Southwords

Georgia on My Mind

Fond flashbacks from Augusta

By Jim Moriarty

In April, every golfer’s fancy turns to the Masters. In 1979 Fuzzy Zoeller and I were both rookies. Fuzzy won the Masters. I got to meet Dan Jenkins. The late, legendary Jenkins, hisownself, spent well over a year of his 90, in Augusta, Georgia, one week at a time, writing about everyone from Ben Hogan to Jordan Spieth.

Dan’s Mount Everest of attendance is well beyond anything I could contemplate but I was there for some big moments: Jack Nicklaus in ’86; Ben Crenshaw in ’95; all of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Toss in a Ballesteros, a Spieth and a Faldo or two and it was a good run. As precious as those memories are, there is something equally satisfying about the little moments, away from the fist pumping and Mickelson jumping.

There was no microphone to record Justin Leonard on the par 5 second hole — the exact year escapes me — when he went for the back left pin placement in two, landed on the green and watched as his ball finished up on the embankment among the patrons, Augusta’s oh so civilized word for badge-wielding spectator. When a ball skitters in amongst the punters at the Masters everyone knows exactly what to do. They stand, fold their chairs ever so politely and back away to form a perfect semi-circle around the player, ball and caddie.

When the pin is in the back left on the second green at Augusta National, being on the bank behind and above it is about as appetizing a spot as being in the starting gate at the top of an Olympic ski jump. If Leonard’s chip didn’t hit the pin and go in the hole it was destined to race all the way down the green, maybe off it entirely. He might as well have been Galileo trying to get his head around the effect of gravity on a free falling object.

The couple nearest Justin was an elderly man and, presumably, his wife. The gentleman had the mien of a British colonel of the 1st Bombay Grenadiers recently returned from the Second Opium War, who just happened to be married to Scarlett O’Hara. They stood at attention, more or less directly behind Leonard’s ball, clutching their folding metal and canvas chairs to their chests like gladiator shields.

As Justin and his caddie were discussing his dismal prospects, the elderly gent turned to his wife and whispered in a voice — as elderly gents are sometimes wont to do — that was a notch or two or three above your garden-variety whisper. “This is a very difficult shot,” he cautioned Scarlett.

Justin turned his head ever so slightly in their direction and, in a pitch perfect whisper of his own, said to the colonel and his wife, “I know.”

Then, there was 1987. That was the year Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman and Larry Mize went into sudden death as a threesome. Ballesteros dropped out on the 10th hole, the first in the playoff, when he three-putted from the back fringe and trudged up the steep hill to the clubhouse, an inconsolable figure. Norman and Mize advanced to the 11th where Mize missed the green miles right with a hopelessly awful second while Norman safely found the right edge of the green, being careful not to flirt with the pond. It looked as though Greg was about to slay the white whale of his green jacket. But, as Norman later said of Mize’s position, “I didn’t think Larry would get down in two . . . and I was right.”

Having a penchant during my photography career for finding myself consistently in the wrong place at the right time, I was positioned not down with my compatriots in the photo stand but further up the hill on the side of the 11th fairway. Folks aren’t supposed to get inside the ropes at the Masters but, with a wary eye for Pinkertons and green jacketed members, I inched my way underneath, trying to be as inconspicuous as someone who’d been running around all day and no doubt smelled like a musk ox could be. Who should I pop out next to but Larry Mize’s wife, Bonnie, and their one-year-old son, David.

With Norman standing next to the green looking on, Mize — the hometown boy — prepared to play his nearly impossible pitch. All of Amen Corner went as quiet as a mausoleum. CBS even hushed up the fake bird noises. Well, it seemed that quiet. Mize, of course, pitched the ball into the hole from a spot that looked to be about halfway to the Bojangles on Washington Road and commenced to leaping and running about, all of which I missed.

When the ball went in, the valley exploded.  Shocked and scared by the sudden noise, David began to wail. Bonnie, held him close, rocked him back and forth and said, “It’s OK. It’s OK. It’s just daddy.”

I wouldn’t have traded places with anyone for all the pictures in the world.  PS

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