Tuesday, March 31

The Man Who Made the Masters, Part 2

This is the second part of a series on Clifford Roberts, the co-founder of Augusta National Golf Club and the chairman of the Masters Tournament from 1934 to 1976. Read Part 1.

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. All rights reserved. Used with permission.


CLIFFORD ROBERTS WAS BORN IN MORNING SUN, Iowa, in 1894 and reared in small towns in Iowa and Texas. He never attended college and didn’t graduate from high school. He left in the ninth grade after a fight with the principal.

His family life was troubled; his father couldn’t keep a job; his mother was suicidal. And yet Roberts became one of the most iconic figures in the world of golf.

At the age of 19, Roberts, a traveling salesman of men's suits, was on the road in the Midwest when he heard his mother had taken her own life. "It was a tragic event," writes Steve Eubanks in his book about the Masters, "that in hindsight offers a glimpse into Roberts's own mysterious psyche."

Eubanks would quote psychologist Wayne Wilson that "many children of suicidal depressed parents, become great negotiators and businessmen."

That was certainly true of Clifford Roberts.

Boy Wonder and Ladies Man

After his army tour, Roberts sold oil leases in East Texas, making $50,000 in oil speculation by the time he was 27. In 1921 he bought a partnership in Reynolds and Company and earned the epithet, "The Boy Wonder of Wall Street."

Roberts was also a ladies man, marrying three times, and famous for leaving his wives for months on end as he attended to his affairs (romantic and otherwise) in Augusta. He spent four months a year in Georgia while his current wife was back at their apartment in Manhattan.

Not much is known about his affairs, except for the woman he met in France while serving in the army. Her name was Suzanne Verdet. He saw her often in Paris when he was living, working and making his mark on Wall Street. In 1928, visiting her, she managed to have him stay one extra day with her. The plane he would have taken back to London crashed into the English Channel, killing all on board.

Roberts never married Suzanne Verdet. He never moved her to America. And he never forgot her.

Years later when Verdet needed round-the-clock care, Roberts took care of all of her expenses; and he continued to take care of her after his own death. She was also remembered in his will.

One True Love

In my novel The Caddie Who Won the Masters, there's a scene where Roberts, as a fictional ghost living on Augusta, has an encounter with the protagonist of the book, a middle-aged golfer who comes to the Masters in hopes of being the first amateur to win the tournament, one of Bobby Jones's great wishes.

Frank Stranahan (USGA)
The main character of my novel reminds Roberts of what he did to Frank Stranahan, the young, good-looking and wealthy amateur at the 1948 Masters. Roberts had established a rule in 1948 that no player could play more than one ball during a practice round. Stranahan, playing alone, thought the rule didn't apply to him since he was a single. Roberts, however, called Stranahan out, pulled him off the course, and rescinded his invitation to play in the Masters. The rumor, however, was that Stranahan had taken a sudden romantic interest in one of the women working at Augusta National, an employee Roberts also had his eye on, and Roberts wanted to get rid of any competition for her affections.

But looking back at his life, it wasn't women who captured Roberts's attention and love. It was Augusta National. He devoted his whole life to making the golf course and the Masters Tournament a success. As Byron Nelson said, ''This place was his bride.''

John Coyne is a bestselling author of three golf novels and more than 20 other books. Pay him a visit at John Coyne Books.

Monday, March 30

No Place Like Home for Jimmy Walker



JIMMY WALKER WON THE VALERO TEXAS OPEN on Sunday at tough TPC San Antonio. Walker, who makes his home in San Antonio, held off fellow Texan Jordan Spieth, whose runner-up finish vaulted him to No. 4 in the world rankings. Walker finished with a 70 and an 11-under total.

"You can feel the support. You can feel the love from friends and family and fans," Walker told Golf Channel's Steve Sands. "It's cool. It just doesn't happen very often winning in your hometown."

Spieth, who finished four shots back, tried to be the reason it didn't happen for Walker on Sunday.

"The golf course wasn't giving up much; sometimes it's hard to make pars," Walker said.

"I felt like I was leaking a little oil there and I wasn't putting very good. And then I finally smoothed out the putting stroke a little bit and got it back to where it was the first couple of days and started making some."

Then he added, "But Jordan [Spieth], holy cow. I'm having nightmares about that guy."

Walker, 36, has five PGA Tour victories in the last year and a half, and finds himself inside the world top 10 for the first time in his career. He is playing in Houston this week but also is looking ahead to Augusta with great anticipation.

