50th anniversary of Player’s first Masters win

By the time the 1960s came around, Augusta National had been the exclusive preserve of Americans as they won every Masters title from the tournament’s inception in 1934.

But there was a man who had a sense of destiny, as well as the game to back up his belief, who was rapidly becoming a dominant force in an era of some of the greatest players the game has ever known.

Gary Player had finished in the top 10 in the 1959 and 1960 Masters, and he was the 1959 Open champion – so he had the pedigree.

But there was a hurdle that not many people expected him to be able to overcome: “Arnold Palmer was the defending champion and everyone expected the Masters to be a two-horse race between Arnie and myself,” he recalls.

Player had also made a move which was to begin his astonishingly cosmopolitan career: “I had decided to dedicate my time to playing full-time in the US and, by the time the 61 Masters came along I had already won two tournaments and was leading money-winner that year,” he said.

Player had started superbly: His opening three-under-par 69 was followed with a 68 and a second 69, leaving him 10-under for the tournament and with a three-stroke lead going into the final round.

“Going into the final round I was four clear of Arnie and after nine, I had made two birdies and parred the rest,” he remembers.

Palmer also remembers that final round well: “Gary was sailing along with the lead until he took a double-bogey at the 13th hole and a bogey at the 15th,” he told Cybergolf.com.

That double-bogey came right at the climax of ‘Amen Corner’, a group of holes that had been given its nickname after Palmer’s first Masters victory in 1958.

“At the famous par-five 13th, disaster struck,” recalls Player “I pushed my tee shot into the trees on the right and then my lay-up recovery was too strong and my ball found notorious Rae’s Creek. A penalty stroke and a three-putt left me with a gut-wrenching seven, while Arnold made a birdie four. Now he was one ahead, which is how it remained until the last.”

Palmer takes up the story: “He was a shot behind me and I was just playing the 15th. I ground out three pars and hit a good tee shot on the 18th.

“However, I allowed myself to be distracted before hitting my approach and pushed my seven-iron shot into the right bunker. Where Gary had gotten up and down from that same trap an hour or so earlier, I hit a poor sand shot that went over the green and down the slope on the other side.

“A pitch and two putts later, I had lost my chance to be the first back-to-back winner of the Masters and Gary had his first of three victories at Augusta,” he says.

For Player, the 18th was a completely different kettle of fish: “I found the bunker on the right of the green with my approach, but played one of the best bunker shots of my life and managed to salvage par,” he recalls.

“I had become the first non-American to win the Masters – what a proud moment!” he adds.

“I have always considered that one of the most crushing defeats of my career,” remembers Palmer.

For Player, there was going to be some of his own medicine in 1962: “I found out exactly how Arnie felt the following year when I took a lead into the final three holes and found myself relinquishing it to Arnie by the end,” he says.

That Masters victory heralded an era of dominance by Player, Palmer and the still-amateur Jack Nicklaus.

And it will be acknowledged as Player hits the ceremonial opening tee shot in the 2011 Masters on April 7 at Augusta National.

© 2016 Sunshine Tour. All rights reserved. Website constructed by OCS Sport