To the rabbit’s hole we go, searching wildly for details and sidelights, anything to add substance to the stories that most catch our fancy this time of the golf year.
We can’t get enough of them. Even those that happened 88 Aprils ago and would seemingly be so well chronicled that we needn’t check the archives … well, they are the ones that still produce much entertainment.
Take the legendary 1935 Masters, for instance. It is cemented in the record books that Gene Sarazen stood in the 15th fairway trailing by three to Craig Wood, who had completed his 72 holes. We trust you know the story – that Sarazen, with Walter Hagen as a playing competitor and Bobby Jones watching with the patrons, miraculously holed a 235-yard 4-wood shot for “double eagle” to tie Wood, and that Sarazen won the 36-hole playoff the next day.
But if you come across the dispatch by W.F. Fox Jr. in The Indianapolis News, my guess is you’d learn even more about that famous happening. Here is how Fox set the stage, starting with Wood walking off his 72nd hole at 6-under par:
“As he came off this green, Mrs. Wood stepped up and gave him a big hug and a sweet smack, all because just at this hour one year to the day in her mother’s apartment in New York City, she had become Mrs. Wood.
“For some time it looked like a sweet anniversary party worth $1,500, and because of all this these lines seem to come to mind:
“A lousy bird is the albatross,
On Craig Wood he just put the double-cross.
He holes in two on a par-five,
And few are those who deny this shot’s applesauce.”
So, did you know Craig Wood had gotten married in his wife’s mother’s apartment one year before having the ’35 Masters so rudely taken from him by Sarazen?
You would if you had followed the rabbit’s hole, and scoured the archives, and taken advantage of what we must concede was a sports-writing legion that dipped its quilted pens in an ink richer in literary license.
Fox’s poetry, for instance. Perhaps it adds confoundment to the story – What makes the albatross a lousy bird, by the way, and what in tarnation does it mean to deny applesauce? – but there is a sense of wonder to the way in which stories were delivered in that era. Sportswriters exercised incredible freedom to assign nicknames – within paragraphs, Grantland Rice, a giant in his time, called Wood “the big New Jersey blond” and “the Jersey Thunderbolt” – and hyperbole was very much encouraged.
But one must remember this was decades before news was delivered instantaneously on different platforms. Newspaper editors knew their readers would never physically see what had transpired, so correspondents were assigned to be creative and emphatic, and so many of them were.
From the outset, golf writers were sold on the Masters and prepared to use every adjective in their arsenal to express their appreciation of it, and especially of the man whose vision inspired it.
Consider these words written by Alan Gould about the very first Masters round, way back in ’34, where 70 was the leading score and Jones’ 76 had to be addressed:
“The short, stocky figure of golf’s one-time Napoleon strode over the rolling battle ground of Georgia today to revive a flock of vivid memories, but strike only a few flashes of the commanding skill that marked his championship days as the big professional parade galloped past him on the field of action.
“It wasn’t exactly a Waterloo for Bob Jones, back to the wars after nearly four years of retirement, but the eminent Georgia barrister was unable either to locate the target with any consistency at shortrange or match the swift pace of a combined charge by the old guard.”
Golf’s “one-time Napoleon”? Writing of a 4-over par round as if it were Jones’ “Waterloo”? A bit contrived, perhaps, but very much in sync with the style of the times.
Shine the spotlight on ol’ Granny writing about Ralph Guldahl’s win in 1939 by recalling heartache the golfer had experienced in 1937. That year, Guldahl lost the tournament to Byron Nelson when he played the par-3 12th and par-5 13th in 3-over (double bogey, bogey) and Nelson was 3-under (birdie, eagle).
Rice was promptly enamored with Guldahl – “the best we have for every shot” – but three years later, the epic playoff between Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson captivated his attention.
So here in 1939 was Guldahl seemingly coming unglued again at the 13th, hitting his driver only 200 yards. There were 270 more yards to go. Wrote Rice:
“Guldahl elected to let first place money and the crown ride on a single shot. It was an impossible shot. I had just seen Gene Sarazen play a safety shot 40 yards beyond Guldahl’s puny drive.
“There was nothing puny about Ralph’s second shot. You could hear the gallery gasp as big Ralph took out a wood. That meant let-’er-go-Gallagher-lay-on-Macduff. It meant the works.”
Something tells me you stumble across that in the archives and you might feel a tinge of sadness that you didn’t live in an era that embraced the “let-’er-go-Gallagher-lay-on-Macduff” philosophy. Granny did live in that era, so he appreciated Guldahl’s blast that covered the 270 yards and set up an eagle that carried him to victory.
Rice was promptly enamored with Guldahl – “the best we have for every shot” – but three years later, the epic playoff between Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson captivated his attention. Here was his report on a fourth round during which these two icons finished at 8-under 280, Hogan closing with 70, Nelson with 73:
Hogan was “the lean, grim battler, the human rattlesnake on a golf course,” and as for the relationship with Nelson going back to their days in the same Texas caddie barn, “they have been tearing at one another’s heart ever since . . . they are personal friends but deadly golf and financial enemies.”
As for the key point in the playoff won by Nelson, Al Sharp of the Atlanta Constitution took us to the par-5 eighth hole: “(Nelson) outdrove Hogan there, then crippled the ball with a brassie which sent it limping onto the green five feet past the pin. It was the payoff. Never again was Hogan ahead after Nelson sank that putt for eagle three.”
If the golf-writing world was smitten with Hogan, it paled in comparison to what greeted the coronation of “The King” in 1958. Arnold Palmer withstood a rules controversy behind the 12th green and won the first of his four Masters.
Described as “the muscular 28-year-old…” and the “bronzed, clean-cut Arnold Palmer,” the newest Masters champ was immediately beloved. The tournament’s television coverage had started two years earlier, but still, describing Palmer to his readers, Will Grimsley painted a picture of a veritable Hercules.
“(Palmer) has the rugged face of a prize fighter and a heart to match. He is built like a football halfback. He has powerful arms and shoulders and wrists like fence poles.”
There was joy to celebrate, and golf writers spared no detail about the return to Augusta National.
There is today an outpouring of media gushing when the Masters rolls around on a yearly basis, so one can only imagine the thrill that was felt when World War II was over and the pilgrimage to Augusta returned in April of 1946 after a four-year exile.
“If you want to get poetic about it,” wrote Lawton Carver, who proceeded to do just that, likely knowing his audience wanted him to, “the wisteria drips its lavender flowers over the premises and the redbuds and dogwoods are in bloom down in Georgia as the golfing clans gather for this return to the old days.
“The old days before 1942.”
There was joy to celebrate, and golf writers spared no detail about the return to Augusta National. “The old course is about the same as before,” wrote Carver. “They have corralled the herd of beef cattle and shooed off the flock of turkeys which grazed there during the war years.”
More than 80 years later, the herd of beef cattle and flock of turkeys remain shooed off and journalists are fully invested in the glory of the Masters. We just write it a little less extravagantly than our forefathers did.
Top Photo: Arnold Palmer regales reporters after winning his first of four Masters titles in 1958.
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