The azaleas are beautifully in bloom in Augusta this week, and I’m pretty sure we all wish we could be there. As a possible distraction from being sheltered in place, please accept my invitation to take a little drive with me down Magnolia Lane as I dig into my Masters Memories Vault.
I was blessed to cover the Masters for nearly five decades, and there are many memories and highlights tucked away. It’s well known that The Masters has its own unique way of doing things. My two all-time favorites took place in 1986 and 1995.
I will save the best for last and tell you first about my times in 1995. I am lucky enough to have many friends that live in Austin, Texas, and are members of the Austin Country Club. Back then, the head professional was the highly-respected Harvey Penick. His two best players at the time were Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw, both of whom he had taught from their teens through their professional careers. By the way, in the running for the worst golfer ever taught by the legendary Harvey Penick . . . yours truly.
On the Sunday before The Masters week began — April 2, 1995 — 90-year-old Harvey Penick passed away. His funeral services were set for Wednesday, April 6, the day before play was to begin. Both Kite and Crenshaw served as pallbearers in the Austin ceremony.
Crenshaw had won The Masters in 1983 but in 1995 his game was far from being in good form. He began with very little confidence and with a very heavy heart.
His opening round of 70 was solid, but three shots off the lead held by David Frost. He came on strong in the second round with an impressive five-under-par 67. At the halfway point, he trailed by two, but a 69 on Saturday moved Crenshaw into a four-way tie for the lead. He felt strongly he was receiving inspiration from his longtime instructor and friend. Then, as if by divine intervention, a final-round 66 edged Davis Love by a stroke and Crenshaw collected his second Green Jacket.
During my exclusive interview with this very popular winner, I asked Crenshaw what role Penick played in his victory. With tears rolling down his cheeks, Crenshaw said, “Harvey was the 15th club in my bag.” To this day, that quote is considered to be one of the best quotes in golf, and Crenshaw now has a golf radio show on SiriusXM using that same name. Certainly, it was an honor for me to be the first to whom he said those now iconic words.
Now, before I share the memories of what many call the Mona Lisa of The Masters — the 1986 Jack Nicklaus improbable victory — let me explain a little Masters tradition.
As our broadcast team was enjoying our pre-tournament dinner, I announced my plan to sign up to play the course on the Monday after. My understanding was that the first 25 members of the media to sign up would get to play. Lucky for me, a savvy media member was part of our team dinner and told me that if I wanted to be in that first 25, I needed to be outside the main gate no later than midnight. As expected, I wasn’t the only one lined up as the gate opened. Despite executing the plan to perfection, I was still 12th in line, but good enough to play on Monday. What a thrill it was, and I managed to break 80!
That glorious Sunday afternoon before, little did we know that Jack Nicklaus was about to turn back the clock. He had already won the Masters five times, and not many people considered him to be a serious threat, certainly not after recording eight straight pars to start the final round. It seemed Nicklaus had no chance. But then, somehow, someway, the Golden Bear Magic kicked in, and he began making his move. The Golden Bear was on the prowl with birdies on 9, 10, and 11. Adding to this dreamlike setting was that his son, Jackie, was his caddie.
The roars cascading through the Georgia pines was some of the loudest ever heard at Augusta. That glorious Sunday, Nicklaus fired a back nine of 30 to do the impossible and win his sixth Green Jacket.
At the time, it was one of the biggest stories in golf history, and remains that today.
So, no Masters this week, but what a great one to pull together and pray for all that are suffering. Remember, this too shall pass.