• U.S.

Sport: The Masters

4 minute read

When, in the last round of an important medal tournament which he has had a good chance to win, a young golfer gets to the tenth tee and learns that he is four strokes behind the leader, two things can happen. The news can disrupt his game completely or it can make him play superlatively well. This was the alternative which, last week at Augusta, Ga., faced 25-year-old Byron Nelson, whose most noteworthy previous achievement as a golf professional was winning New York’s Metropolitan Open Championship last summer.

A lean, crinkle-eyed onetime Texas railroad clerk, Nelson had set the pace in the first round of the Augusta National Masters’ Tournament with a record-breaking 66. His second round 72 left him in front, but after his third, a 75, ponderous Ralph Guldahl, whose third round was a 68, was four strokes ahead of him. Now, with nine holes left to play, Guldahl, just ahead of Nelson on the course, still had the same advantage.

Two years ago, Gene Sarazen won the Masters’ Tournament by virtue of what is probably golf’s most historic single stroke —a 220-yd. spoon shot that finished in the hole for a double-eagle 2 on the Augusta National’s 485-yd. 15th hole. What Nelson did last week was not quite so spectacular but it was equally effective. He got a birdie 3 at the tenth hole, a par 4 at the nth, a birdie 2 at the 12th, an eagle 3 at the 13th. On the 12th, where his ball had failed by inches to carry a water hazard, Guldahl had taken 5. On the 13th, where his iron shot had gone into the water, he had had a 6. Consequently, on the 14th tee, instead of being four strokes behind, Nelson was two strokes ahead.

When, in the last holes of an important tournament, an able young golfer needs to do no more than equal par, he often blows up. Nelson came closest to doing that last week when he took three putts at the 15th, where two would have given him a birdie. The next three holes he played without a slip. On the 18th, a crowd of 5,000 packed around the green held its breath until he sank his putt, then roared its applause. An amiable, quiet young man who looks faintly like Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Nelson took his ball out of the cup and went indoors to get first prize—a check for $1,500.

The Masters’ Tournament is not a national championship. Its cachet, greater than any other U. S. tournament except the championships, comes from three facts: 1) to be invited to enter, a golfer must have won or come close to winning a national championship; 2) its date, in early April, makes it the climax of golf’s winter tournament season; 3) it is the only tournament in which Bobby Jones has played since his retirement in 1930. Golf’s winter tournament season is one of the most extraordinary phenomena in U. S. sport. To boost their attractions, about 25 golf clubs in Florida, California, Texas and the deep South put up a total of $100,000 in prize money for a series of competitions that start with the Augusta Open in late November, last without a break until the Masters’. Main feature of the 1937 winter tournament season was the rise of a tall, 24-year-old Virginian named Sam Snead, who learned the rudiments of golf with a club he whittled for himself out of an apple branch, made his competitive debut a year ago, finished fourth in the list of biggest money winners on his first winter tour, with $3,547. Ahead of him were Harry Cooper ($6,775), Henry Picard ($4,235), Horton Smith ($4,000). Nelson’s prize last week placed him sixth ($3,000).

The Augusta National Golf Club is a monument to Georgia’s most famed sportsman’s most famed achievement— Bobby Jones’s Grand Slam in 1930. In the first Masters’ Tournament in 1934, Jones finished 13th. In the second he was 22nd, in the third, 33rd. Last week he finished in a tie for 29th, three strokes behind his old arch rival, Gene Sarazen. Some day, he hopes, sportswriters will stop writing about his “attempted comeback” and let him just be head host at the Augusta National.

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