Amen Corner revisited 60 years later

Noted golf writer Herbert Warren Wind coined the phrase “Amen Corner” in 1958 to describe the 11th, 12th and 13th holes at Augusta National Golf Club.

Sixty years later, it still resonates.

Wind came up with the term to describe the critical action that occurred on those holes as Arnold Palmer sweated out a rules question in the final round that year to win his first Masters Tournament.

Palmer led the tournament through 54 holes but had not expanded his lead after shooting even-par 36 on the front nine in the final round. A bogey on the 10th hole did not help.

Entering the 11th hole, Palmer knew he would have to navigate this stretch successfully if he was going to earn his first green jacket.

After making par on the 11th, Palmer’s tee shot on the par-3 12th flew the green and plugged into the bank behind it. Heavy rain the night before had made the course very wet and muddy.

Palmer and the rules official on the 12th were unsure whether he was entitled to a free drop from the plugged lie, so Palmer played the muddy ball and wound up taking a double-bogey five.

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Then, he went back and dropped a second ball and played a smart pitch that finished close to the hole. He made the short putt for par and turned his fate over to the Masters committee to decide which score would count.

The committee’s decision was not instant, so Palmer and playing partner Ken Venturi proceeded to the 13th hole. After a big drive, Palmer went for the green and made it to set up an 18-foot putt for eagle.

When the putt dropped, Palmer flung his cap in the air.

Two holes later, Palmer got even better news: The committee ruled that U.S. Golf Association rules were in effect and that Palmer was entitled to his free drop at the 12th hole and a score of three.

Although Palmer bogeyed two of the last three holes, he still held the lead. Defending champion Doug Ford and Fred Hawkins each had chances to tie Palmer if they could birdie the 18th hole, but neither could, and Palmer had won his first major.

After the round, Palmer told reporters that he was not worried about the ruling being in his favor.

“There was no doubt in my heart that it was a three,” he said. “It was just a matter of the officials having to make a decision, and I thought I had a three. I wanted to protect myself, though, and that’s the reason I played both balls, so there could be no question one way or the other.”

Decades later, Venturi said he took issue with Palmer and the ruling. In his 2004 book, “Getting Up & Down,” Venturi wrote that he felt Palmer had improperly played the second ball.

“You can’t do that. You have to declare a second before you hit your first one,” Venturi said he told Palmer at the time. “Suppose you had chipped in with the other ball? Would you still be playing a second?”

The eagle at the 13th was also a big part of his win, and tournament co-founder Bobby Jones compared it to Gene Sarazen’s double eagle on the 15th hole in the 1935 Masters.

“Today, Cliff (Roberts) and I were watching Palmer at 13 and the same exhilaration came over me as did when I watched Sarazen from that mound in 1935,” Jones said. “I said to Cliff, ‘He really hit that one.’ It stopped 18 feet from the cup and he holed it, and that was the deciding factor of the tournament.”

Palmer, who had sweated out the finish with his wife, Winnie, in Roberts’ cabin, summed up what winning the Masters meant to him.

“This is probably the greatest thrill of my lifetime, and I’m not eliminating anything,” he said.

 

1968

April 14 was supposed to be a day of celebration for Roberto De Vicenzo.

The popular golfer from Argentina, who had won the British Open the year before, was celebrating his 45th birthday that Sunday at Augusta. The galleries had serenaded him with “Happy Birthday” as he made his way around the course.

As the day progressed, it became clear that De Vicenzo and Bob Goalby were battling for the win. Goalby’s torrid stretch of birdie-birdie-eagle on Nos. 13-15 propelled him to a final-round 66 and a total of 11-under 277.

De Vicenzo played equally well, making birdies at Nos. 15 and 17, before a bogey on the 18th left him with an apparent 65 and 11-under total. Preparations were under way for an 18-hole playoff on Monday to determine the winner.

With De Vicenzo waiting for Goalby to finish up, playing partner Tommy Aaron noticed that De Vicenzo’s scorecard total was for 66. He pointed out the error to a Masters official, and a hasty meeting was convened in Bobby Jones’ cottage.