"All of this just keeps adding momentum and confidence," Walker said. "I'm excited to go [to the Masters]. I've been looking forward to it, and I'm going to head over [to Augusta National] tomorrow and take a look at it again."

Before his most recent victory Walker was listed as 33/1 for a Green Jacket, just ahead of Tiger (will he play?) Woods.

Friday, March 27

VIDEO: Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony for Jack Nicklaus



ONLY SEVEN ATHLETES HAVE BEEN AWARDED the Congressional Gold Medal, including three golfers: Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and, on Tuesday, Jack Nicklaus.

As the Washington Post reported, "The award honors those 'who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.'"

That certainly fits the Golden Bear.

The above video is the entire ceremony, nearly 90 minutes long. There are several speeches, but the ones to skip to are Jack's at 1:06 and son Jackie's at 32:00.

Thursday, March 26

Golf on TV: Valero Texas Open, Kia Classic, Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic, Trophee Hassan II

The following edited content was supplied by Golf Channel in a news release.

The PGA TOUR shifts to the Lone Star State for the Valero Texas Open, the first of two events remaining before the Masters.

The LPGA Tour stages the final event prior to its first major of the season with the Kia Classic in Southern California, as Lydia Ko leads a strong field that includes 18 of the top-20 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings.

Miguel Angel Jimenez will try for his third straight Champions Tour win in as many starts on U.S. soil this week, as he joins Fred Couples and Colin Montgomerie at the Mississippi Gulf  Resort Classic. And the European Tour is in Morocco, as Alejandro Canizares defends at the Trophee Hassan II.

* * *

PGA TOUR

Valero Texas Open
Dates: March 26-29
Venue: TPC San Antonio (AT&T Oaks Course), San Antonio, Texas

Tournament Airtimes on Golf Channel (Eastern):           
Thursday         3-6 p.m. (Live) / 9:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. (Replay)
Friday              3-6 p.m. (Live) / 9:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. (Replay)
Saturday         1-3 p.m. (Live) / 10 p.m.-3 a.m. (Replay)
Sunday            1-3 p.m. (Live) / 10 p.m.-3 a.m. (Replay)

Tournament Airtimes on NBC (Eastern):
Saturday          3-6 p.m. (Live)
Sunday            3-6 p.m. (Live)

Broadcast Notes

Final opportunity to qualify for the Masters via the top-50: This week serves as the final opportunity for players to qualify for the Masters via the top-50 in the Official World Golf Ranking. The only remaining category in which a player can qualify outside of receiving a special invitation is by winning next week’s Shell Houston Open.

Bowditch defends: Steven Bowditch finished one shot ahead of Will MacKenzie and Daniel Summerhays for his first career PGA TOUR victory.

Headlining the field: Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Jim Furyk, Billy Horschel, Martin Kaymer, Matt Kuchar, Davis Love III, Matt Every and Graeme McDowell.

* * *

 LPGA TOUR

Kia Classic
Dates: March 26-29
Venue: Park Hyatt Aviara Golf Club, Carlsbad, Calif.

Tournament Airtimes On Golf Channel (Eastern):          
Thursday         6-9 p.m. (Live) / 4-6 a.m. (Friday replay)
Friday              6-9 p.m. (Live)
Saturday          6-9 p.m. (Live)
Sunday            6-9 p.m. (Live)

Broadcast Notes

Nordqvist defends: Anna Nordqvist won by one stroke over Lizette Salas for her fourth career LPGA Tour win.

Headlining the field: Lydia Ko, Inbee Park, Stacy Lewis, Hyo-Joo Kim, Shanshan Feng, So Yeon Ryu, Suzann Pettersen, Michelle Wie, Karrie Webb, Lexi Thompson and Cheyenne Woods.

* * *

CHAMPIONS TOUR

Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic presented by C Spire
Dates: March 27-29
Venue: Fallen Oak Golf Club, Biloxi, Miss.

Tournament Airtimes On Golf Channel (Eastern):
Friday              Noon-2:30 p.m. (Live) / 12:30-2:30 a.m. (Saturday replay)
Saturday          3-6 p.m. (Live) / 4-6 a.m. (Sunday replay)
Sunday            3-6 p.m. (Live) / 5-7 a.m. (Monday replay)

Broadcast Notes

Maggert defends: Jeff Maggert won by two shots over Billy Andrade to become the 17th player to win in their Champions Tour debut.

