The 2010 Masters was my 50th year at the tournament. My dad first took me in 1959, the year that Art Wall, Jr., made birdie on five of the final six holes to win by a stroke. I’ve loved every minute of the maybe 150 days I’ve been at The Masters since. (Well, I might have skipped some of the mud-moments in the middle of the last decade?)
When you’ve been out there so many times, especially on the weekend, you learn to read the roars. It’s kind of like the Indians listening to the ground on the old Westerns.
You can tell if the ball went into the hole because the roar is punctuated at the end by a higher pitch spike, like ooooooAHHHHH! If you hear the AHHHH!!!!!! it went in. If you don’t, it didn’t.
You can usually tell if the roared-for shot was a long par putt, a birdie, or an eagle. Birdie roars are more sudden and more intense than par roars – double that for eagles. Eagle roars are almost scary they are so sudden and intense, especially if it is late on the back nine where the galleries are compacted together.
With some practice you can often guess who made the shot, even from several holes away.
For one thing, the roars are louder and more enthusiastic for the more popular players. Also, by extrapolating from your pairing sheet, you can pretty well guess from which twosome the great shot came.
That’s how I knew to start following Jack Nicklaus in 1986. I was at No. 2 green on Sunday (my favorite morning spot) as the final groups went through, and I could tell from the rousing tone and my pairing sheet, that the two roars from the top of the hill were birdies on 8 and 9 by the legendary Nicklaus.
I caught up with him at 11 and saw nearly every shot of his historic 30 on the back nine. After his great birdie on 13, I skipped 14, where he made par, to get a good spot on 15. I was on the ropes to witness the oh-so dramatic eagle that got him near the lead. From the same spot I could see his birdie on 16 with my pocket-size binoculars. I was still there to watch the great Seve Ballesteros look up and dunk his shot into the middle of the pond–no doubt rattled by the ferocious cheering for Jack. Then I dashed across the fairway and up the right side of No. 17 on to the second of two mounds – which are no longer there and are roped off now. When Nicklaus chased that birdie putt into the hole and lifted his putter in that iconic snapshot of greatness, he was walking straight at me, just about 20 yards away!
I got to see all of that because I could read the roars.
Last year, we were standing at the same place, on the ropes on the golfer’s left side of No. 15 (near the beer tent), when we heard a long and very loud cheer that ended with huge applause. My buddy of 20 Masters, Ivan Allen, and I knew that the Mickelson group would be on 13. Surely, we said to each other, that sustained excitement from his huge following meant Phil had hit the green in two. About ten minutes later came one of the loudest and most sudden rrrrrrrrrrrrrRRRRROAR!s I’ve heard since ’86. “That’s a Phil eagle!” we hollered to each other with enthusiastic high-fives. I could tell that several people sitting in their chairs around us thought we were a couple of rubes. A few minutes later, his eagle score went up on Phil’s line on the scoreboard.
Another 10 minutes later, a sound even I’m not familiar with came from the 14th green. It was a combination of the prolonged cheer from the great approach shot on 13 but it ended with one of the sharpest rroooooarrrrrrAHHHH!s I’ve ever heard.
Ivan and I turned to each other. “It can’t be. It has to be. That has to be Phil sank it from the fairway on 14 for another eagle!”
More high fives and back slaps from Ivan and myself, now met with open skepticism from our neighbors.
Within minutes, hundreds of disheveled looking, arm-flailing fans came running over the hill nearly screaming, “Phil’s knocked it in! He’s made two eagles in a row!!!”
“Wow. How did you know that?” said a few of our now respectful neighbors.
“You can just tell,” is all I said, as the crush of Phil fans crowded in around us. It takes too long to explain. In a few minutes, we could see Phil, half obstructed by the pine trees on 15, forcing him to lay up – not Phil’s style. Hitting his third on the par 5 from the fairway he landed the 100-yard or so shot on the front right of the green. Now we were part of that so-loud cheer as he cleared the pond, landed on the green, and rolled pinward, closer and closer, right at it! We cheered louder and louder as it slowed toward its target. Oh my God! Again? rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr– but alas! within a few inches of his third AHHHH!!! in a row.
After a couple of thousand Phil fans ran off for 16, where we knew they wouldn’t be able to see anything, our new friends around us offered to buy us a beer. One of them asked me to tell him about Art Wall, Jr.
Local freelance writer and publicist, with HaleStorm communications, Stephen Delaney (Steve) Hale has written about golf for over three decades. For the past 22 years Hale has written a major portion of Augusta Magazine’s Masters coverage. He’s not a very good golfer, but he’s a lot of fun to play with.