Front of Scorecard

AUGUSTA, Ga.—The sky was low and gray, smeared by a cold rain that fell as lightly as a kitten but as relentlessly as a bulldog.

Only a few hundred devoted fans braved the bone-chilling weather early on this unusual Masters Saturday morning. They circled the 18th green to watch the hometown kid, the one who hit the second-most memorable shot in Masters history, play his last-ever strokes in this tournament.

Larry Mize deserved a better stage for his farewell, or at least a warmer and drier one. His last three shots, not that it matters, came on the green. When he tapped in the third putt for an 80 of no significance, there were shouts, some cheers and only muffled applause since it’s remarkably difficult to clap while holding an umbrella.

Mize, the 1987 Masters winner who famously chipped in to stun Greg Norman in a playoff, retrieved his ball and graciously shook hands with Min Woo Lee and Australian amateur Harrison Crowe, his playing partners, and their caddies.

Then, striding onto the middle of the green from under the broadcast tower came Sandy Lyle, the 1988 Masters champion. Twenty minutes earlier, he, too, had played the final stroke of his tournament career. Both men had said before this week that this would be their last Masters. Mize shot 79-80, Lyle posted 81-83; both missed the cut.

Lyle had only a 12-foot putt remaining Friday evening when play was halted. He returned early with just his putter to officially finish his round and close out his major-championship career after spending the previous night, he said, with “a lot of tequila and a bit of whiskey-tasting.” 

He wore a big smile as he gave Mize an emotional and symbolic hug. There was some light drizzle on their cheeks. That had to be it. What else could it have been?

“Obviously, I know what’s going through his mind,” Lyle said. “I just think it was the right thing to do. The wives suggested it and I said, Yeah, I’m going to go back out there and welcome him to a new era.”

Mize was genuinely surprised by Lyle’s appearance. And delighted. Add grateful, too.

“That was incredible,” Mize said later, still slightly choked up by the occasion. “For him to come out and greet me like that was very special. I can’t believe he did that. I’ll thank Sandy for years to come.”

Mize was met by his wife and assorted family members as he headed toward the clubhouse. He also got a hug from tour player Russell Henley, a close friend. Henley played with Fred Couples in a threesome two groups ahead of Mize.

“I just said I loved him,” Henley said. “Living in Columbus (Ga.) the last four years, he’s been a mentor and a father figure for me,” said Henley, who grew up in Macon and played college golf at Georgia. “Anything that goes on in my life, he’s been there to chat with me about it. He’s somebody I look up to. So it was really cool to sneak back there and watch his last hole.”

A last trip around the course touched on so many memories. Mize worked as a volunteer running the scoreboard at the third hole for two years when he was a young teen. He admitted to glancing over at that board as he passed. “I had some nice memories of 50 years ago when I was there,” Mize said. “It was very special.”

The 11th hole was where Mize made history by holing an unlikely 40-yard pitch shot to stun Norman. Seve Ballesteros was also part of the playoff but three-putted the 10th hole and was eliminated. Norman still had a 50-foot putt to tie Mize at 11 but missed.

That chip is a shot Mize has been reminded of almost daily for the last 36 years. And gladly.

He didn’t get the same flashbacks at 11. Perhaps because he was into his round. And the green complex has been tinkered with, making a genuine recreation of his famous shot impossible.

“I was 1 over at the time, I’m not playing too bad, I was just trying to make 4 somehow,” Mize said. “I was just trying to finish it off as best I could.”

At the 16th green, he got an unpleasant surprise. He was near the bunker on the green’s right side, lining up his putt, when several tall pines suddenly crashed to the ground near the 17th tee.

“I was shocked, scared,” Mize said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what was that? I was talking to Patrick Reed in the locker room last night and he said, ‘I can’t imagine what it was like for you because it was so loud, we could hear it all the way over on 15.’ It’s just a miracle nobody got hurt.”

At 18, final walk up the final hole in his final Masters, wasn’t exactly the way he—or anyone-envisioned it. The steady mist had turned to light rain and those who checked closely could see their breath when they exhaled.

In the cold rain, the 18th was barely a par 5 for young players. It was definitely a par 5 for a 64-year-old. Mize could only laugh when asked how he played it. “I hit a poor drive down the right, a chunky 5-iron up the middle and then a thin 6-iron on the green,” he said, grinning. “How was that? The ball’s going nowhere and I’m hitting it short now, anyway.”

Mize said he wished he could have finished Friday but in the next sentence said the Saturday morning finish in the rain was also pretty cool. He didn’t expect so many people to be at the green, he said. It was cold and wet and he arrived at the 18th green barely half an hour after the Masters’ gates opened for fans at 8 a.m.

