A Front Row Seat at the 1987 Masters

1987 Masters
(Photo by Phil Sheldon/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

 

This is how Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman, and I lost the 1987 Masters. About the only good thing that came out of it was that I did manage to overhear what is, to my way of thinking, the best one-liner ever uttered during the course of tournament play at Augusta National. That’s if you discount Arnold Palmer’s exchange with Dave Marr on the tee of the 72nd hole in 1964.

Arnold: “Is there anything I can do to help you?”

Marr: “Yeah, make a 12.”

But, I wasn’t there for that one.

To be fair, Seve and Greg actually started losing the ’87 Masters a year earlier. That’s when Jack Nicklaus did what he did at the doddering old age of 46, Seve hit that 4-iron on the 15th so fat it could have won the pig races at the Georgia State Fair, and Greg handed Dan Jenkins one of his all-world zingers: Dan described the Australian as looking “like the guy you send out to kill James Bond, not Jack Nicklaus.” That got the ball rolling.

In any event, there we were, just the three of us and, well, a few thousand of what they like to call the patrons, and some guy named Larry Mize, whose fame covered the entire distance from the Savannah River to Augusta Country Club. Larry was the first player to post three-under-par that Sunday, hitting 9-iron to six feet at the 18th and making a birdie. I was working as a photographer for Golf Digest and didn’t get a picture of it.

Seve birdied the 16th and 17th to join Mize at three-under and managed to stay there when he exploded from the right greenside bunker on 18 to save his four. I didn’t get any pictures of that, either. And Greg had a chance to do Mize and Ballesteros one better with a birdie on 18 but his 20-footer peeked at the hole and decided against going in, which was sort of Greg’s trademark that decade. I didn’t get it.

Roger Maltbie and Ben Crenshaw could have made birdies to tie Mize, Seve, and Greg, but neither one did, which was good, because I didn’t have any decent pictures of them, either.

So, off to the 10th we went for sudden death. Finally, I was in a position to get a picture, only there wasn’t one. At least not a good one. Mize missed his birdie. Greg got down in two. Seve didn’t. Inconsolable, Seve tearfully trudged back up the hill to the clubhouse with his caddie and one official. I didn’t get that picture because I was running down the 11th.

My shooting partner, who had been all over the 18th, skipped the 10th to secure a prime spot on 11. That’s known as teamwork in the photo biz. Coming up late, I was relying on the kindness of strangers—those patrons I mentioned—to wedge into a spot on the ground. Their support wasn’t enthusiastic.

Mize flared his 5-iron way right. Greg played it safe to the right fringe. I saw Mize’s wife, Bonnie, sitting inside the ropes on the 11th fairway cradling their one-year-old son, David. No one is allowed inside the ropes at Augusta, not even family, but I crawled in next to her. Too close, as it turned out, to get a picture. So the three of us sat there and watched.

Mize holed his 140-foot pitch with his 56-degree wedge and began leaping about. The crowd went from funereal to thunderous, jolting the baby. Bonnie rocked David back and forth and said, “It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s just daddy.”

So, I missed the best picture of the 1987 Masters. But for someone who was in the wrong place all day long, I wouldn’t have traded my spot for anything.