The Library

The Majors: In Pursuit of Golf's Holy Grail
by John Feinstein

Chapter 1: “Playing for History”


Duval carefully went through his scorecard in the scorer's tent, signed his card, and was greeted coming out of the tent by several members of Augusta National. Since a playoff was a very real possibility, they wanted to sequester him someplace where he could have privacy, away from the media, away from the crowds. The spot offered was the cabin named for tournament and club cofounder Bobby Jones that sits to the left of the 10th tee. Duval and his girlfriend, Julie McArthur, along with his caddy, Mitch Knox, and his agent, Charlie Moore, were shepherded to the Jones Cabin. There Jackson Stephens, the chairman of the club, was waiting. He congratulated Duval on his play and offered him a seat in front of the television set.

Couples and O'Meara were on the 18th fairway. Couples was in the fairway bunker on the left side. Once, in 1988, Sandy Lyle had made birdie from that bunker to win the Masters. But that had been a near miracle. Realistically, Couples would have to work to make par. O'Meara was safely in the fairway, but, since he was one shot back, Duval quickly figured that the worst he could do was play off, and since a bogey for Couples wasn't out of the question, he might win the tournament without hitting another shot.

Couples played his shot from the bunker, and as soon as he hit it, Duval knew his chances of winning had improved considerably. Couples didn't even bother to watch the ball come down, turning from it in disgust almost as soon as it left his club. His assessment was right. The ball flew into the front right bunker up by the green. Couples would have to get up and down to tie.

The camera shifted to O' Meara, perfectly positioned in the fairway in almost the same position Duval had occupied 20 minutes earlier. As O'Meara stood over his ball, CBS put a font on the screen that said, "O'Meara, -8." Duval gagged. "Isn't he minus seven?" he asked.

"He birdied seventeen," Jack Stephens said.

Duval hadn't known that. He had assumed that both players had parred 17. Since he had narrowly missed a birdie from the spot where O'Meara now stood, Duval knew that O'Meara could birdie from there and the tournament would be over. O'Meara's second shot flew onto the green and stopped in almost the exact same place from which Duval had putted 20 minutes earlier. Duval breathed a small sigh of relief. At least O'Meara hadn't knocked the flag down. The putt would be 20 feet with a wicked right-to left break. Certainly makable for a great putter like O'Meara, but not easy by any means.

O'Meara and Couples walked to the green, the applause raining down on them. This wasn't the kind of victory walk Tiger Woods had experienced a year earlier with a 12-shot lead, but the applause was warm and generous for two talented and popular players. Couples, now hoping for a playoff, played a fine bunker shot to about six feet. A three-way playoff seemed plausible, even likely.

Perhaps the only person not thinking in those terms was O'Meara. "As I was lining the putt up, it occurred to me that if I wanted to win the Masters, I was going to have to make a putt someplace," he said. "I thought to myself, why not right now? Why go back down the 10th? Why not end this here?"

Unbeknownst to O'Meara, many in the crowd were already scrambling down the 10th fairway, trying to get into position for the playoff they were sure would begin there in a few minutes. It was just after 7 P.M. and the sun was slowly beginning to retreat into the Georgia pines, the warm day beginning to cool as dusk slowly moved in.

O'Meara and his caddy, Jerry Higginbotham, looked the putt over carefully. Both agreed it would probably break about "one or one and a half cups left," O'Meara said later. In other words, the break was about the width of the cup - 4 1/4 inches - he was aiming for and then about half that much again. But as he went to get over the putt, something in O'Meara's gut told him the putt would break just a little more than that. His experience on the greens at Augusta, built up over fourteen years of playing the golf course, told him that there is always a little more break in a putt than you think you see. And he knew, just knew that the final Sunday hole location at Augusta would be in a tricky spot.

Jack Stephens knew too. He had played the golf course a lot more than O'Meara and had putted to that hole location often. As O'Meara got up over the putt, he looked at Duval and said, "Don't worry about a thing, David. Nobody makes this putt."

Duval knew he had missed it. So had Furyk, who had been on almost the same line, just a couple of feet farther away. He took a deep breath.

So did O'Meara, who had long ago put aside any notion that this was just another tournament. He knew now that this moment, right here, right now, was what he had played golf for all his life. All the money, all the other victories, the huge house he had built for his family in Florida, were distant memories. This was a putt for history, the putt of his life.

"As soon as it left the club, I knew I had hit a good putt," he said. "I could see it tracking toward the hole, but I could also see it was starting to die to the left."

If he had believed his eyes rather than his gut, the putt would have followed the same path that Duval's and Furyk's had. But because he had played it just a little more to the right, the putt began to break an instant later than the others had. Behind the hole, the putt began to break an instant later than the others had. Behind the hole, many of the spectators began standing as the ball began to dive. O'Meara stood frozen, not wanting to think it might be in, not wanting to deal with the disappointment of thinking for a moment that he had won the Masters and then having to walk to the 10th tee for a playoff.

Just before the ball got to the cup, it began to veer left. "Another inch and it's wide," O'Meara said.

But that inch wasn't there. The ball caught the left side of the cup and disappeared. O'Meara's arms were in the air, a wave of disbelief and relief pouring over him. He never smiled. His game face was so set that the smile didn't come until later. Higginbotham was pounding him on the back and Couples was congratulating him. O'Meara was more stunned than thrilled. He had never once led the tournament in four days. Until now. On his final putt, on the final hole. The only time when it mattered.

In the Jones Cabin, there was a brief silence when the putt disappeared. Jack Stephens, having finally seen someone make that putt, stood up and shook hands with Duval. "Well, David, great playing," he said. "We'll look forward to seeing you again next year."

Duval stood there, his eyes blank. He felt as if someone has kicked him very hard in the stomach. He had finished second on tour seven different times. Each time it had been disappointing. But not like this. Two months later, retelling the story, he leaned forward and took a deep breath. "I swear to God," he said, "just thinking about it again makes my stomach hurt all over."

Duval now knew the difference between all other golf tournaments and the four majors. The pain. "Never, ever, have I felt like that at the end of a golf tournament," he said. "It was as if every bit of adrenaline and energy I had ever had just went right out of me. Right then I understood what the majors are all about. Really and truly understood for the first time."

Several hours later, Mark O'Meara also understood. He had gone through all the rituals of victory after making his putt: the green jacket ceremony in the Butler Cabin: the public ceremony on the putting green; talking to the print media, then the TVs. He has sat at the victory dinner in the clubhouse that night, accepting congratulations all around, proudly wearing the green jacket. As dessert was being served, O'Meara sat back in his chair and a wave of exhaustion came over him.

Suddenly, something occurred to him. He had no idea how much money he had made for winning the tournament. "First time in my life," he said. "I won the golf tournament and six hours later, I didn't have a clue how much the winner's check was for."

The check was for $576,000. But if it had been for $576 or $5.76, O'Meara wouldn't have cared. Most of the time, professional golfers play for money. It is how they are measured at the end of each year. But four times a year, the money becomes completely irrelevant. They are playing for history.

The Majors - In Pursuit of Golf's Holy Grail - Return to Part One

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