Loran Smith’s Sports Column: Masters for Wednesday

Published 3:08 pm Tuesday, April 4, 2023

AUGUSTA – This is my 63rd Masters, and I am as excited as ever to

become immersed in the most exhilarating and intoxicating environments

there is in sports.


I consider the Masters and the Kentucky Derby the two classiest

events in sports. Wimbledon would obviously get strong consideration,

perhaps bringing about a “Big Three.” The Henley Regatta is especial but

attracts limited interest when compared with the aforementioned.

All major golf tournaments and the Grand Slam tennis championships

have something signature and special such as the French Tennis Open at

Roland Garros—Paris in the springtime is hard to beat. The British Open,

golf’s oldest championship, has more traditions than the Christmas season.

(You get a rush from the roar of the engines at Indianapolis; the

exhilarating, high moments of a Super Bowl or a World Series pique the

emotions and so does the running of the bulls at Pamplona—but you don’t

associate class with those sports. They can be spectacular, however.)

The Masters is something one simply can’t get enough of. Give this

championship temperatures which are balmy, perhaps breezy enough for a


cardigan but sunshine without thunder and electricity, and that makes the

day of 40,000 (my guess) golfing aficionados who swoon to every shot for

four rounds with the hope that the Sunday finale is what it always seems to

be—an unforgettable conclusion that makes you testify that the last

Masters the best ever.


It was Ken Venturi, who experienced hard luck at the Masters, that

said the “Masters begins on the back nine on Sunday.”

Venturi could have become the first amateur to win the Masters in

1956 except for a final round 80, losing by one stroke to Jackie Burke who

scored a 71 in blustery conditions.


Then in 1960, Venturi became the fabled “leader in the club house”

with a final round 70 only to see Arnold Palmer birdie the final two holes to

win his second Green Jacket. Arnie would go on to win two more Masters

titles and enjoyed a streak of victories or close finishes that made him the

dominant player at Augusta for about eight years. Friends said that Venturi

became embittered about his Masters’ experience but would later enjoy

highly regarded status in the television booth.


The lower clubhouse is where all players hung out for years. The

porch of the main clubhouse, overlooking the putting green, is where the


ole timers such as Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen, and Byron Nelson often

took respite. If you were an eager journalist, you didn’t have to ask

questions. All you had to do was listen.


However, Sarazen, at some point, would be asked about his famous

double eagle at the 15 th hole in 1935. He was always amendable to

conversation about his feat, noting that there were “23 people” standing

around the green. His playing partner was Walter Hagen and one of those

“twenty-three” was tournament founder, Bob Jones. “I had two great

witnesses,” Sarazen would grin.

I have on audio tape or Sarazen’s recall, in great detail, of the double

eagle and his views on the Masters and the tournament’s influence in golf.

He later said that over his lifetime, he had met at least a thousand or more

golf fans who claimed to have seen his miraculous four wood stroke which

became known as the “shot heard round the world.”

There were conversations with Jack Nicklaus, Byron Nelson, Arnold

Palmer, and Sam Snead and a phone conversation with Ben Hogan on the

phone, which regrettably was not recorded.


Snead was as colorful as they come. He sounded forth with

whatever was on his mind. It was fun to listen to him talk, his West Virginia

drawl as intriguing as his insightful commentary.


Snead gave Bob Jones and Cliff Roberts high marks with regard to

how they ran the Masters; he was very respectful of the golf course. He

thought the 12 th was one of the toughest in golf. “…it takes its toll. It eats

their lunch and the bag it came in. I told my nephew (J. C. Snead) there

are two holes that will kill you, No. 12 and No. 17. No. 17 looks closer than

it is because of the swells you don’t see. I said, just play the yardage.

Don’t go by the way it looks.


“With No. 12, you must play it long. If you miss the green, miss it in

the back, not the front.”


There was a brief period when Palmer was a host of the Sunday post

conference telecast. One year, when he had missed the cut and there was

that lull as the players were about to make the turn in the final round, we

sat in the locker room and talked about the tournament which he loved.


As always, it was an insightful conversation. He always had

something discerning to say. However, it was at Bay Hill one winter day

when I interviewed him for an hour that is most memorable. The one


question I gave priority to was, this one: “Do you have any idea how many

times you have signed your name in your lifetime?”

He smiled and said, “Well not sure, but my long-time secretary who

retied a couple of years ago estimated that I had signed my name

4,000,000 times.” That didn’t include banquets, golf courses, FBO’s and



Arnie was golf’s greatest ambassador.