Loran Smith’s Sports Column: Masters for Saturday

Published 2:19 pm Friday, April 12, 2024

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AUGUSTA – The weekend is here, and a champion is waiting in the

wings. His name may reside on the leader board at the end of the day, but

perhaps not.

Over the years there has been much final round melodrama at

Augusta. While there have been wire-to-wire champions, there has been

sensationally gripping and tense moments when the outcome is decided on

the final nine holes of play. You know the line that has gained traction: The

Masters begins on the back nine on Sunday.

This pulsating circumstance dates to 1935 when Gene Sarazen made

his famous double eagle on No. 15 to tie Craig Wood and then defeated

him in a 36-hole playoff 144-149.

Sarazen was always generous with his time, as most of the ole timers

usually are. That is changing fast in today’s soundbite world. I was

fortunate to tape record Masters heroes such as Sarazen, Sam Snead,

Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and others.

One day, I asked Sarazen if I could record him, and he was happy to

oblige. We went out onto the balcony of the clubhouse, almost within arm’s

length of the Big Oak. It was mid-morning, calm, quiet, and restful. He

provided great insight and graphic detail about his famous shot, perhaps

the most famous in the history of golf.

“Of course, you must remember one thing,” Sarazen said, “the double

eagle wouldn’t have amounted to anything unless I had beaten (Craig)

Wood the next day (the Masters’ first playoff). It would have been a double

eagle with no feathers on it.”

He was enjoying reminiscing about the shot and admitted that he

never tired of recalling his double eagle.

“First of all, I was playing with Walter Hagen, and we were on the 15 th

tee and a well-known sportswriter, Joe Williams, was there. Joe watched

us both drive down the 15 th fairway. All of a sudden, we heard this

tremendous roar on the 18 th green. Craig had holed a long putt for a three.

“With that,” Joe Williams said, ‘Well I have seen enough of you

bums.’ and headed to the clubhouse. As we walked down the fairway, we

were talking about everything but golf. Then we started to add up the

scores and my caddy says, ‘You gone have to get all threes from here in,


“I says, ‘…is that so, well, we’ll see what we can do.’ Hagen played

his drive first because I was a little ahead of him, and then we had quite a

debate between the caddie and me. His name was ‘Stovepipe.’ He was a

minister in town.

“Stovepipe says, ‘I don’t think you can carry that with a four wood.

That’s a long shot and you got a close lie there. Maybe you better hit a

three-wood. I said, ‘No, I can’t get the ball in the air.’ Hagen yells over,

‘Hurry up, I’ve got a dinner engagement.’ So I took the four wood, and I hit

  1. And you know, there was no excitement. Everything was absolutely still.

“The shot was in the air and the crowd didn’t seem to even see the

ball. Then all of a sudden, it hit just short of the green, and it trickled up and

down into the hole. With that, 23 people that were sitting around the hole,

jumped to their feet, yelling, and I knew it must have been in the hole

because they don’t do that unless the ball goes into the hole.

“Well one of those 23 people was Robert T. Jones. So, I had great

witnesses—I had Hagen and Robert T. Jones as witnesses.”

In my mind’s eye, I can see the excitement in his eyes, the sense of

pride on his face and the humility this historical moment gave him. An oak

of a man, Sarazen became a gentleman farmer in Germantown, N.Y. after

he retired from the tour. He lived out his life at Marco Island, Fla., dying at


Furman Bisher arranged for a friend, John Shea, and me to fly to

Marco Island in the early nineties to play a round of golf with Sarazen. He

only played nine holes but joined us for dinner and regaled with his

memories and golf stories—not a word of profanity, no insults, and no

gossip about the tour players of his time. Gene Sarazen was a rare man in more ways than one.