The Masters. The year’s first golf major. Unlike the rest, it is held without fail at the same location every year – Augusta National Golf Club. This means that despite being the youngest of all four majors, it has built up a substantial history since its debut in 1934.
Want to know more about that extraordinary history? What have the biggest events been throughout its 83-year existence? Join us as Golf Care presents: A Brief History of the Masters!
1934: Early Beginnings
At 10:35 on the sunny Thursday morning of March 22nd, 1934 – a man named Bobby Jones drove his first tee shot down the fairway to start the Augusta National Invitation Tournament.
In reality, Bobby Jones was the most famous golfer of his generation – having already won a Grand Slam in 1930; which at that time combined the British Amateur, British Open, US Amateur and US Open. The golfing Grand Slam has never been repeated to this day.
On that sunny morning, he was teeing off for the opening drive of what would become one of golf’s four majors – the Masters – at Augusta National Golf Course, which he had co-founded in 1931.
Image credit: Alchetron
As history records, the only reason the Masters came to pass is because the USPGA refused to allow Augusta to host the US Open. Retired since 1930 due to the pressures of his fame, Jones agreed to play to draw public attention to the new tournament, and record-breaking crowds flocked to watch. He ended up in the middle of the pack, satisfied his risk had paid off.
Eventual winner Horton Smith may have been overshadowed by the spotlight on Jones, but no-one else can take his place in the history books as the very first Masters winner, with 4 under par. He would also win the Masters two years later in 1936, either side of perhaps the most famous Masters moment of all time…
1935: The Shot Heard Round The World
In the Masters debut year, golfer Craig Wood had lost out to Horton Smith by one stroke. He was determined to avoid a repeat the following year in 1935, and sat in the clubhouse on the final day with a three-shot lead, it looked like he’d managed it. Step forward Gene Sarazen.
Image credit: The Masters
Nicknamed ‘The Squire’, legend records that Sarazen was addressing his four-wood to the ball on the par-5 15th when news reached them of Wood’s lead. His playing partner, Walter Hagen, threw up his arms and proclaimed, “Well, that’s that!”
A relaxed Sarazen shrugged. “They might go in from anywhere”, he replied, before hitting his ball down the fairway and onto the front of the green – where it rolled all the way to the cup for an albatross (or a double eagle in the US).
The gallery behind him erupted in disbelief. Bobby Jones, as luck would have it, was passing and had seen the infamous shot. “His swing into the ball was so perfect and so free, you knew immediately it was going to be a gorgeous shot”, he said.
Now brimming with confidence, Sarazen tore through the remaining four holes to set up a play-off with Wood the following day, which he won 144-149. It made the Masters internationally famous, thanks to the Shot Heard Round The World.
1949: The Green Jacket
A lot had happened by the time the Masters reached its 13th anniversary. A three-year hiatus for the war, Bobby Jones’ last ever round and US President Dwight Eisenhower had become an Augusta member. However, it was only in 1949 that the Masters finally gained its most enduring symbol – the legendary Green Jacket.
Augusta National members had in fact been wearing Green Jackets since 1937 – encouraged to do so by the club hierarchy so patrons could spot “a reliable source of information” at a glance. But in 1949 Masters champion Sam Snead became the first winner to be awarded the Green Jacket as a prize; the design as always – a single breasted, single vent green jacket with the Augusta logo on the left chest pocket.
Image credit: Augusta
1961: The Permanent Masters Trophy
As if the Green Jacket and a gold medal wasn’t enough – in 1961, the Permanent Masters Trophy was introduced. Created from over “900 individual pieces of silver”, the Trophy is a detailed reproduction of the Augusta National Clubhouse, and records the winner and runner-up each year of the tournament.
The first player to be awarded the trophy was 1961’s champion – South African, Gary Player, who also set the record that year as the first foreign player ever to win the Masters. Since winners can only hold the trophy for a year – since 1993, each champion also gets a sterling silver replica of the trophy to keep.
Image credit: The Masters
1986: Nicklaus Reborn
The detailed account of all past Masters winners, losers and nearly men would make a brief history of its own – but 1986 brought a Masters weekend that we simply can’t ignore. I refer, of course, to Jack Nicklaus’ historic sixth Masters victory.
The Golden Bear was the tender age of 46 when he began the 1986 Masters. As many have mentioned over the years, he had made the cut in only three of seven preceding tournaments – and not won a major in six years. Fate, however, was smiling.
After two fairly drab opening rounds of 74 and 71, something awoke in Nicklaus – who posted a decidedly improved 69 on the Saturday, putting him four behind leader Greg Norman. “The first time I’ve broken 70 since I can’t remember when,” he mused after his round.
Then came the Sunday. Par from 1 through 8 seemed sedate, then all hell broke loose. Birdie at 9, birdie at 11, birdie at 13. Two behind. At 15, he hit an eagle for the ages, birdied 16 and holed another long birdie on 17 – the crowd’s roar startling leader Seve two holes back. As commentator Jim Nantz famously described it live, “the Bear has come out of hibernation!”
