Fifty-one weeks a year, a member of the Augusta National Golf Club may have a life. The week of the Masters, the membership exists to execute the wishes of the chairman, who is Jack Stephens. The job of the chairman is to execute the wishes, in perpetuity, of a former chairman, Clifford Roberts. And Clifford Roberts loved the par-3 tournament and the course on which it's played. That explains the following conversation between a member and Phil Mickelson last week.
Member: "I want to thank you, Phil, for supporting the par-3."
Mickelson: "You don't have to thank me. I love playing in it."
Member: "I want you to know we appreciate it."
Mickelson: "Anybody who doesn't play in it is missing out on a lot of fun."
Member: "The people who don't play in it, we know who they are."
Last Wednesday at 1 p.m., the 39th playing of the nine-hole par-3 tournament began on the course designed by Roberts and the late George Cobb. The little course, opened in 1958, would have been built along with the big course, in the early 1930s, except for two things: 1) Bobby Jones didn't want it; 2) the club couldn't afford it.
That's correct. Augusta National once had money worries. In the early years of the tournament Roberts, the most patrician of men, held his nose and authorized trick-shot exhibitions, closest-to-the-pin competitions and long-drive contests to drum up some practice-round gate. (In 1955 George Bayer was the king of the long whackers with a grand poke of 275 yards.) Roberts knew he was on a slippery slope, the same greasy hill that at lesser events, run by imperfect men, led to five-hour pro-ams, shiny cars floating atop greenside ponds and tournaments named for aging singers wearing dickeys. The Masters never descended into that particular hell.
Instead, the par-3 tournament was invented. The first winner, in 1960, was Sam Snead, who went around in 23 strokes, four under par on the 1,045-yard course. For his good works, Snead won not a penny. This no doubt irritated him. For Snead, golf was gainful or it was not at all.
Which might explain what happened in the 1991 tournament. The Slammer, at 78 years and 11 months, played in the afternoon's first group and shot a 24. He then retired to the clubhouse for a refreshment. O.K., for refreshments. Over the course of the afternoon three other guys matched Snead's 24, but nobody improved upon it. Snead was "roused from the clubhouse," according to the tournament's official yearbook, and the four guys at three under congregated for a playoff on the tee of the ticklish 8th, a 120-yarder with a green surrounded by water. Snead promptly pulled a Len Mattiace, although it wasn't called that then, flying his tee shot over the green and into Ike's Pond. Some say Snead's club was an eight-iron, some say a five. Regardless, it was too much, and Snead got what he wanted. He turned on his spikes and retired, again, to the clubhouse. Rocco Mediate won the tournament and a beautiful punch bowl—but no money, of course.