Most golf fans aren’t aware of the events surrounding the 1958 Masters. Many of them may not have been born. It involved two rising stars on the PGA Tour, the twelfth hole at Augusta National and a ruling that somewhat resembled Tiger Wood’s proceedings from 2013. The stories have been written. Mr. Venturi has passed away while details of the day waft on the subtle spring breezes filtering through the Georgia pines.
In the winter of 1985 I evaded the Chicago winter and my assistant duties at Westmoreland CC and headed to South Florida. A fellow assistant, Tim Eaton, was now the head professional at Eagle Creek CC. The private club community was under the ownership of the Maxxam Company. Mr. Ken Venturi was in charge of the day-to-day operations of the new facility. Tim invited me to join the his staff that winter.
The new club operated out of a few manufactured home structures pieced together to create a sales office and clubhouse. It wasn’t elaborate but it worked as the club recruited new members. Larry Packard designed a wonderful layout through palmettos and lowlands. The wildlife was often scary with snakes and alligators roaming the grounds. The best times were late in the day when play slowed, the sun fell westward and Mr. V and the golf staff would sit around a table with a few beers. The conversations were memorable.
Naturally the ’58 Masters arrived on the table one day. Venturi, usually full of bravado, talked softly about his disappointment during that tournament. He felt it had been taken away from him. The ruling with Palmer involved an imbedded ball near the twelfth green. Playing his original ball, Palmer made five. However before going to the thirteenth tee he claimed he was going to play a “second ball”, with which he made three. Normally a second ball is played concurrently. Here it was done after the fact, a procedure that infuriated Venturi and subsequently knocked him off his game. The rules officials deliberated as Palmer played the par five thirteenth, which he eagled. By the time the twosome reached the fifteenth hole, Bob Jones arrived with the Committee’s decision. They granted Palmer his second ball three at the twelfth. The rest is Masters history.
During that riveting conversation, I felt the disappointment in Mr. V’s voice. Given a chance to win any major championship, his choice would have been the Masters. His two mentors, Hogan and Nelson had done it. The chance to return to the club each year as a Masters Champion would have suited Venturi well. Yet it wasn’t to be.
At no time during our conversation did I hear the word “cheater” come up. There were four of us at the table that afternoon. No other members were in the clubhouse. It was a private, intimate setting. Hearing one of the game’s best players tell his side of the story was something I’ll never forget. While he didn’t call Palmer a cheater, you could tell there was a coolness between the two. Venturi claimed in later interviews he never used the term. I can validate he did not mention it during our conversation. Yet there were other feelings expressed at the table that evening, some expressed, some implied, that will remain with me and the other three. No one, except the three of us need to know those thoughts. It’s the way Mr. V would have wanted it. We owe him that for sharing a poignant piece of his life with us.