9 Fascinating Lesser-Known Stories from the Masters

With 2012’s Making of the Masters, in which he describes how Bobby Jones steered his dream golf club and tournament through tough economic times, and 2021’s The Story of the Masters, where he details the 84 contests that had taken place prior to publishing, it’s likely author David Barrett knows as much about Augusta’s April classic as anyone alive.

A former sportswriter for the Augusta Chronicle and senior editor at Golf Magazine, Barrett reels off obscure details highlighting the event’s history, and the individuals that created it, as smoothly as you or I might read a shopping list. We asked him for a few more lesser-known Masters stories.

1935—Sarazen’s Streak of Pars

The year is best-known for Gene Sarazen’s double eagle two on the 15th hole in the final round which helped earn him a place in a 36-hole playoff with Craig Wood. But did you know that during the playoff, Sarazen put together a run of 24 straight pars? He won 144–149.

1954—An Amateur’s Close Call

People sometimes hear the story of amateur Billy Joe Patton, who came so close to winning in 1954, but don’t really know the details of his collapse over the final few holes. The 31-year-old lumber salesman had aced the 6th hole, turned in 32, and was tied for the lead with Hogan heading into the back nine. At the 13th, he found the creek and wound up making a seven. He birdied 14 to get back among the leaders. At the 15th, he decided to go for the green in two but his 2-wood shot landed short of the pond and rolled into the water, leading to a bogey. He would finish one shot out of the Sam Snead/Ben Hogan playoff which Snead won 70–71. At the awards ceremony, Patton insisted he had no regrets, but in a magazine article several years later he admitted that going for the green on the 15th hole was “the worst judgment I ever showed.”

1956—TV Blackouts

From 1956, when the tournament was first televised, to the late ’60s, you couldn’t watch on TV if you lived within 225 miles of Augusta—a restriction put in place to ensure ticket sales remained strong in the region. The blackout became increasingly unpopular, though, and in 1969 the club announced an end to all TV blackouts.

1957—The Masters Parade

Between 1957 and 1964, the city and business leaders held a downtown parade in which a procession of about 60 floats would move between 5th and 13th Streets and about 25,000 people would crowd the sidewalks. It was modeled on the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, and each year a Golf Ball was held, at which that year’s Miss Golf was chosen. Bobby Jones rode in an open-top Cadillac at the first parade with the city’s Mayor, and Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, and other players also took part.

1960—Traditions Unlike Any Other

In the 1950s, the club ran a long-drive competition on the Wednesday of tournament week. The Par 3 Contest was first played in 1960 and won by Sam Snead who had also been the first Masters winner awarded a green jacket (1949). Previous winners were retroactively awarded jackets and made honorary members of the club.

1963—A Limit on Ticket Sales

The club restricted the number of tickets available for the first time in 1963. The previous year, the Augusta Chronicle had run a picture of the huge gallery with the caption “Mob scene at the 26th Masters.” Whether the photo had any effect or not, Jones and club chairman Clifford Roberts were undoubtedly already aware that the weekend crowds were reaching unmanageable levels (newspaper estimates ranged from 40,000 to 60,000 people, though then as now the club didn’t release attendance figures). In February of ’63, it was announced that based on advance ticket sales and parking capacity  only, 5,000 tickets would be available at the gate on Thursday and Friday, and 3,000 on Saturday and Sunday. In the next couple of years those numbers were reduced due to advance sales, and in 1966, series badges and advance tickets sold out before the tournament, so for the first time tickets weren’t available at the gate. In ’68, the club began giving preference to those on its mailing list as demand for tickets continued to surge. The Patrons’ List was closed in 1972, and a waiting list set up. That closed in 1978.

1969—The Pairings Process

TV’s arrival in 1956 meant more of the leaders going out late in the day (until then they had been spread out), but the pairings were basically still chosen by the tournament committee. It wasn’t until 1969, in fact, that pairings were formatted rather than selected. The leader would go out in the final pairing with the player in third place, while those in second and fourth would go out in the penultimate group. In 1981, second-placed Jack Nicklaus was annoyed he wouldn’t play the final round with leader Tom Watson. He had apparently forgotten, or not noticed, that the Masters had been using the 1–3 system. Perhaps wanting to appease its then five-time major champion, or in any case go to a system in line with the U.S. Open and PGA Tour (which was pairing 1–2–3 in its threesomes), the club changed the format the following year with players in first and second place going out in the final group.

1973—An Error Avoided

Everyone knows about Roberto De Vicenzo’s sad scorecard incident in 1968, but he wasn’t disqualified for signing an incorrect card. The four on the 17th he signed for stood instead of the three he’d made, turning his 65 into a 66. It meant he finished second, a shot behind Bob Goalby. Ironically, five years later, Tommy Aaron, the player who had made the fateful error on De Vicenzo’s scorecard in ’68, noticed a similar mistake Johnny Miller had made on his scorecard. Miller had put Aaron down for a five at the 13th where he’d actually made a four. Aaron noticed in time, though, and was able to correct the card before signing it; he would win the tournament by one over J.C. Snead.

1976—Sudden Death

Just before the 1976 tournament, Roberts announced a tie would be broken with a sudden-death playoff rather than an 18-hole decider on the Monday after the tournament. It made quite a splash because the Masters was the first major championship to go to a sudden-death format. The PGA Championship quickly followed and held the first sudden-death playoff in 1977. A playoff wasn’t necessary at the Masters until 1979 when Fuzzy Zoeller beat Watson and Ed Sneed at the second playoff hole.

1978—Nakajima’s 13

Twenty-three-year-old Tsuneyuki Nakajima, playing in his first Masters in 1978, shot an opening 80 but was having an altogether steadier second round when he arrived at the 13th. He went left and found the creek with his tee shot, laid up with his third, then dumped his fourth into the creek short of the green. And that’s when things really started going wrong. His fifth popped up and hit his foot on the way down meaning a two-stroke penalty. He then tried handing his caddie the club to clean it but the clubhead touched the hazard—another two-stroke penalty. Four penalty strokes, just like that. He then blasted over the green into a bunker, hit out of that, and two-putted for a 13. It’s one of three 13s recorded at the Masters, the others made by Tom Weiskopf at the 12th in 1980’s first round, and Sergio Garcia at the 15th during the first round in 2018.

One Final Stat

One of my favorite Masters quirks is this sequence: In 1963, Nicklaus became the youngest winner of the Masters. Seventeen years later, Seve Ballesteros took over the mantle, and 17 years after that Woods broke the record. Jordan Spieth was co-leader after 54 holes in 2014 and would have kept the trend going but lost out to Bubba Watson. Spieth won the following year, of course.


What is your favorite Masters story?