Arguably, the most coveted victory in professional golf is the presentation of the green jacket to the winner at the Masters Tournament. This year the tournament will be held April 3-9 and, as always, will be at Augusta National Golf Club in the beautiful state of Georgia. It is an event that has evolved since its beginning in 1934. The Masters-a vision of golf at its best and most competitive-began with Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts and continues today.
Over the years, the course has undergone improvements and this year is no exception. Changes will be made on 6 holes. In order to play, a golfer has to meet at least one of 17 requirements for participation, which in the end creates a competitive field unmatched by any other golf tournament. This year a total of 99 golfers will participate in the tournament, which includes 57 US and 42 international players. Five amateurs will be participating. Of the 99 golfers, 14 will be playing the Augusta course for the first time.
The usual standouts will be in attendance, however the Masters often features surprise breakthrough performances from those who are lesser known. The qualifying rounds are on the first 2 days. The top 44 players of the group will go to the final round and after it’s all over, the 24 top finishers are automatically invited back for next year’s competition.
The Masters is as rich in history as it is in talent. In 1934, when the first Augusta National Invitation Tournament was held at Augusta National Golf Club, Bobby Jones had just finished overseeing the completion of the course with the help of Dr. Alister Mackenzie as the course architect. It was renamed the Masters Golf Tournament in 1938.
The initial tournament also featured its first playoff, which was won by Horton Smith. In 1935, Gene Serazen and Craig Wood tied and then went on to battle through a whopping 36-hole playoff with Serazen winning by five strokes. 1942 saw Byron Nelson earn a one-stroke victory over Ben Hogan in a shorter18-hole playoff. Other great players who have won the tournament include Henry Picard (1938), Ralph Guldahl (1939), Jimmy Demaret (1940), Herman Keiser (1946), Sam Snead (1949), and Ben Hogan (1951, 1953).
During World War II, the Augusta grounds were used to raise cattle and turkeys for the war effort. Arnold Palmer showed up in the 1950’s and began his consecutive run of 50 straight appearances, which ended in 2004. It was then that a new generation rose to replace the men who had become legends, including Palmer (multiple winner), Jack Nicklaus (multiple winner), Gay Brewer (1967), Gary Player (1961, 1974), Billy Casper (1970) and Raymond Floyd (1976).
There have been some interesting golf milestones over the 72-year tradition of the Masters Golf Tournament. In 1936, Horton Smith became the first 2-time winner, and three generations later in 1999, Jose Maria Olazubal ended up being the 14th multiple winner. The first four-time winner was Arnold Palmer, only to be topped by the only six-time winner, Jack Nicklaus, in 1986. At the age of 36, Nicklaus’ last win made him the oldest Masters champion.
More recently, the green jacket went to the youngest man to win the tournament-Tiger Woods, who notched the lowest 72-hole total in the history of the contest while creating the largest winning margin. Gary Player was the first international player to win the Masters. In 2003, Canadian Mike Weir became the first player from his country to prevail at Augusta as well as the first left-handed player ever to receive the green jacket. In 2004, Phil Mickelson won the tournament with a birdie on the last hole to join 3 other champions who had done the same.
The green jacket is the trademark of the Masters and its color represents the beauty of rich, healthy turf. It was first awarded to Sam Snead after his victory in 1949. Members actually began wearing them in 1937. They are never removed from the club and those members who work on the tournament are referred to as “The Green Jackets.” Also, the men who wear this special emblem are considered part of golf’s elite, and even though some don’t play as well as others, they all share their love and dedication for the sport.
Originally, golf was considered a sport mainly for the wealthy until the common man’s general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, became a member in 1948. When he became president, it was transformed into a great pastime for the middle-class. In the past few years, there has been controversy over the inclusion of women in the tournament, which is a subject that still remains open for debate.
Like every sport, golf has its superstitions too. The Masters carries the curse of the Par-3 Contest. Sam Snead was the first winner of this mini-tournament in 1960. Since the implementation of this competition, no one has ever won the Masters and the Par-3 contest in the same year. This so-called curse has continued for 45 years.
So what can we expect in 2006? Seven days of golf’s finest players vying for top honors on one of golf’s most beautiful and challenging courses. Each of the elite 99 will be pursuing their individual dream of wearing the triumphant and symbolic green jacket of the Masters.