“To get a reception like that in weather like this, I didn’t expect that,” Mize said. “I didn’t expect that at all. It was something I’ll never forget. I’m still living the dream at 64. For people to applaud me and cheer me on, that means a lot.”

Because of Saturday morning’s inclement weather, Mize told his family, “Y’all don’t have to come,” he said, “but they said, No,we’re coming.”

He lived in Augusta when he worked the Masters scoreboard as a teen but his family then moved to Columbus, which is where Mize met his wife, Bonnnie. They have three sons. So his family entourage at the course was not small. His life and his career have been filled with accomplishments. He won three other PGA Tour events, three titles in Japan and one PGA Tour Champions tournament. He is remembered for only one victory, really, the one here that mattered most.

“It’s amazing to win the Masters and to do it in that fashion just enhanced it,” Mize said. “It’s hard to put into words. It’s been a tremendous blessing. It changed my life for the better, no doubt. The recognition I’ve gotten, it gave me and my family opportunities to do things we wouldn’t have otherwise done.

“I love this place. For a kid from Augusta, Georgia, this is the biggest thing in golf. I have nothing but great memories and there will be more to come.”

As he talked, an adorable grandson toddled over by his leg, looked up at him, giggled, and wandered away with Bonnie in pursuit.

More great memories to come for Larry Mize? Absolutely.  See  Larry Mize interview:

Gary Van Sickle recently received an Achievement Award  for attending his 40th Masters.  

That hasn't stopped him from writing irreverently about all things golf and and playing more than 1500 golf courses.


Larry Mize Tees Off from No. 1 at the Masters.

Masters Digital Images

Terri Kiser and Randy Meadows of Nicholas Memorial.

Nicklaus  Nicholas Memorial Golf Course

I wasn’t cold at all. Not even my right hand needed a cold-weather glove. Walking makes all the difference and the rain suit—Blatant Plug Alert: mine is a super-expensive KJUS that is easily the best I’ve ever owned—kept me so warm that by the seven hole, I had to pull a few zippers down (not including THAT one) to cool down.

The good news: I shot the temperature on one ball. (I played two balls, figuring I might need to hit the first one just to get loose enough to hit the second one.) At 37 degrees, that ball is not going to compress with my swing speed. Every iron shot played two clubs longer. (They might not have if you’d hit them solid.) Who asked you? (Nobody, I’m just saying.) It was cold and I was stiff after driving without a break for 3 hours and 10 minutes from my home in Pittsburgh’s North Hills. (We finally agree on something—you’re a stiff.) Zip it.

Roses are red, violets are blue. I’m schizophrenic… and so am I. Old joke. Sorry.

Let’s get back to my Masters tradition unlike any other. Since it’s a long drive, the only way I’m going to get on a public course on a Sunday morning is if somebody doesn’t have a foursome (I don’t want that—it’ll take two hours-plus to play nine, I’m scurrying to Augusta) or the weather is bad. Cold, rainy or both is what I’m rooting for.

Last year, it was 35 degrees when I got to Nicholas Memorial, which is right on Route 19, a major shortcut road that connects I-79 to I-77 for those heading south. As I walked in, I seem to recall that whoever worked the counter had just gotten word that the frost was gone and I was good to go. I rode in a cart, despite not having planned ahead of cold-weather golf gear, froze my you-know-what off, and was done in 50 minutes. I could’ve gone faster had I skipped the mulligans. (Yeah, and maybe not rolled the ball over in the grass to tee it up.) Hey, it’s early April, the grass is barely green and it’s not growing yet. I’m trying to play golf here. (Doesn’t sound like it but, fine.)

I walked into the shop, saw a woman working at a computer in the back office and said, “Well, I guess I’m the nuttiest golfer in town.” (Summersville has a population of approximately 2,500.) Nope, she said, two other guys had already gone out. I spotted them from the first fairway. They were already on the fifth hole. They must’ve teed off at 8 when it was really cold, like 35. What are they, nuts? (You’re the expert on that subject, you tell us.) As I mentioned earlier, zip it.

The woman was Terri Kiser, who has worked at the course part-time for 15 years. She warned me that I couldn’t rent a motorized cart. It was too wet from a storm that went through the day before, plus there were a lot of downed branches. So I’d have to walk.

Great, I said, my seat was already sore from driving in the car all morning. Kiser asked where I came from. I told her, and added that I was en route to the Masters. That didn’t earn me a discount. It was still $20 to walk nine. On a Sunday morning, prime time (well, not at 35 degrees), that was a good deal.

