Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 April 2008 01:28 Monday, 07 April 2008 17:27
It is Masters week. Few events in the world of sports garner as much anticipation and excitement as golf's first Major Tournament of the year held at that most perfect of venues, the Augusta National Golf Club.
When the great Bobby Jones retired from championship golf in 1930, he dreamed of building a golf course. He and Clifford Jones met several times and decided to build the club near Augusta Georgia. They found a piece of land that was called Fruitland Nurseries, which was once an indigo plantation. They purchased the land for $70,000.
It was decided that they would establish a national membership for the club and Jones proposed the name of Augusta National. Dr. Alister Mackenzie of Scotland served as the course architect along with Jones. Construction of the course began in 1931 and opened in December 1932 with a limited amount of member play. The formal opening was in January 1933.
Jones and Roberts decided in 1934 to hold an annual golf event. Roberts initially wanted to call it the Masters Tournament but Jones didn't like that name because he felt it would be too pretentious. Instead, they decided to call it the Augusta National Invitational Tournament.
That title was used for about five years until finally in 1939 Jones relented and the name was officially changed and 'The Masters' has been played every year since then with the exception of 1943-45 during World War II. During those two years, in order to assist with the war effort, cattle and turkeys were raised on Augusta National's grounds.
Since its introduction on March 22, 1934 when Horton Smith was the victor, The Masters has seen many of the greatest and most exciting moments in golf's Major Championship history. And wouldn't you know that a Canadian would make an impact in the very first version of the tournament. Not only did legendary amateur Sandy Somerville, the first Canadian to win the U.S. Amateur, play in the inaugural event, he also recorded The Masters' very first hole-in-one that year.
In 1935 Gene Sarazen hit the original "shot heard round the world," holing his second shot on the par 5 15th for a double-eagle. He would go on to defeat Craig Wood in a 36-hole playoff by five shots.
Over the years there have been many more memorable moments take place under the majestic Georgia Pines and certainly a few noteworthy highlights have involved Canadians, including one in particular that took place in 2003. But prior to that, there were still some solid performances to take note of by players representing the Maple Leaf.
One of the best to ever represent Canada was Vancouver's own Stan Leonard. Leonard played on the PGA Tour in the 1950's and 60's winning 3 times, once each at the Greater Greensboro Open in 1957, the Tournament of Champions in 1958 and the Western Open in 1960, all prestigious PGA Tour events in their day.
Some of Leonard's best play on the Tour was reserved for The Masters. He finished T4th in 1958 and '59, was T8th in 1955 and T9th in 1960. He also registered finishes of T15th in 1961 and T21st in 1963. But it was in 1958 that Leonard finished only 2 shots behind 'The King' himself, Arnold Palmer, as Palmer recorded his first of four Green Jacket triumphs.
Among the notable names Leonard finished ahead of in that very memorable year included Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Jimmy Demaret and eventual 5-time British Open Champion Peter Thomson, who would win his 4th Claret Jug that summer. Leonard, who passed away in 2005, was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall Of Fame in 1972.
There were two other players in the field in '58 that Leonard may have beaten but he definitely shared more in common with than the others, and they were fellow Canadians Al Balding (T26th) and Nick Weslock (MC) one of the greatest amateur golfers Canada has ever produced. His four Canadian Amateur titles translated into four invitations to play at Augusta National.
Other accomplished amateurs from Canada also earned invites to Augusta by virtue of winning the Canadian Amateur, such as Keith Alexander and Gary Cowan who was the low amateur at the 1964 Masters in a T25th with former PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman.
Cowan also holds the distinction of winning the U.S. Amateur on two occasions. It would be Beman he would defeat for his first in 1966, and he was also voted the Canadian male golfer of the century in 2000 at a special ceremony in Vancouver.
For his part Al Balding was another steady performer at the Masters in the 1950's and 60's. Balding became the first Canadian to win a PGA Tour event with his victory in the 1955 Mayfair Open.