Headlining the field: Miguel Angel Jimenez, Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie, Jesper Parnevik, Jay Haas, Tom Lehman, Corey Pavin, Kenny Perry, Bart Bryant and Jeff Maggert.

* * *

EUROPEAN TOUR

Trophee Hassan II
Dates: March 26-29
Venue: Golf du Palais Royal, Agadir, Morocco

Tournament Airtimes On Golf Channel (Eastern):
Thursday         7-9 a.m. / 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. (Live)
Friday              7-9 a.m. / 10:30 a.m.-Noon (Live)
Saturday          9 a.m.-1 p.m. (Live)
Sunday            9 a.m.-1 p.m. (Live)

Broadcast Notes

Canizares defends: Alejandro Canizares finished five strokes clear of the field for his second career European Tour victory.

Headlining the field: Matteo Manassero, Marcel Siem, Jose Maria Olazabal, George Coetzee, Ross Fisher, Tommy Fleetwood, Pablo Larrazabal, Oliver Wilson and Alejandro Canizares.

Wednesday, March 25

The Man Who Made the Masters

This is the first in a series on Clifford Roberts, the co-founder of Augusta National Golf Club and the chairman of the Masters Tournament from 1934 to 1976.

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

FROM THE HILLSIDE AT AUGUSTA NATIONAL one looks into a natural amphitheater and across a landscape of interlacing fairways and greens, golden sand and blue-green stately pines. The old Berckman’s nursery fills smooth valleys and soft hills to the far edges of Amen Corner with a maze of color: azalea, dogwood, and redbud. In so many ways, this ancient acreage and southern plantation club house still has the look, code and culture of those antebellum times.

It is, also, a very modern golf course, as architect Robert Trent Jones defined it in The Complete Golfer. Jones wrote, "The Augusta National is the epitome of the type of course which appeals most keenly to the American taste, the meadowland course. From tee to green there is nothing but closely cropped green turf. These broad expanses of fairway, punctuated with pines and dotted with flashes of white sand, give Augusta a clean, sprightly appearance."

A Hacker and a Legend

Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts.
The happenstance of life that has brought into creation Augusta National and the Masters Tournament began at the Vanderbilt Hotel in New York City, through a mutual friendship with Walton H. Marshall, who operated the hotel, plus a chain of other hotels that included the Bon Air Vanderbilt Hotel in Augusta, Georgia. Marshall was a close friend of two unlikely golfers. A hacker named Clifford Roberts and America’s greatest amateur, Bobby Jones.

Successful Wall Street mogul Clifford Roberts lived in New York and wintered in Augusta which, at the time, was a favorite resort for northerners, being just 137 feet above sea level. Roberts, years earlier, as a lowly private in the U.S. Army, had gone through basic training at a base near Augusta, and served his country in World War I.

Roberts was also a fan of Bobby Jones and it was only a matter of time before their two worlds connected at the Vanderbilt. However, Roberts writes in his book, The Story of the Augusta National Golf Club, that he first met Bobby Jones in 1926 while watching the finals of the 1926 USGA Amateur Championship at Baltusrol Country Club in New Jersey.

Soon after the Vanderbilt introduction Jones and Roberts became fast friends and golf partners in Augusta, where Roberts was there as a snowbird and Jones drove from his home in Atlanta, both to play golf. When Jones expressed a desire to find a course where he could play without attracting a crowd of spectators, Roberts came up with a plan where they might build a course—one of Jones’s cherished ambitions now that he had retired from competitive golf and was working as a lawyer in Georgia.

It so happened that Fruitlands Nurseries on the south side of Augusta was for sale. The 365 acres of the former Berckmans farm was priced at $70,000 and Roberts pulled together a small group of wealthy New York businessmen (and players) to buy the property. Jones hired the famous golf architect, Dr. Alister Mackenzie to design the course. The deal was done in 1931.

First Visit

Years later, Bobby Jones would write, "I shall never forget my first visit to the property. The long lane of magnolias through which we approached was beautiful. The old manor house with its cupola and walls of masonry two feet thick was charming .... [When] I walked out on the grass terrace under the big trees behind the house and looked down over the property, the experience was unforgettable. It seemed that this land had been lying here for years waiting for someone to lay a golf course upon it. Indeed, it even looked as though it already were a golf course ....”

The first years were difficult as the club came into being at the height of the Depression. The first Masters was played in 1934, two years after the course was finished. In those early years Roberts had to hit up the members to cover expenses and tournament prizes. 

