Loran Smith’s Sports Column: Masters for Wednesday

Published 2:12 pm Tuesday, April 9, 2024

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AUGUSTA – Arriving here yesterday, there was that reconnecting

with a place which is so magnificent that no one could imagine a one and

done affiliation with this 365-acre sprawl of hallowed ground.

However, there are literally millions out there who likely have a goal of

just entering the gates one time in their lives—a bucket list priority. To

witness one round of competition, for countless golf aficionados, would be

the ultimate. Then there are those, including the well-connected locals,

who have the good fortune of having access to season badges every year.

It is always a highlight to spend time under the big oak which

encroaches on the clubhouse and the first tee. You see the most

interesting people coming and going. In addition to the members in their

green jackets, there are the golfers, and the scurrying waiters; you see

sports agents, writers, radio personalities and familiar TV faces such as Jim

Nance and Verne Lundquist and former champions like Jack Nicklaus, Ben

Crenshaw and Gary Player.

One of the most delightful events in all of golf is the Par 3 tournament

on Wednesday. In the beginning its signature feature was that the golfers


were relaxed and fan friendly. You could carry on with Sam Snead, Bob

Goalby, Jimmy Demaret and Billy Casper, for example. With the passing of

time, there came the tradition of letting players’ family members caddie for


Kids, five, six and seven years-old or more wearing the traditional

white caddie coveralls and taking over the premises became a fan and

photographer’s capstone.

Nicklaus never played the par 3 event in his prime, and while he

never said whether he was superstitious, or not, there is the fact that

nobody who has won the Par 3 tournament went on to win the Masters



The Golden Bear did say that when his grandson Gary Nicklaus, Jr.

(GT), made a hole-in-one, it was his signature Masters moment. Jack

never won the Par 3 tournament, but one of his greatest thrills came from

this family-oriented event—GT’s ace.

No other major has anything to compare, and the children and

grandchildren of the players, or contestants as Bobby Jones would say, are

responsible for the attention and affection which the Par 3 event brings



The Par 3 course was the brainchild of former chairman Clifford

Roberts who engaged University of Georgia graduate, George Cobb to

design the 1,055-yard course. Par is 27.

Never thought I would see the day that I would come to this

splendorous place and not see Arnold Palmer, who died in 2016, on the

premises. In the early sixties when Arnie’s Army had its beginning, I was

eager to follow him for an entire round. There was press access on certain

holes with the most advantageous location being at Amen Corner.

You could see the golfer’s approach shots on No. 11, the playing of

the treacherous No. 12 and the tee shots off No. 13. It was an exciting

place to be any day of tournament week, but the excitement went up

several notches when Arnie came through.

In 1979, he missed the cut but stayed around for the weekend as the

new chairman, Bill Lane, had asked him to participate in the trophy

presentation that took place on Sunday.

During a lull in the final round soon after the leaders had made their

tee shots on the first tee, I sat down in the clubhouse with the first four-time

winner of the tournament and turned on a tape recorder for a lengthy

conversation with him.


He said his biggest disappointment came when he hit his approach

shot into the bunker on the final hole in 1961 and double bogeyed the hole

to lose to Gary Player by a stroke.

When asked about his favorite hole on the course, he said. “I think

that the corner is probably the most exciting series of golf holes that I have

ever played—starting with 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15—they may not be the

most difficult holes in golf, but they are certainly the most exciting under

tournament conditions when the pressure is on and the wind is blowing and

all the things that can happen are happening; those holes are going to give

you the thrill that you really want or might be looking for in golf or in life.”

No professional athlete ever had the rapport with the media that

Arnold Palmer had. He was patient and courteous, always accommodating

and forever honest and candid. He made the rookie writers and

broadcasters feel comfortable and relaxed. He was a favorite of the media just as he was to golf fans over the world.