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May 05, 1997
The Masters In Miniature
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May 05, 1997

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The Masters In Miniature

Johnny Miller once called the Masters "the Augusta National spring putting championship." But Augusta's true spring putting championship is contested a few strip mulls up Washington Road, as SI's John Walters discovered last week. Here's his report.

Augusta. April. Azaleas in bloom. I'm here for the big golf tournament.

"You missed it," says Vontrese, the counter lady at Bojangles.


"The Masters was two weeks ago," she says. "Oh, there may be some golf thing going on this weekend, but nothing anyone's ever heard of."

There's a golf thing going on in Augusta, all right. The Commissioner's Cup, the first stop on the 11-event Professional Putters Association tour, has lured 56 of the nation's best mini-golf players to the Augusta Putt Putt. Which isn't to say that the participants don't know a green carpet from a green jacket. For example, Brad Lebo, a 36-year-old Philadelphia dentist who played golf at Penn, is a four handicapper. Assessing where his talents have led him today, Lebo says, "I guess I'm standing at the wrong end of Washington Road."

Lebo is 3.8 miles and approximately 47 franchise restaurants north of the main gate to Augusta National, but that's as close as the $10,000 Commissioner's Cup, which started in 1986, comes to the Masters. At the Putt Putt, every hole on both of the 18-hole courses is a par-2, and there's no such thing as an approach shot. Or caddies. (There is, however, a safari's worth of life-sized fiberglass animal figurines lining the course: an elephant, a giraffe, a hippo, a rhino, a zebra. Curiously, there is no tiger.)

One can play a round of Putt Putt in half an hour, which is why this two-day event is an eight-round affair. You also can play hurt. That would explain why Lewis Burton did not fret when he threw out his back while sizing up a putt last Saturday. Said Burton, who would win the tournament, and the $2,000 first prize, with a 144-hole score of 222: "It isn't like I'm going to have to hit a long drive at the next tee."

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