Nicholas Memorial has a little slope to it but not much. The opening hole runs alongside Route 19 and is just as straight. It’s potentially disastrous to motorists if you snap off a big hook. I cold-shafted my first ball fairly well but it made a big splash. A fairway bunker was filled with water. I then took my rightful mulligan and hit a pretty good one down the right side of the fairway. It was a flip wedge, which is no simple thing when you’ve barely played golf outside yet this spring, but on my second try (that’s right, what about it?), I accidentally stuck it to three feet. Illegal birdie? Yes but I wrote it down anyway. (You would.)

My favorite hole is the par-3 eighth. It’s downhill to a slightly raised green and the surrounding land slopes right to left. From the blue tees, which are only 3,091 yards, it is 220 yards on a normal day. They’re saving the real tee boxes for when the season starts so I had to hit from a forward tee at 160 yards. In that cold air, I had no business hitting a 7-iron. But I’ve never made an ace with a 7-iron—I’ve got one with everything from 3-iron through pitching wedge except 7- and 8---so I felt compelled to jump on the 7-iron. By jump on, of course, I mean badly pull hook. A lucky bounce on an uphill pitch got close and I saved a par. I tried a second time off the tee and just barely bounced one on the green, well short of the pin. A good caddie would’ve hid the 7-iron from me. But I was the only one walking.

My second favorite hole is No. 6. It’s a 396-yard par-4 from a slightly elevated tee. There’s a pond in play in the right rough if you really bust one. Not me, not today. The hole angles to the right and a second pond guards the entire right side of the green. Worse, or maybe better, a smaller green lurks left and long and is mostly out of sight. You have to know it’s there. Now I know. I’d like to report one drowning, please.

A couple of the greens have some mounds and terraces. At the sixth, I nearly had to aim off the back of the green to play enough break on my 20-footer to the back right pin. Good idea, I left it short. Of course.

The ninth is annoying because it should be pretty easy. It’s only 335 yards from the back tee (which weren’t being used this day) and has only a slight bend to the right—easy enough to fade a drive into wedge range.

But the fairway is narrow and both sides are tree-lined. In my four rounds at Nicholas Memorial (which is not named after that Nicklaus fella), I have explored those trees. It did not work out well. Today, a sloppy fade got me in play, a wedge got me on the green and, uh, I can’t think of a valid excuse for missing the putt except this: Me hit bad putt.

After the round, I stopped in the golf shop to obtain an adult beverage (Mountain Dew Zero—kids, don’t try this at home). I met Randy Meadow, the course’s treasurer and a member of its board of directors. He’d already heard from Teri that I was headed to the Masters. It turns out he was there once as a spectator years ago.

He said he marveled at how far Fred Couples could hit it. “People know how beautiful the course is but when I was there, you’d look under a pine tree and it looked as if somebody perfectly arranged all the pine needles,” Meadows said. “They looked like spokes. They have about 18 guys per hole on the maintenance crew, I heard.”

And the grass is mowed so perfectly and so short in the fairways, he said, “It’s almost like hitting a shot off a green.”

Meadows said they’ve worked hard to do enough overseeding of the fairways to crowd out the annoying wispy invasive grass that tries to spring up.

For April 2, the course is in pretty good shape. It just needs to dry out, get a few warm days to ignite the grass growing and have those 18 maintenance workers from Augusta stop by to pick up 50,000 branches that fell during the weekend storm’s high winds.

I forgot to mention that during my drive through West Virginia about an hour before reaching Nicholas Memorial, I caught a stretch of steady drizzle that at one point turned into big, wet snowflakes for five miles. The car thermometer read 34 degrees.

My first thought was, “I’m definitely playing golf this morning!”

And I did. It’s a Masters tradition unlike any other. Possibly for a good reason.

Last Round for Larry Mize at The Masters

SUMMERSVILLE, West Va.—The Masters has its tradition “unlike any other,” a classy catchphrase coined by beloved announcer Jim Nantz, by the way.

I’ve building my own Masters tradition unlike any other. Four of the last six years, including the last two in a row, I have pulled off here en route to Augusta, Ga., from Pittsburgh, to play a quick nine holes at Nicholas Memorial Golf Course, a municipally owned but privately operated track.

It’s a good place for a quick nine. For one thing, that’s all the holes they have, nine. For another, it’s a fun track that is easily walkable. That latter is also notable because it was 37 degrees when I teed off at 8:45. I slipped on a rain suit over a light pullover and a golf shirt, then pulled on another medium-heft windbreaker.

Practice green with 9th green in the background.