With a par on the last, he held a single-stroke lead and stayed put to watch his closest challengers Greg Norman and Tom Kite play in. Both missed putts they would have buried the day before, but this was Jack’s day. Arms aloft, he beamed. 23 years after earning his first Green Jacket – he now had his sixth, two more than anyone else in golfing history, even now.
1997: Tiger Time
Everyone knows this one by now, surely? The incredible account of Tiger Woods’ explosive Masters triumph has been told and retold ever since – to the point where Tiger has just published his own book on the subject!
Ok, very briefly.
After an inauspicious start (4 over on the front 9), a 21-year old Tiger Woods rallied on the first day to post 30 for the back nine, ending with a 70 for the round. He followed that up with a 66 on the Friday, 65 on the Saturday and finally, 69 on the Sunday – finishing a quite unbelievable 12 strokes ahead of his closest challenger.
It is no understatement to say that he tore through that Augusta course like a hurricane. As Dave Anderson of the New York Times put it, “you could see his competitive flame burning as he strode the fairways with cool confidence.”
Across a single weekend, he set 20 different Masters records – including the tournament scoring record (270), greatest margin of victory (the aforementioned 12 strokes) and youngest champion. All three of these – and many of the rest – still have yet to be broken. Perhaps most importantly of all, he became the first black player to win a major in golf history.
It is hard to accurately sum up how historic Tiger Wood’s victory was, sending shockwaves through the golfing world and catapulting the young player to an unprecedented level of stardom. If anything can accurately sum up his lasting legacy, it is how many people are eager to see him play at this year’s Masters – 20 years exactly after his first, era defining, win.
Image credit: Augusta/Getty Images
2004: Arnold’s Last
How could anyone mention Masters history without acknowledging the legacy of Arnold Palmer? From his first Green Jacket in 1958, to becoming the first-ever four-time Masters champion in 1964, right up to 2004 – where ‘The King’ bowed out on his 50th consecutive Masters with the grace and humility the golf world had come to expect from him.
Plenty of people have defined his legacy in terms of the golfers that came after him, setting the standard for prize money and sky-rocketing golf’s popularity. Perhaps what sums him up best is his own quote about the game of golf: “deceptively simple and endlessly complicated.”
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2011: McIlroy’s Meltdown
Now that Rory McIlroy has since become a four-time major winner and spent 95 weeks at the World Number One spot, the pain of his Masters meltdown might not affect him as strongly – but the empathy that most people felt that day as they watched his game simply implode will remain.
The 21-year-old Northern Irishman was four strokes ahead going into his final round that infamous Sunday and seemed destined to become the youngest Masters winner since Tiger Woods. But, to put it bluntly, he choked. Two bogeys on the front nine were a sign of worse to come – he then triple-bogeyed the 10th, bogeyed the 11th and double-bogeyed the 12th. Approaching the 13th with a look of stunned horror, his tee shot flew straight into a creek.
“I realized then that I didn’t have a chance,” McIlroy said afterwards. “I was done.”
It was an awful thing to watch. The promise faded into sheer dejection as he tumbled down the leaderboard, eventually finishing 15th with an 8-over-par 80. It speaks volumes about Rory’s mental toughness that he went on to win the US Open that year, and three more. Yet the Masters still seems to have that unsettling ability over him, and many others. Will this be the year he breaks the curse?
2015/2016: Speith’s High To Low
What a difference a year makes. After the 2015 Masters, Jordan Spieth had the golfing world at his feet. The 21-year-old Texan drew comparisons to Tiger Woods, and not just because his 18-under-par tournament score of 270 tied Tiger’s record from 1997 – but also because of his confidence and youth, not to mention 27 birdies for the week.
Yet, exactly a year later, it all fell apart. The 80th edition of the Masters saw Spieth continue his blistering form from 2015, and after four consecutive birdies on the final day – arrived at the 10th hole five strokes ahead of the chasing pack and seemingly unstoppable. Yet what happened next shared more with McIlroy in 2011 than Tiger in 1997.
10th – bogey. 11th – bogey. And at the 12th, it really went. His tee shot went into Rae’s Creek, as did his next. Finally clearing the water – he landed it in the bunker. Ending up with a quadruple-bogey, he bled strokes until the end. Englishman Danny Willett made up eight strokes on Spieth in just 40 minutes to leapfrog him to victory. If mental collapses seem to happen more often than in other majors, this might have been the worst of them.
As 2017’s approaches, it’s evident that Spieth still has a few nerves about Augusta. “It will be nice once this year’s is finished to be brutally honest,” he said this week. After his high to low in a year, who can blame him?
Image credit: Augusta/Getty Images
What new history will this year’s Masters bring? How will you be watching the tournament? Who is the hot favourite? We surveyed over 4,000 of the nation’s golfers about the Masters – check out our exclusive infographic right here.