Aside from a T16th finish at Augusta in 1956, Balding holds the remarkable distinction of shooting a 66 in a Senior event in 2002 at the age of 78, fully 12 shots lower than his age and a feat unparalleled in the history of tournament golf according to PGA Tour historians. Al Balding, who passed away in July of 2006 after a battle with cancer, will always hold a special place in Canada's golf history.
When it came to ball-striking ability, Moe Norman may have been one of the most legendary players ever to capture the attention of the golfing world. Unfortunately the attention he received was not always positive or understanding of his shy and very different ways. There are enough incredible stories to fill several pages regarding both his playing accomplishments and his strange performances during his career but only one came from The Masters... well, maybe two.
In the 1956 tournament he distinguished himself by hitting his tee shot as the first tee announcer was in the middle of introducing him. When one of his playing partners asked him why he took so little time to line up his shots he responded by saying, "Why, have they moved the greens since yesterday?"
On top of that, as Moe told it himself, "At the 1956 Masters I was on the practice range when Sam Snead came over. He gave me a 40-minute lesson, telling me to hit my irons like a fairway wood, meaning to sweep it instead of hitting down on it. I was in awe, and like a dumbbell proceeded to hit 800 balls. My right thumb swelled up so big I couldn't hit a ball without terrible pain. I played nine holes and quit. That was the last lesson I took, let me tell you."
One of Canada's most respected and certainly talented performers on the PGA Tour had to be George Knudson. His swing was a thing of beauty admired by top flight golfers around the world.
Knudson, who holds the Canadian record along with Mike Weir for the most career PGA Tour wins at eight, also came closest to winning the Green Jacket before Weir broke through in 2003. Knudson, a native of Winnipeg, finished in a T2nd in the 1969 Masters, only one shot in arrears of George Archer.
In his seven career Masters appearances, Knudson recorded 3 top-10 finishes including a 10th in his 1965 debut and a 6th place finish the following year. Sadly, another great Canadian representative in the world of golf was taken from us too soon when Knudson finally succumbed to cancer in 1989. He was inducted into the RCGA Hall Of Fame in '88 as well as being made a member of the Order Of Canada.
Closer to the modern era of golf the Canadian colours have been carried down Magnolia Lane by B.C. boys Dave Barr and Richard Zokol, with Barr having teed it up at Augusta 3 times, recording his best finish in 1986 with a T16th just one year after his 2nd place finish at the U.S. Open.
Of course all this history of Canadian performances in the Masters takes a back seat now that Brights Grove, Ontario native Mike Weir has served up Elk, Wild Boar, Arctic Char and of course Canadian Beer for the Champions Dinner at the Augusta National Clubhouse. That was his menu in 2004 after winning the tournament in a playoff over Len Mattiace in 2003.
Weir became only the second left-handed player to win a Major Championship alongside Bob Charles who won the British Open in 1963, a mere 40 years earlier.
Of course one year after Weir's historic victory the 'other' lefty on the PGA Tour who many thought should have won a Major by this point finally came through and Phil Mickelson was able to join Weir and Charles as southpaw Major champions.
With the increasing consistency of the newest Canadian representative at the top of PGA Tour leaderboards, Stephen Ames of Calgary, there will be two names with red Maple Leaf flags next to them at this year's Masters.
And the fact that Ames was the winner at the Players Championship in 2006, which many of the Tour's members consider to be the 'Fifth Major,' Canada has all the more reason to wave the flag in earnest this year.
By Bryan Outram
Bryan Outram has been editor-in-chief for Inside Golf for the past eight years.http://www.insidegolf.ca
More articles by Bryan Outram
- The Maple Leaf At The Masters
- Perry Takes Memorial By Two Shots, Mike Weir Ties For Second
- Perry Takes Memorial By Two Shots, Joins Woods As Three-Time Winner
- Jockeying Continues Around The Globe In Final Push For The Masters
- Former Champion Nick Faldo Decries Changes At Augusta National