With the Masters rapidly approaching my daydreams of playing Augusta come more frequent and vivid with my jealousy of those lucky players growing stronger. A natural coping mechanism is to write about the misfortunes of golfers much better than I who have had the opportunity to play there, of course. Alas, here is a list of men who all share one thing in common; they have all come tantalisingly close to winning a green jacket. Obviously there has to be a runner up at every Masters tournament, but the circumstances surrounding these particular gentleman’s misfortunes are especially entertaining / tragic.
Fred Hawkins, 1958.
Ever wondered what inspired the expression “Amen corner” ? Look no further than the final round drama of the 1958 Masters, initiated by a questionable interpretation of an embedded ball on the short 12th hole, involving the late legend Arnold Palmer and at the expense of Fred Hawkins.
Wet conditions during the weekend of the 1958 Masters lead to the introduction of a local rule allowing players to take relief from embedded balls without penalty; sensible. Arnie’s approach to the 12th came in hot and plugged in the grass just beyond the green. The rules official made the erroneous decision of making Palmer play the ball as it lies, stating that the ball was only “half plugged”.
“Thats like being half pregnant; I’m playing two balls” replied Palmer.
Palmer barely moved the ball with his chip shot which came to rest in a puddle from which he got undisputed relief; another chip and 2 putts made him a double-bogey 5. Palmer the rebel returned to the spot where his original tee shot came to rest, dropped a ball and got down in 2 for a par 3 his second time around.
Confusion infected the air; doubtful of signing for a 3 on the 12th and a shot off the leading pack of 3 players on 3 under par, Palmer played the 13th aggressively, hitting the green in 2 and converting for an eagle. Bobby Jones came charging up the 15th fairway to hear Arnie’s interpretation of the events that took place on the 12th, and after conferring with a troupe of other green jackets behind the 15th green awarded The King a 3 on the 12th hole. Palmer went on to win the 1958 Masters, eventually beating Doug Ford and Fred Hawkins by just 1 shot. Previous years winner Ford helped Palmer put on the green jacket for his first time, however for Hawkins this was the closest he ever came to winning a Major, and he never won another tournament on the PGA tour.
It’s popular opinion that Palmer was rightly awarded a 3 on the 12th hole of that famous last round despite going against the original decision of the referee; which probably wouldn’t be applauded so much in todays modern age. The bizarre circumstances surrounding the par however are almost undisputedly a contributing factor to Palmers victory; had the referee originally given relief so Palmer knew he had a 1 shot lead going down 13 instead of a 1 shot deficit, would he have taken the gamble to go for the green in 2? Fred Hawkins’ career could have taken an extraordinarily different path.
Roberto de Vincenzo, 1968
Ever accidentally signed for the wrong (higher) score in a club medal and lost by one shot? If you have, that was stupid. You were presumably gutted by your silly mistake and your friends probably still tease you about it to this day (does it sound like I’m speaking from personal experience? I promise I’m not…) Imagine how Roberto de Vincenzo felt after signing for a 4 on the 71st hole of the ’68 Masters when he actually made a 3, to miss out on a playoff by 1 shot! De Vincenzo interviewed surprisingly well despite the horror of a situation, claiming complete responsibility. “Its my fault…no none else’s…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. Never have I ever done such a thing.”
Astonishingly, de Vincenzo won the Houston Open 3 weeks after the Masters fiasco; talk about a bounce-back! Whats even more astonishing is that according to Jack Tuthill (who at the time was director of the PGA tour) de Vincenzo walked out of the scorers office after his final round without signing his card! Refusing to be held responsible for the disqualification of the popular Argentinian, or perhaps out of pity, Tuthill hunted him down in the clubhouse for a signature on his winning scorecard!
The grace with which De Vincenzo lost the 1968 Masters on a technicality, combined with his light hearted attitude to golf and life itself earned him the Bob Jones award, the highest honour given by the USGA in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. His reaction after being scammed in the car park after winning the Houston Open says it all. Confronted by a lady with a heart wrenching story about her daughter who had cancer and how she desperately needed money for treatment, he gave the woman a few hundred dollars. Shortly afterwards he was told that this woman was in fact scamming him and that her daughter wasn’t dying, to which he replied “My friend, that is the best news I have ever heard!”
