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April 08, 2005
The Master's was his Domain
"Augusta and this golf tournament have been as much a part of my life as anything other than my family." - Arnold Palmer, at his farewell press conference in 2004.
After slashing his way to four Masters wins, Arnold Palmer is about to become a Masters spectator for the first time in 50 years. "It's traumatic," admits Palmer, who has an open invitation to hit the tournaments ceremonial first ball on April 7 but is leaning against it.
Palmer is uniquely wise to all things Augusta, and he gave us some thoughts on The National from his desk at Bay Hill in Orlando. On people-watching: "You can't beat the terrace outside the clubhouse." On the menu: "I like a good strip steak with a nice glass of wine." On making speeches in the winner's circle: "If you get to the Butler Cabin, you're not going to worry about what you're going to say. You're just one happy dude."
Because he's played 150 rounds in 50 Masters-and because he's the Kind-we asked Palmer for a hole-by-hole tour of the famed course, and to recall the shots that won him four green jackets.
The Shot: 3-wood approach on 13
Palmer had eight Tour winds entering the 1958 Masters, but many in the media were still skeptical that he had the game to win a green jacket. With Bobby Jones on hand to watch, Palmer "smoked" his 3-wood approach to 18 feet (this was minutes after the embedded-ball Rules controversy on the 12th hole involving Ken Venturi). Palmer drained the eagle putt and went on to a one-shot victory. The new King was crowned.
"They said anybody who hit it low like I did would never win The Masters-1958 proved otherwise, and that kind of ignited all my success at Augusta. I hit a lot of 3-woods into 13 over the years, but that one was maybe the best of them all."
The Shot: 27-foot birdie putt in 17
Trailing Ken Venturi by a stroke, Palmer twice backed off his birdie putt before finally ramming in the 27-footer. ("I couldn't look," said Palmer's wife, Winnie. I didn't see it, but I heard it-it sounded like the best putt of the tournament.") He then birdies the final hole, thanks to a 6-iron to six feet, to capture his second green jacket.
"There was commotion and excitement [around the green]. The pin was back- right, and I was on the front-center of the green going slightly to the right and up the hill. About 27 feet. That ball was going-really moving. I didn't have many putts die in the hole in my career. I jumped into the air."
The Shot: Tee shot on 12
Palmer got off to a lackluster start in his 18-hole playoff with Gary Player and Dow Finsterwald but caught fire on the back nine, citing his tee shot here as the spark.
"I found myself trailing Player by three shots at the turn, but I hit an 9-iron to the front-left pin and almost made a one. It was kick-in length. That sent me off. I birdied 13-I hit a 3 wood to reach it in two-and shot 31 on the back nine. My 68 beat Player by three strokes."
The Stroll: Victory march up the 18th fairway
Palmer realized a Masters dream in 1964. "One of my great ambitions was to walk up the 18th hole at The Masters and feel comfortable. In my first three wins, I was on edge [coming to 18]. In '64 I was leading by six and playing with my great friend Dave Marr. He was contending for second place. When we walked off the 18th tee I said, "Is there anything I can do to help you?' And he said, 'Yeah-make 12.'"
The Palmer mystique is rooted in his humanity. We see ourselves in him, both in his triumphs and failures. He won four green jackets, but it could have easily been six. The King recalls the two that got away.
The Defending Champion 1959
Palmer led with seven holes remaining, but drowned his tee shot in Rae's Creek when the wind knocked down his well-struck 6-iron. His third, a pitch from near the hazard, trickled over the green into an indentation. It took Palmer three to get down from there for a triple- bogey 6. (He made the same score the final time he contended on Sunday at The Masters, in 1972.)
"I didn't do very well, that about all I remember. Art Wall won the tournament, didn't he? [He did, closing with a Palmer-like charge of birdies on five of the last six holes for a 66 and a one-shot win.] I don't want to remember the gory details. I have enough of those memories."
Greenside Bunker Blunder 1961
Clinging to a one-stroke lead over Gary Player, Palmer striped his drive down the middle of the 72nd hole, then accepted congratulations from a fan. Big mistake. His 7-iron approach missed wide right into a sand trap. From there, Palmer skulled his explosion shot over the green, failed to get up-and-down and ended up making double-bogey 6. Player got up-and- down from that same bunker to win.
"That bunker shot is the shot from my career that I'd like to have over again," Palmer says. "I hit a bad approach and tried to revamp it by gambling on the shot out of the trap. I could have flipped it out onto the green and taken a chance on it trickling down to that Sunday pin and caught it a little thin. I didn't get it down, made 6 and lost The Masters."
Photo Caption: Not even this last-second field goal attempt could salvage a Masters disaster.
Golf Magazine, April 2005, pgs. 165-169.
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