The Masters has only been a major tournament since the 1950’s but already many golfing fans consider it to the most important of the Four Major Championships. Besides the Masters Tournament, the other three are the USPGA, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship, sometimes referred to as the British Open.
Perhaps, the Masters is so important to golfing fans, in particular American golfing fans, because some of the most significant events in golf history have occurred at the Masters. The Masters Tournament, the first major tournament of the PGA Tour Season, is held every year at the Augusta National Golf Club, the club was created by the brilliant Bobby Jones, arguably the greatest golfer to ever live, and the New York financier Clifford Roberts. Although not a strictly Masters’ moment, Roberts created the +/- over/under par scoring system for stroke golf which is the system that is used in every single country in the world where golf is played competitively.
Below are some of the most important moments in Masters Tournament History.
Great Masters Moments
Tiger Woods Wins in 1997 – To me this is the most significant moment in Masters’ history for a number of reasons.
First, it was Tiger’s first major victory. Woods could end up being the greatest golfer to ever live if he wins 19 major tournaments. The Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus, has 18 major victories. Woods right now is sitting on 14. Second, Tiger set the Masters record by shooting a -18. Third, he set the record at the age of 22 making him the youngest person to ever win a Masters Tournament. Finally, Tiger was the first African and Asian American to ever win the Masters. Tiger’s victory at the 1997 Masters also came only 7 years after Augusta National Golf Course first invited an African American to join their club.
Masters First Televised Broadcast in 1956 - - Television had actually been around since 1928. There were 200 television sets in use around the world in 1936 and Charles Jenkins broadcasted the first television commercial in 1930 but it wasn’t 1947 that the first ever golf tournament was aired. That was the U.S. Open which was aired on KSD-TV in St. Louis. Then, in 1953 the Tom O’Shanter World Championship was broadcast nationally.
But the real first golf broadcast, the one that made golf an almost weekly, televised sport, was the Masters in 1956. The Masters had become one of the Four Majors due largely to the presence of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the former General and then President of the United States. Eisenhower was not only a golfing enthusiast but also a huge supporter of Augusta National.
The 1956 Masters Tournament was won by Jack Burke Jr. who shot a 289 one over. He took home $6,000 for his victory. Sam Snead finished at 4 over and 3 strokes off of Burke while Ben Hogan finished at 8 over and 7 strokes off of Burke Jr.
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How important was the 1956 Masters? If you look at the 2009 Masters, the realization of how important TV has become to the tournament is fully recognizable. Burke Jr. won $6,000 for his victory. Angel Cabrera, mainly because of the CBS ratings for the Masters, which brings in a ton of advertising dollars, won $1.3 million. The purse for the 2009 Masters was a cool $7 million.
The Green Jacket is Introduced in 1949 - - The green jacket is the official jacket worn by members of the Augusta National Golf Club. The previous year’s Masters’ winner presents the current year’s Masters winner with the green jacket.
In 1949 this tradition was introduced. It’s become the most recognizable and important tradition in golf history because it not only signifies that the winner of the Masters is a member of Augusta National Golf Club for life but that sportsmanship is still an important part of golf. One other interesting note about the 1949 tournament is that Sam Snead, who is considered one of the Top 5 golfers to ever live, won the first of his three Masters’ titles.
Lee Elder Tees Off in the 1975 Masters - - Elder had won the Monsanto Open in 1974. Because it was a Masters Tournament qualifying event, Augusta National Golf Course officials couldn’t keep Elder out of the 1975 Masters.
Elder, an African American, received so much hate mail and so many death threats that he rented out two different houses while at Augusta. He shot a 74 in the 1st Round and a 78 in the 2nd Round to miss the cut in 1975, but without Elder teeing off at one of golf’s most privileged courses, the door may never have opened for the minorities, including Tiger Woods, that followed him. Jack Nicklaus, one of Tiger Woods’ biggest supporters, won the 1975 tournament to become the tournament’s first 5 time winner, but it was Elder playing that makes the 1975 Masters so important.
Jack Nicklaus Wins in 1986 - - The Golden Bear would show up 11 years later to win his 6th green jacket in 1986. Nicklaus was a huge underdog in the 1986 Masters but found a way to pull one out of his golf bag.
Shortly before the tournament, Tom McCollister from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote that Nicklaus was “done, washed up, through”. Nicklaus acknowledges that McCollister’s words fired him up. Nicklaus didn’t start out well shooting a 74 1st Round but turned it on during the weekend with a 69 3rd Round and an almost unbelievable 65 4th Round.
Nicklaus became the oldest person to ever win a Masters Tournament. The 1986 Masters was also his 18th major victory.
Herman Keiser Takes the Masters’ Trophy in 1946 - - Between 1943 and 1945, during World War II, Augusta National put the Masters Tournament on hold.
Keiser, who was born on October 7th, 1914, was a golf professional at courses in Akron, Ohio. He interrupted his career to join the United States Navy in 1942 and served on the U.S.S. Cincinnati. After his discharge in 1945, he returned to the PGA Tour. Keiser had second place finishes to Ben Hogan and Sam Snead in three different tournaments in 1946 before turning the tables on Hogan in the 1946 Masters.
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For his victory, Keiser won $2,500. Although his victory may have been forgotten by many, it stands as one of the most important Masters Tournaments for the simple facts that it was the first tournament after World War II and that it was won by a World War II participant. Keiser died from Alzheimer’s at the age of 89 in 2003.
Arnold Palmer Wins in 1958 - - Arnold Palmer won 10 major tournaments in his golf career. By most standards the most popular golfer to ever play, Palmer won the Masters Tournament more than any other major in his career. He took home the green jacket for the first time in 1958.
Palmer would go on to dominate golf until Jack Nicklaus came on the scene. Even then, the two rivals continued to battle each other in most of the major tournaments. Another reason why Palmer’s victory in 1958 is so significant is because Palmer’s victory occurred only two years after the first nationally televised Masters Tournament. The impact of golf’s most popular player winning the Masters so early on in the Masters’ television history cannot be understated.
Palmer still ranks as one of the most successful pitchman in history and continues to sell everything from cooking ware to golf products on television, in magazines, and on billboards. Palmer was so popular in fact that a well known half-lemonade and half-ice tea concoction was named after him. Walk into any restaurant in the United States on a hot day and you might hear someone ask for an “Arnold Palmer, heavy on the lemonade”.
Tiger Woods Makes His Comeback in 2010 - - Yes, I know it hasn’t happened yet but how can anybody deny that Tiger making his comeback to professional, competitive golf at the 2010 Masters won’t be one of the Master Tournament’s most historical and significant moments?
Tiger is four golf majors away from tying the Golden Bear with 18 major victories. He has won 5 Master Tournaments in his career and was by most accounts the most beloved and well-respected sports figure in the world before Thanksgiving Night 2009 when he ran his SUV into his neighbor’s tree.
What has occurred since then has been dissected over and over again but it still all matters. Why? Because not only will Tiger be returning to professional golf in a major tournament but he will be doing so in the one major tournament that has been the most reluctant to cultural changes.
Augusta National Golf Club still has not invited a woman to join their club. That’s pretty Neolithic considering the fact that women have become a serious force in the golfing world. So, Tiger who could end up as the greatest golfer in history and who is also half African American and cheated on his white wife, will make his comeback at a Deep South venue, Augusta National Golf Club, in a tournament that has been incredibly reluctant to change.
It sounds like the making of a seriously significant moment to me.
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