Seizing Masters Weekend brings back fond memories of the six trips I was able to make to Augusta to cover the first major tournament of the year on behalf of The Salem News; ancient history in one respect, but quite memorable in another.
The years were 1978 (Gary Player was the winner), 1979 (Fuzzy Zoeller), 1980 (Seve Ballesteros), 1981 (Tom Watson), 1988 (Sandy Lyle) and 1989 (Nick Faldo). Six different winners, all of whom marked the unique history of the Masters.
The player was the oldest winner at the time, at 42. Zoeller made double Masters history as the first sudden-death playoff winner and first-time entrant winner.
Ballesteros was the first Spanish Masters champion. Watson’s victory was his fifth of eight major championship successes (the sixth most of all time). Lyle became the first British (Scotland) champion, while Faldo was the first English champion who, a year later, became only the second player to win back-to-back Masters (Jack Nicklaus was the first, Tiger Woods the third).
It was great fun – and a lot of rewarding work – an experience I never would have enjoyed without the support of my reporting during those glorious days at the Salem News under editor Cy Newbegin, editor Jim Shea (both great sports fans) and sportswriter Bill Kipouras.
The saga began when Shea, Kipouras and I were covering the Red Sox home opener from the Fenway Park press box in 1977. It was Masters week in Augusta, and all of a sudden Shea closed the newspaper he was reading between innings and blurted out, “Gary, why aren’t you at the Masters?” »
“I don’t know,” I replied, a little stunned. I had never asked any of them the question.
“Well, get to work for next April. I want you at Augusta National in a year, and that’s an order,” he barked with a smile.
And that’s how it happened.
After this week’s Masters, I contacted Roger Barry of the Quincy Patriot Ledger, the dean of golf writers in Greater Boston, and asked him how I go about requesting credentials. He was happy to walk me through the process, even if he was pessimistic that the folks at Master would provide credentials to such a small suburban Boston daily.
But they did, much to my – and Barry’s – surprise, and to the delight of Shea, Kipouras, and Newbegin.
The trips were strenuous, but well worth it. The first year was the hardest: a garment bag, a shoulder bag, a fax machine that weighed 35 pounds (the ancestor of fax machines and the first hint of future technology for journalists), and my golf clubs , since the Masters folks invited me as a Masters media guy for the first time to play their famous layout the morning after the final round. Unfortunately, it was a tradition/courtesy that didn’t last much longer.
I secured housing through the Masters Housing Bureau – thank you, Roger – and was assigned a room in the beautiful Tudor-style house at 2231 Kings Way of Eloy and Nancy Fominaya, Chicago natives who were became professors of music at Augusta College. The other available room went to Bill Tanton of the Baltimore Sun. We became good friends that week and met every year at the same address for the first four years.
I stayed with the Fominayas on all six trips I made to Augusta over 12 years; they were wonderful hosts. I was as eager to see them as I was to cover the golf course of “The National”, as the locals called it.
The press building, a restored Quonset hut, believe it or not, at the time (the media center today is lavish on the other hand), was run by two ladies: the soft-spoken old Hazel Salmon , who could be as firm as a Marine Corps Sergeant if necessary; and Janet Lovering, who pleasantly surprised me when she told me that her husband, Earl, was also from Salem. Thus began a warm friendship with them that continues to this day; we connect each week of Master by telephone.
Masters members appreciate the media. They gave us breakfast (Krispy Kremes galore), lunch and dinner and hosted an open bar on Sunday night while we wrote about the new champ.
I had the chance to interview, in large and small groups, all the great and lesser known of the time. I also got to meet famed British writer and Masterpiece Theater host Alistair Cooke, as well as reconnect with Myopia member and former Massachusetts Champion and French amateur Bobby Knowles, who wintered near Aiken, South Carolina. , and worked countless masters as a scoring official.
I was writing three articles a day for The Salem News: a lede, a sidebar, and a column. But before writing anything, I strolled the course for two hours every morning to catch the early action and soak up the unrivaled Masters atmosphere. I have often walked with the king of American golf writers, Herbert Warren Wind of Massachusetts. We often walked to Amen Corner, that wonderful stretch of numbers 11, 12 and 13, which Wind had first named. Our conversations made my day, his observations so astute and his use of the English language so poetic.
I witnessed two colossal choke jobs. One was by Ed Sneed when he bogeyed the final three holes after leading by three strokes with three holes remaining, setting the stage for Zoeller’s playoff victory. The other was from Scott Hoch, when he missed a two-foot putt to win in 1989 on the first hole of sudden death, setting up Faldo’s game-winning 25-foot birdie putt on the next hole. Hoch was unpopular with the media, but our hearts broke for Sneed, such a nice guy you would ever want to meet.
Oh yes, about my own Augusta National tour in 1978.
Incredibly exciting and depressing at the same time. I had a veteran Masters caddy (a veteran, really) who never got used to my yardage limits. I hit a lot of good tee shots and irons, but often overshot the greens. I made only one par (no birdies) but it was a goodie, on the par-3 12th-iron 7 to 12 feet right of the pin and missed the birdie bid. My playing partners, Tom Boswell of the Washington Post and Ron Rapaport of the Chicago Sun-Times, both have bogey. They warmly congratulated me. I ended up hitchhiking to Atlanta with Rapoport to catch our flights north later that day.
Six years at the Masters. Unforgettable.
Gary Larrabee was a sportswriter for the Salem News from 1971 to 1995. He has covered golf on the North Shore and beyond for over 50 years.