40 Years Ago at Augusta- Fred Ridley, Seve Ballesteros, and Gary Player

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Where is Augusta, exactly?

My first job after graduating from the University of Tennessee was as Assistant Parks and Recreation Director in Rockdale County, GA, an eastern suburb of Atlanta.  My first job, my first time living away from home, and therefore my first time living in another state.

After a few months on the job I had learned to (mostly) navigate through and around the county, to where our parks and facilities were located, to get back and forth to my apartment, and that was about it.

My boss played golf (even worse than me), and he and I had played together a few times.  One day in early April he came into my office and said, “I’ve got tickets to the Masters– wanna go this Friday?”

Now, I didn’t know a lot about the Masters at that point in my life, but I knew enough to know this was going to be pretty cool.  Still being new to Georgia geography, my first question was, “Where is Augusta, exactly?”

 

The Trip

I had never been to a golf tournament before.  Not a major.  Not a minor.  Not the Knoxville Municipal Amateur.  Everything about this was new and exciting.  I also not up-to-speed regarding the ambiance and mystique of Augusta National Golf Club.  All I knew was we were going to The Masters!

My first clue about what to expect was when, on the drive over, Dwight said, “I got these passes from a friend who used them yesterday.  We have to get back tonight in time to get them back to him so he can go tomorrow.”

Hmmm.   Passes.  With little clips to wear on your shirt so they are always seen by the Masters staff.  I was beginning to understand the unique quality of where we were going.  These weren’t just tickets, they were passes, with the Masters logo on them.

Dwight had been in previous years, so he knew where we were going, where to park, etc.  This was looooong before the wonderful parking area that is now available all along the west side of the course.  We parked in someone’s driveway, or a business parking lot along Washington Road- I’ve forgotten now.  We did walk along Washington Rd and I had a peek inside Magnolia Lane as a car drove in- my first look at Augusta National.  We continued around the corner to the patrons gate, showed our passes, and were in.

Seve Ballesteros

Seve was the first golfer I saw.  He was already a star, and would win The Open Championship the next year.  Back then, there was a short game area to the left of the walkway as patrons came into the course, and Seve and his caddie were in that short game area.

What I saw was nothing I had ever seen, or had even imagined, before.
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[Above is an actual photo of Seve on the range at Augusta in 1978- you can see his caddie in the background]

To set the stage -I grew up playing golf on municipal courses, when time and money allowed.  The municipal course in Knoxville I had played while growing up didn’t have a driving range.  I might find a putting green and practice putting with my trusty Acushnet Bullseye putter, but that was the extent of “short game” work.

Back to Seve.

There may have been other golfers in that area, but he was the closest to where we could watch, and of course was easy to recognize.  Seve was on one end of the practice area.  His caddie, wearing the iconic white Augusta jump suit, was about 100 yards away, and was standing there, arms folded, with 20 or so golf balls at his feet.  He didn’t look disinterested, but he certainly didn’t look worried.

I found this both incredibly odd and fascinating, because Seve was hitting wedge shots at him!  And for the five minutes or so that we watched, each shot landed within a couple of feet of the previous one.  Every fourth or fifth shot, the caddie would pick up a handful of balls and place them in a bag he held, then go back to watching balls land at his feet.  He wasn’t worried, wasn’t concerned, and wasn’t afraid of being hit.  His demeanor could be defined as professional disinterest.  He simply knew that Seve’s next shot would be just like Seve’s last shot.

That’s when I knew I was in a different world.  This was way before “These Guys Are Good” became the PGA’s slogan, but wow.

These Guys Are Good.

The Tee Sheet

I was able to locate the Friday pairings sheet I had kept for that Friday.  The last pairing of the day is notable:  Mr. Gary Jacobson along with Mr. Fred S. Ridley  (And how many of you knew that John Schlee held the first-round lead with a 68? ).

Download (PDF, 88KB)

I didn’t have a clue who Fred Ridley was in 1978, and didn’t care.  I just knew I, along with 25,000 or so other patrons, wanted to watch Arnold Palmer play a few holes.  I also wanted to watch Jack Nicklaus, the world’s best golfer, hit some shots.  As fortune had it, we were in the tee area close to his tee time.  So rather than strain to see over ten rows of people around the first tee, we made our way to the landing area on the left side of hole #1, assuming we would get a better view of the tee shot, and be in position to see his second shot.

Jack pulled his tee shot, so we were within an arm’s length of watching him hit his second shot into #1.  He was partially blocked by a limb, so I assumed he would be pitching out since he didn’t have a full swing.

That is where I learned my second “These Guys Are Good” lesson.

He took a three-quarter swing, and I heard a sound I had never heard before on a golf course -a professional hitting a ball flush with an iron.  It sounded like a muffled rifle, and the ball jumped like it had been shot from that muffled rifle.  A partial swing from under a tree.  On the green.  Jack handed the club to his caddie and walked up the hill like it was no big deal, which I’m sure to him it wasn’t.

But for me, it was an up-close indoctrination to what a pro can do to a golf ball. And a realization that I had never, and likely would never, be able make a golf ball sound like that.

 

Gary Player

The 1978 Masters, as you probably remember, was won by Gary Player, who shot a 64 on Sunday to come from back in the pack to win his ninth and final major championship.

I played a lot of competitive softball at that point in time, and vaguely remember being in a softball tournament that Sunday.  I saw on the evening news, or maybe on ESPN, that Gary Player had won with a 64.

Snippets

  • We walked with Arnie’s Army for a few holes.  But with thousands of followers, we didn’t see very much.
  • We ate a pimento cheese sandwich before I knew they were famous.
  • I remember seeing hundreds of green paper cups (before the cool plastic cups- of which I have several- were introduced) on the ground, then realizing that everything was green so it would blend in.

    Masters Collectors Items

    The Green Masters Cups

  • I remember the clubhouse not being as large as I had assumed it would be.

 

Everyone remembers the first tournament they attended, and many have memories of the first major championship they had a chance to witness.  I was very fortunate that both of those were combined at arguably the most famous, iconic golf championship in the world.

Masters Course layout

Augusta National in 1978

 

I wonder if Chairman Ridley made the cut…

 

 

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