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Original Issue

A master of Inglish history

To find out who shot what when at Augusta, just ask Bill Inglish

There are lots of happy people in Augusta, Ga. this week—happy because it is spring, because the dogwood looks nice and because golf is in the air everywhere. But no one is happier than Bill Inglish, a mild-mannered 56-year-old newspaperman from Oklahoma City. Inglish is on a mission in Augusta—to record history as it is being made—and as he sees it his mission is also his reward.

To Bill Inglish history reveals itself in numbers, numbers such as 124, Sam Snead's total Masters rounds; or 73.19, Byron Nelson's Masters stroke average; or 3,722, the strokes Jack Nicklaus has used in 14 Masters tournaments. Every time a golf ball is struck this week, history, for Inglish, will be altered. The data he collects at Augusta National will wind up a year from now, just as it has for the past 10 years, bound into a slim white booklet that is distributed to the press corps. The Masters Tournament, Scoring Records and Statistics, 1934-1972 is to that event what The Little Red Book is to baseball; that is, the authoritative source for records; both noteworthy and negligible, that have emerged from the 39-year-old tournament. It is the product of a year of careful work in moments filched from the otherwise routine life of a modest, bread-winning. Middle American father of four. "I start on it right after the tournament—well, during it actually. I can't wait. I mail the first draft to Augusta about a month later, but I double-check it all year, anytime I'm home, looking for something I might add to it." The final proofs are sent back to Inglish at the end of each year for a last look, and once they are checked his preparation for the next Masters begins, accompanied by a gradually increasing fever of foot-tapping anticipation.

His Masters project evolved from a curiosity about the U.S. Open some 20 years ago. "I began wondering about the Open scoring records of Snead and Hogan, how they compare even though Snead had never won," Inglish says. "One thing I found out was that Snead had never scored well in the last round. By 'well' I mean he had never shot better than 70. While I was doing that I jotted down the records of 35 or 40 other players. By the time I finished I'd gotten pretty far afield and I didn't know what to do with it all. So I sent it to the USGA. Then I began to wonder how Snead and Hogan would compare in the Masters, and the first thing I knew I had myself another project. When I was finished it sat around, not doing anybody any good, so I mailed it off to Mr. Roberts."

Clifford Roberts, the benevolent despot behind the massively efficient Masters organization, had never heard of Bill Inglish in 1963 but he recognized a bargain when he saw one. "You must have seen a lot of Masters," Roberts wrote back. "Of course I hadn't seen any," says Inglish, "nor did I expect I ever would." But after Roberts had checked the Inglish figures against the club's own and found them sound, he published the first edition in 1964 and in 1966 invited the author to Augusta as a guest of the tournament.

Before the appearance of Bill Inglish's booklet there was remarkably little for Masters fans to work with; just a small green handbook containing the round-by-round scores of the top 24 finishers each year and a section of believe-it-or-not-style oddities. Inglish fills in the gaps with categories such as his "Composite Table of Pacesetters," a listing of the 52 golfers who have led or been tied for the lead after any of the first three rounds of the tournament, how many times they have led, after which round and in which years. Arnold Palmer's domination of the tournament in the late '50s and early '60s leaps out of the numbers: he led three times after 18 holes, six times after 36, five times after 54 and won four times. A footnote to the table points out that four champions—Doug Ford, Art Wall, Gay Brewer and George Archer—have never been pacesetters at all. There is also meat for a couple of lifetimes of trivia games. For instance, "Best Round by First-Year [Foreign] Player: 68 by Takaaki Kono of Japan, 1969." Or "The average age for all 36 champions is 32.19 years."