Under the rules of golf, a player is responsible for the individual score on each hole of his card. Once a player has signed for his score, it must stand.

It didn’t take Masters officials long to make their decision. Less than 30 minutes after Goalby’s group had finished, the verdict came back in a statement from Hord Hardin, president of the U.S. Golf Association and chairman of the Masters rules committee:

“Under the rules of golf, he (De Vicenzo) will be charged with a 66 which does not leave him in a tie with Bob Goalby, who is 11 under par. He is second, 10 under par.”

If De Vicenzo had signed for a score that was lower than what he had actually made, the penalty would have been disqualification. De Vicenzo had to settle for second place and the silver medal that goes to the runner-up.

What could have been a joyous occasion quickly turned sour after the error was discovered.

“I play golf all over the world for 30 years, and now all I can think of is what a stupid I am to be wrong in this wonderful tournament,” De Vicenzo said afterward. “Never have I ever done such a thing.”

Goalby never got the proper credit for winning his only major championship, while De Vicenzo became a sympathetic figure for his mistake.

“I’m very happy I won the tournament, and I’d be a liar if I told you I wasn’t,” Goalby said. “But I’m really sorry I won it the way I did. I’d much rather have done it in a playoff.”

 

1938

Henry Picard didn’t mind waiting an extra day to earn his first major victory.

Inclement weather pushed the start of the tournament back to Saturday, and 36 holes were played Sunday. Picard, a native of Charleston, S.C., handled the conditions and took a one-stroke lead over four golfers into Monday’s final round.

Picard played the front nine in 32 in the final round en route to a 70 and his two-shot win over Ralph Guldahl and Harry Cooper.

 

1948

Which golfer’s only professional victory came at the Masters?

If you guessed Claude Harmon, go to the head of the class. Harmon was best known for being the club pro at a pair of private clubs, Winged Foot and Seminole, but that all changed with a record-setting week at Augusta National.

Harmon’s total of 279 matched the low score in the tournament’s brief history and his five-stroke win over Cary Middlecoff established a record for margin of victory.

 

1978

Gary Player’s third and final victory at Augusta was his most improbable.

At 42, the South African wasn’t expected to challenge for another Masters title. And with a deficit of seven strokes to make up, Player definitely faced long odds.

But Player was up to the challenge with a round that still stands as the lowest final-round score by a champion. He birdied seven of the final 10 holes, including the 18th, on his way to 64 and a one-shot win over Rod Funseth, Hubert Green and Tom Watson.

 

1988

When Sandy Lyle hit his tee shot on the final hole into the front-left fairway bunker, it appeared he and Mark Calcavecchia were headed for a sudden-death playoff.

Not so fast.

The Scottish golfer hit his 7-iron approach above the pin, then watched as it settled about 10 feet from the hole. He made the birdie putt for the win, then danced an impromptu jig on the 18th green.

 

1998

Mark O’Meara has never been known for his brash predictions, but he made one to his caddie as he prepared to play the final two holes.

Trailing David Duval and Fred Couples by one shot, O’Meara was irked by missing a birdie opportunity on the 16th hole.

“I’ll just birdie the last two holes,’” O’Meara told Jerry Higgenbotham.

At No. 17, he made a 10-foot birdie putt to pull into a tie for the lead. On No. 18, his approach left him with a 20-foot putt. True to his word, he sank the birdie putt to become the first golfer since Arnold Palmer in 1960 to birdie the final two holes and win the Masters.

 

2008

Trevor Immelman displayed a steady, all-around game in becoming the first South African since Gary Player to win the Masters.

While Player broke the record for most Masters starts with his 51st appearance, Immelman either shared or held the lead after each round.

He led the field in driving accuracy, tied for second in greens in regulation and tied for fourth in putting.

A closing 75 in windy conditions didn’t keep him from winning by three shots over Tiger Woods.

Player and Immelman were joined by Charl Schwartzel in 2011 as South Africans to win in Augusta.

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