Greg Norman, 1987/87/96
Greg Norman has certainly had his chances during his career at Augusta. 8 top 5’s and 3 silver medals is good going, however The Great White never got to sink his teeth into a green jacket; a lack of bottle mixed with some plain bad luck, The Shark has undoubtedly earned himself a place on this list.
Normans first silver medal at Augusta came in 1986, the year Jack Nicklaus shot a 30 on Sunday’s back 9 to win his 6th Masters at the age of 46. It would be unfair on Nicklaus after such an extraordinary final round to say it was Greg Norman’s Masters that he blew away, so we’ll swiftly brush past this one!
A disappointing result for Norman, but at least theres always next year…
Twelve months later, after an average start to his Masters campaign Norman played his way back into the championship with the tied low round of the week of 66. After climbing up the leaderboard over the weekend he faced a 18 footer on the 72nd hole for victory, his ball burned the edge of the cup at dead weight but its access was denied. A 3 way sudden death playoff between himself, Seve and Larry Mize would decide the 1987 Masters championship. Seve bogeyed the 1st playoff hole and so Mize and Norman went down the 11th. Norman had the advantage after 2 shots being on the fringe of the green about 40 feet away, Mize was faced with a daunting chip from 50 yards pin high right of the pin. With 25 yards of uphill fairway followed by 25 yards of lightening fast bentgrass sloping towards the alluring water hazard to negotiate, Mize would have paid a lot of money for a 4. Miraculously, he chipped it in and a stunned Norman missed his putt, winning just the silver medal for the second year in a row.
The Shark’s 1996 Masters performance was reminiscent of the life of a piece of gum. It begins with a 10 minute period of intense, mouthwatering flavour, symbolic of Normans 9 first round birdies to tie the course record of 63. This intense, juicy period soon comes to an end but a pleasant flavour lingers in your mouth, the novelty of blowing the occasional bubble remains amusing. This period bears comparison to Normans 69 and 71 for his second and third rounds; good but nothing compared to the early life of the gum. The worst thing about bubblegum is that it goes dry. It runs out of flavour, stealing moisture from your tongue and exhausting your jaw. Onlookers initially found your bubble blowing entertaining, but now you’re just unbearable to watch. Norman shot a final round of 78 and his chances of earning himself a green jacket found themselves in the trash, or more accurately spat out and trodden into the pavement. Nick Faldo ended up finishing with a 67 and beating Norman by 5 shots.
Scott Hoch, 1989
This next one is short but sour. Scott Hoch hit one of the worst putts of his career at the worst possible time- you have to see it to believe it
Watching it makes me wonder if Hoch even wanted to win, look at where he’s aiming! Maybe he felt bad for Faldo after losing an 18 hole playoff for the US Open the year before. In all seriousness though you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy, this wasn’t even the first time he blew a major! A miss from 10 foot on the 72nd hole cost him victory at the 1987 PGA Championship, then the return putt that he also missed cost him a place in the playoff! *palm to the face emoji *
Rory McIlroy, 2011
Dominant over his first three rounds and leader of the tournament for 63 holes, McIlroy was in the drivers seat steering himself towards his first major championship victory. Then the wheels fell off. A tee shot hit further left than Bernie Sanders off the 10th tee was the beginning of the end for Mcilroy. Later that hole Rory hit a pitch shot which seemed to have as much thought invested into it as a late night drunken teleshopping purchase of some gimmick exercise machine, firing into the tree and back to his feet, Mcilroy eventually walked off the 10th with a triple bogey and 2 off the pace. An excellent drive and approach into the 11th made it seem as if a comeback was on the cards, but these shots counted for diddly squat after 3 putting from 10ft. Then came the nail in the coffin for young Mcilroy, a 4 putt double bogey on the 12th. Rory entered Sunday hoping to earn himself a place in the history books, and that he did with a final round of 80 including a back 9 of 43, the worst ever closing round for the 54 leader in Masters history.
Credit due to the young man, he took the L in his stride following up with a record breaking winning margin at The US Open just a few weeks later. The past couple of years have been relatively quiet for Mcilroy, but he’s shown strong form so far during the 2019 season, shushing his critics with a victory at The Players Championship. If Rory can conquer his Augusta demons I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sulky Patrick Reed dressing the Northern Irishman in an emerald green jacket next Sunday, I’m sure he’ll be delighted to be taken off this list!