Several things set Bill Inglish apart from the stereotypical statistician. His movements and speech are unhurried, his work space is comfortably cluttered at all times and he never uses an adding machine. Most notably, though, he has also been a first-rate athlete, a scratch golfer educated in the classic tradition—caddying at nine on the baked fairways and sand greens of Sapulpa, Okla., playing 300 rounds a year in his teens and being No. 1 on his high school and junior college teams. The only instruction he ever had was what he picked up by skipping school to hitchhike the 15 miles from Sapulpa to Tulsa every time an exhibition was scheduled. By sneaking onto the course he watched the likes of Tommy Armour, Horton Smith, Joe Kirkwood and Walter Hagen.

As the golfer was taking shape, so was the statistician. "As far back as I can remember, I collected dates and scores and newspaper stories, first on golf but later on baseball and basketball, too." As a 13-year-old he ranked all the golfers in town and kept records on the high school team. Although he never discussed his figures with anyone, once in a while he could not resist showing off a little. "Somebody would say, 'So and so is a better golfer than so and so,' and I'd say, 'Not really. But of course I'm just going by what they've shot this year.' "

Inglish grins at the memory of his juvenile vanity. Even today he is not the kind of man to shut off a conversation with an irrefutable figure, unless, of course, someone asks him to. His golf talk is thoughtful and exudes quiet authority. On Byron Nelson: "He could put the ball anyplace with his driver. I did a project on him once, researching 1945 round by round. People say that Nelson had no competition when he won 11 straight tournaments that year, but he averaged 67.7 for his final rounds during the streak. Nobody could stand up against that."

Ben Hogan: "I've always been fascinated by his ability as a strategist. He was right nine times out of 10 and he never deviated from his plan."

Jack Nicklaus: "He's sure the best now. He is interesting because he finesses the ball much more than most people realize. He's not all power. I think Jones maybe was better but they are difficult to compare because Jones played so few tournaments."

Arnold Palmer: "I don't like to see him suffer with his putting. I hope he wins again, but I can't watch him. I was always a terrible putter."

In real life Inglish is telegraph editor of the Oklahoma City Times, a job that gets him up at 4:45 in the morning and requires him to read something like 18,000 words of newswire copy a day. It was during his last year at the University of Oklahoma, when he was sports editor of the school's daily, that he decided to become a newspaperman. After graduating from OU he held jobs on papers in Muskogee and Holdenville before settling down in Oklahoma City in 1946. He says he never seriously considered trying the professional golf tour because the life was hard in those days and he never really thought he was good enough. But he gives himself away when he says, "It was always a matter of getting time and money together and I never could get them both at once. Long ago I decided I'd have to be content with hacking around local courses and playing in a local tournament now and then."

For a man who is so thoroughly an Oklahoman that he refers to the entire state with a fling of an arm or a thumb as "up there," "over there" and "out there," a trip to Georgia for a week in the spring is not something undertaken lightly. He makes use of every waking minute, walking the course on Tuesday looking over the changes made in the past year, and on Wednesday watching the par-3 tournament and checking out the practice tee for interesting newcomers. At 9:30 on Thursday morning he is among the hundred or so spectators who pay their respects to the two old Scots, Jock Hutchison, 88, and Freddy McLeod, 90, who officially get things under way. During the tournament he divides his time between the course, where he follows whoever interests him at the moment ("I always used to try to watch Hogan and Charlie Coe. I liked to see where they put the ball. I figure where they are is where you should be"), and the press room, where he finds himself a chair close to the huge scoreboard and watches the numbers go up. "That's where I get my ideas. I take notes on anything unusual, but mainly I watch." He sits in on the press interviews with each day's leaders in the afternoons, and in the evenings, after dinner in the clubhouse, he returns to his lodgings near the course "to sort of digest the day."

When it is all finally over this Sunday and the dust has settled on the empty parking lots and the sun has dropped behind the fifth fairway and the only people left on the grounds are the last few writers in the Quonset hut press room, working to make their deadlines, Bill Inglish of Oklahoma City will still be in his chair up near the scoreboard, taking notes, prolonging for a little while longer the pleasure of being where he is, and watching history emerging from the numbers.