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Dermot Gilleece's Blog : The Masters is Worth Every Cent

Imagine Golf Club's Dermot Gilleece recalls the magic of the Masters

Posted Apr 06, 2009 by Dermot Gilleece


            While finalising travel arrangements for another US Masters, it struck me that it is 20 years since I made the first of these spring pilgrimages to Augusta National.  My debut was in 1989 when my Irish employer decided that as committed Europeans, it was time we recognised the Masters as a sporting event of considerable interest on this side of the pond.

            He was right, of course.  After Seve Ballesteros had blazed the trail in 1980 and with a repeat win in 1983, Bernhard Langer came along as an improbable European champion in 1985.  And the real clincher was Sandy Lyle's triumph in 1988.  Who could ever forget his stunning, seven-iron recovery from the fairway bunker on the 72nd which set up a winning birdie three?

            What matter that there was no Irish player in the '89 field:  as committed Europeans we could take a much broader view of things.  Indeed we might even have another European winner.

            As it happened, the trip didn't have an inspiring start.  Due to a visit to Shannon Airport by Mikhail Gorbachev, who would become the last premier of the disintegrating USSR, my flight out of Ireland was delayed by several hours.  The upshot was that it was about three in the morning before I eventually arrived in Augusta.  En route, I was approached on the plane by a Limerick businessman who whispered conspiratorially to me: "I know they say you can't get into Masters without a ticket, but there's bound to be a way.  Tell me, how is it done?"  I told him that from my limited knowledge, it was a sporting event that simply couldn't be cracked, but that I had heard of badges changing hands for $5,000 in the Green Jacket Restaurant across the road from Magnolia Lane. 

            My first sight of the course will always stay with me.  Like every visitor before and since, I was amazed by its dramatic changes in elevation, especially the 70-foot climb from the 18th tee up to the putting surface.  And looking around at the sheer agronomical perfection of the place, it struck me that its very existence was a triumph in itself.                 

            Another surprise, incidentally, though in the negative sense, was the press area consisting of a battered old nissen hut which resounded to the clatter of typewriters.  Even in the late eighties, there were still quite a number of newspapers where electronic transmission of copy by a laptop modem was still some way in the future.

            The tournament itself went well, with Nick Faldo and Ballesteros in challenging positions after the first round.  Then Faldo claimed a share of the halfway lead with Lee Trevino on 141.  During a rain-interrupted third round, however, he dropped into a share of second place with Americans Mike Reid and Scott Hoch, four strokes behind the leader, Ben Crenshaw.  But when 54 holes were completed on the Sunday morning, Crenshaw's lead had been narrowed to one stroke.

            By Sunday evening, deadline pressures had become quite acute for those of us reporting for British and Irish dailies. Faldo had created something of a mixed blessing for us with a glorious closing round of 65 to leave him level with Hoch after 72 holes.  It meant a sudden-death play-off in the gathering gloom.
            It was around seven in the evening, local time, when the duo stood on the 10th green in what seemed like the climactic moment.  Hoch had a 30-inch putt for victory.  Surely he couldn't miss.  I heard afterwards that Crenshaw, who was watching television in the clubhouse, screamed "Hit it! Hit it!" at the screen, as his compatriot hesitated over the putt.  Gentle Ben's concerns proved to be well founded as Hoch's frail effort slipped past the left lip.  Having been thrown an unexpected lifeline, Faldo did what great champions tend to do: he holed a 25-footer at the next for victory. 

            On the Monday, I attended a reception at Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta, where an historic Walker Cup match would be played later that year, with Britain and Ireland recording their first win on American soil.  Then I headed for the airport and an evening flight home to Dublin.  On the flight, I happened to meet up again with the Limerick businessman who believed he could crack any major sporting event.  Giving me a sheepish grin, he said: "You were right.  Except that I got a badge for $4,000."

            And I could tell from his face that he considered it to have been worth every cent.

-Dermot Gilleece

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