Quickly, however, Augusta National and the Masters found its way into the consciousness of all golfers. Gene Sarazen’s double eagle in its second year, and sports writer and Augusta member Grantland Rice’s captivated summation of the double-eagle as "The Shot Heard Around the World" promoted this first major of the year. Played in April, the tournament filled the sports pages of every newspaper while the country waited for the opening of the baseball season.

Chairman Roberts

As chairman of Augusta National and the Masters Tournament, Roberts was keenly aware and considerate of his "patrons" as he referred to spectators. Augusta National led the way in providing physical facilities to help the public watch the tournament. Roberts was the first to install the over-under par system of scorekeeping, gallery ropes and grandstands, pairings of twosomes rather than threesomes and complimentary pairing sheets. He also used his power to reduce both the chatter and the commercial breaks on Masters broadcasts for later television viewers.

In fact, while Roberts, and in turn Augusta National, were receiving negative criticism for their closed society and were a symbol of what was wrong with private golf clubs, Roberts, especially, was being praised for having the ability to push corporations like CBS around, forcing the network to obey the club’s ideals of propriety and anti-commercialism. Golf fans of all stripes responded to Robert’s emphasis on the history, tradition and values Augusta National placed on the Masters Tournament and the game of golf.

It was Clifford Roberts, in fact, through his long tenure as chairman of the Masters Tournament who made Augusta National what it is today and changed so dramatically the stature of professional golf in America.

John Coyne is a bestselling author of three golf novels and more than 20 other books. Pay him a visit at John Coyne Books.

Tuesday, March 24

South Korean Ladies Dominate Ladies Tour

"THE LPGA OUGHT TO THINK ABOUT setting up a satellite office in Seoul," wrote GolfChannel.com's Randall Mell on Sunday night. "South Koreans are looking determined to own this year in women's golf."

I hadn't thought about it, but Mell is right, serving up the plain facts a la Joe Friday: "South Koreans or South Korean-born players have won all six LPGA events staged this year."

Hyo Joo Kim
The most recent winner was Hyo Joo Kim at the JTBC Founders Cup in Phoenix. Kim fired a 67 in the final round to beat American Stacy Lewis by three shots. Kim is 19, "part of a gifted wave of young South Koreans," Mell reported.

"They're fearless," Lewis said.

Indeed.

As Mell wrote, Kim already has a major victory, the 2014 Evian Championship, which she won as a member of the Korean LPGA Tour. That title paved the way for LPGA membership. Kim understands her competition.

"I have known these players since we played the Korean ladies tour," Kim said.

"I know how good they can be. In fact, everyone on the LPGA is really good, otherwise they wouldn't be here. I'm just trying to find my place."

It's evident there's a place for Kim. After this past week's win, that place is No. 4 in the women's world rankings.

Monday, March 23

Matt 'Back-to-Back' Every

Matt Every
MATT EVERY LIKES BAY HILL. With a sparkling 66 including a dramatic birdie on the final green, Every clinched his second PGA Tour win and second consecutive victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He is the third repeat champion at Arnie's place.

Meanwhile, 54-hole leader Henrik Stenson groused about being put on the clock for slow play in the final round. Two 3-putt greens on the closing holes hurt the Swede, who finished second.

"I wasn't in the right frame of mind on a few of those putts, and it cost me," Stenson said.

The winner, whose middle name is "King" according to Wikipedia, struck the ball well at Bay Hill, hitting 41 fairways and 58 greens over the four days.

"I was driving it really good this week and my irons were spot on ... I kind of had a feeling," Every said. "I was shaking some of those putts in late. The one on 18 [was] straight downhill. That's what you want under pressure."

He added, "A lot of friends and family out here this week, and their support was awesome."

Rory McIlroy, who will try to complete the career grand slam with a win at the Masters next month, shot 70 in the final round and finished in a tie for eleventh.

Tiger Woods, the player with the most victories at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, was a no-show at Bay Hill this past week, which didn't escape the notice of the newest back-to-back champion.

"I actually told him, 'Don't worry, man, I'll hold it down for you until you get it back.'"

Friday, March 20

Good Times in Charlottesville





THAT'S ME AT FAR RIGHT with fellow sports authors Fred Bowen and Ran Henry at the Virginia Festival of the Book. Our Thursday panel was entitled "Wide World of Sports: Fact, Fiction and Poetry." Phil Raisor was also on the panel.

Thanks to moderator Peter Hedlund and all those who attended.