appearance in the Masters, and although he has never improved on his 12th-place finish, he still looks upon a trip to Augusta as something of a pilgrimage. "I feel the responsibility of representing my country as well as all Argentine golfers," he said recently. "This gives me a very special feeling about the Masters."
De Vicenzo is a warm and affable man, but not all the foreigners have shared these characteristics, and whenever an opportunity arises for the American pros to grumble about the number of spaces in the Masters allotted to foreigners they have not hesitated to do so. Once a delegation of leading American professionals tried to persuade Roberts to withhold an invitation to Locke. They felt he had been contentious and uncooperative during his U.S. visits, and they themselves had already barred him from further competition on their own tour. "Gentlemen," Roberts replied, at a time when the Masters was not nearly the success that it is today, "if Bobby Locke is the only golfer who shows up at the tournament, he will take home all the prize money." That ended that.
Roberts is a man with a singular devotion to his club and its tournament and, like many men who are dedicated to a cause, he can be firm to the point of crustiness. "The only excuse for having the Masters," he has said, "is whatever service it can be to the game of golf. Our members make a great sacrifice to put on this tournament, and the reason is that they are very proud of the Masters and what it stands for. We would not hold the tournament if we couldn't do it the way we think best."
It is a matter of pride with Jones and Roberts that the Masters was not only a pioneer of international golf competition but introduced many talented foreign players to American golf. The prototype was Locke. After him came Peter Thomson, the Australian, who is the only modern-era golfer to have won the British Open five times. Thomson, a brisk and sturdy type, has been by far the most formidable golfer on the European and Far Eastern circuits for the past decade. Although he shot one of the lowest nine-hole scores in U.S. competition last year—a 29 at Oklahoma City—he has never played up to his form in American tournaments, and his Masters record has belied his ability ever since he was first invited to Augusta in 1953.
At that time Thomson had not yet won a major tournament outside Australia and New Zealand, but Jones and Roberts had heard about him and felt he deserved an invitation. Though he sometimes is critical of American golf, Thomson has played in six Masters since then. On one occasion at Augusta he ran afoul of the crudest penalty in golf. Chick Harbert, Thomson's playing partner, was keeping his scorecard, and Harbert inadvertently wrote down the wrong score for Peter on one hole. Thomson failed to catch the error before signing his card, and since the attested score was lower than what he actually took, he had to be disqualified. He accepted the penalty like the sportsman he is, but Jones and Roberts were most unhappy. "Nothing could have been more embarrassing for us," Roberts said later.
Another outstanding Masters discovery was Bob Charles, the left-handed New Zealander who developed into a kind of icon for the rest of the world's lefthanders when he became the first of their species to win a PGA tournament. Charles won the New Zealand open championship—as an amateur—and his reputation reached Jones and Roberts. Their invitation to compete in the 1958 Masters helped inspire Charles to quit his job as a bank clerk and borrow enough money for a golf junket to the U.S. that would culminate at Augusta. Charles is not a very powerful player, and he cannot drive the ball far enough to compete on favorable terms at Augusta with the likes of Jack Nicklaus (see cover) and Arnold Palmer. His record elsewhere, however, including his victory in the 1963 British Open, is enough to keep his Masters invitations coming.
There was a time not all that long ago when Augusta National would invite as many as 40 foreigners to the Masters and perhaps only 10 would accept. In those days it was the custom to send invitations to all members of the most recent British Ryder Cup and Walker Cup teams, but few of them could afford the time and the money for the long ocean voyage plus the train ride from New York to Augusta. The air age and the growing size of the Masters purses changed all that. Now every pro who tees up the ball on opening day at Augusta is guaranteed a check of at least $1,000, which will cover a round-trip ticket from about anywhere in the world. Last year 29 invitations were sent to foreigners, and 24 of them showed up. This year the foreign invitations were cut to 25, and 23 were accepted. (Missing are England's Neil Coles, who does not like to fly, and Ireland's Christy O'Connor, who has a foot injury.)
The reduction in the number of foreign invitations is part of a general effort by Jones and Roberts to cut the size of the Masters field so that the golf course can be played while in the best possible condition. Because winter grass grows rapidly during April at Augusta, it is necessary to mow the fairways twice each morning, in different directions. Last year there were 103 starters. Because Jones and Roberts also insist that the entire course be free of upkeep machinery while play is in progress, there was not enough time for two mowings before the first pairing teed off. Many of the pros complained about heavy lies in the fairways. This year the field is down to 83, the smallest since 1960, but the reduction has been essentially in the number of domestic entries. Henceforth, there will be a continuous effort to keep down the number of invitations for past champions of one variety or another, but Jones and Roberts will still apply their own much less formal standards to the foreign invitation list as they struggle to keep it equally selective.
This year as always, some of the foreigners who have used their allotted two invitations without conspicuous success are being replaced by new faces who have proved their worth on their own playing fields. Three of the newcomers are unusually interesting. One is South Africa's Bobby Cole, the exciting 18-year-old British Amateur champion who is anxious to try the U.S. pro tour. A number of people, including Gary Player, think Cole has a good chance to be one of the next superstars of golf. Another is Tony Jacklin, at 22 the most promising of the young British pros. And finally there is Joe Carr, the popular 45-year-old Irish amateur who is making his Masters debut at long last. Carr, who won the first of his three British Amateurs as long ago as 1953, is now past his golfing prime, but there is not an amateur in the world with a more distinguished record than this tall, handsome Irishman. No matter how he performs, he is a stimulating addition to the Masters field.
There are also three other good foreigners who have never tried the Masters before. Hideyo Sugimoto, an outsized Japanese with muscles like Babe the Blue Ox, received an invitation on the strength of nearly winning the individual trophy in last fall's Canada Cup matches. Bob Stanton, a 21-year-old Australian who recently qualified for the PGA tour, earned a bid by beating Palmer in a playoff in Australia's Dunlop International last fall, and Bob Verwey of South Africa, Gary Player's brother-in-law, who has had some success on the PGA tour, is in the field.
Along with these new faces are the foreigners who have already been blooded and bloodied at Augusta National. Among them are Bruce Devlin of Australia; Peter Butler of Britain: Chen Ching-po of Formosa; Gary Cowan of Canada, who is the current U.S. Amateur champion; Luis Silverio, the wiry little amateur from the Philippines; and Spain's Ramon Sota.
By the time they tee off, all of the foreigners will have been entertained at the traditional dinner that Jones and Roberts give them each year at Augusta National. Among the speeches on such occasions is one that Clifford Roberts makes to help explain why he and Bobby Jones have so doggedly insisted on a representative foreign field in the Masters. It is a familiar speech, and, in Roberts' words, it goes like this:
"The number of you foreign players who compete here at the Masters depends entirely on how many golfers there are living outside the United States who have demonstrated the capacity to give our boys some competition. You will be up against the toughest bunch of gang busters there are in the game, and you start out with three strikes against you. You have made a long trip to get here, and many of you have not had a chance to adjust to the difference in time. You have not had enough practice on our course and under our conditions. And you can't play competitive golf the year around, as our boys can.
"But we have no monopoly on golfing talent in the United States. With the tremendous improvements in transportation and the growth of golf throughout the world, we expect to see more and more good players emerging from abroad. Sometimes I am asked what percentage of the Masters field we set aside for foreign entrants. There is no percentage. It all depends on you boys. The better you play, the more foreign players will be invited; the worse you play, the fewer will get invitations. Our own pros raise hell with me sometimes if we invite a lot of fellows who can't provide good competition. It is up to you to show them we haven't done that."
From the distinguished way they play, the visitors must take Cliff Roberts' speech to heart.