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My day at Amen Corner

My day at Amen Corner

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Like many, I watched the Masters golf tournament last week. It’s been an annual event for me for as long as I can recall. When the defending champ was making his 10 on number 12, I thought back a few years to another tournament.

We had staked our claim on the first row just behind the ropes, where the players come close enough to touch. It was the second day of a dream weekend when I got to see the last Masters of the 20th century.

My three friends and I had chosen to sit at “Amen Corner” on Sunday, after much debate the night before. The famous name was first coined in a 1958 Sports Illustrated article by Herbert Warren Wind, who wrote that it was composed of the second half of hole No. 11, all of No. 12 and the first half of hole No. 13. The author was searching for an appropriate name for the location where the critical action had taken place that year. He borrowed the name from an old jazz recording, "Shoutin' in that Amen Corner.” 

In 1958, heavy rains soaked the course. For Sunday's round, a local rule was adopted allowing a player whose ball was embedded to lift and drop it without penalty. On No. 12, Arnold Palmer hit his ball over the green and the ball embedded in the steep bank behind it. Being uncertain about the applicability of the local rule, the official on the hole and Palmer agreed that the ball should be played as it lay and that Palmer could play a second ball, which he dropped. Palmer holed out for a 5 with the original ball and a 3 with the second ball. The committee was asked to decide if the local rule was applicable and if so, which score should count.

At No. 13, still unsure of what his score was at 12, Palmer sank an 18-foot putt for eagle. When he was playing No. 15, Palmer was told his drop at 12 was proper and that his score on the hole was 3, leading to his first major victory.

Back in 1999, I left my chair to walk up to a spot in the pines near the crest of the dogleg on 13, where I waited for John Daly to hit his drive. Nearby stood two oriental gentlemen and we watched as big John came up to the tee. He threw down a cigarette, took a couple of big looping practice swings and blasted a high shot that didn’t draw. It crashed into the trees about twenty yards from where I stood. 

“Nakata!” said one of the men next to me. The other man looked back to the tee with a serious scowl and seemed to agree with his companion’s assessment. 

It was Daly, who once said in an interview about the prestigious tournament, "I've heard the winner of the Masters hosts the dinner. If I ever won it, there would be no suits, no ties and McDonald’s."

Late in the day we were back in our chairs watching the leaders come through. The last two were Jose Maria Olazabal and Greg Norman. It would be the last time Norman would contend at Augusta, and it ended as many others had for him.

We followed them over to 13 and saw Norman send the crowd into a frenzy, when his long putt for eagle found the hole. But he was matched by Jose Maria, who made a long one of his own, on his way to a second green jacket. 

When Tiger teed off in front of me in 1999 he was too far back to win. And just like last Sunday, he hit his tee shot into Rae’s Creek. From there he headed to the drop area and knocked his third shot in the hole.

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