The Augusta National Golf Club has played host to the Masters Tournament 79 times. The most exciting of them all took place in 1975.
The 39th Masters Tournament was held April 10-13, 1975, at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. The 7,020 yard, par-72 course–originally designed by famed architect Alister MacKenzie and club founder Bobby Jones–was built on the site of a former nursery. Following a rainy week in Georgia, the course was soft and the normally-slick, treacherous greens were slow. Seventy-six players were vying for the coveted Green Jacket as well as the first-place prize of $ 40,000 in golf’s first major championship of the year. The field included defending Masters champion Gary Player, 1974 scoring leader Lee Trevino [Daily Dose, December 1], four-time Masters champion Arnold Palmer, 1970 winner Billy Casper, future Hall of Famer Raymond Floyd and a young Tom Watson, who was fresh off his first PGA Tour victory nine months earlier at the Western Open. Twenty-eight years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball, Lee Elder became the first black player to earn an invitation to the Masters, winning the 1974 Monsanto Open to qualify. Three of the game’s greatest players were also competing, including Johnny Miller, 1973 U.S. Open champion and reigning Player of the Year, 1973 British Open champion Tom Weiskopf [Daily Dose, July 14], and Jack Nicklaus, holder of twelve major championships, four green jackets and a reputation as the most feared finisher in golf. Miller had opened the 1975 season in blistering fashion, winning three of the first four events of the year. Weiskopf was the finest ball-striker in the game and Nicklaus had won his last two starts—at Doral and Harbor Town—two of the toughest courses on Tour.
On Thursday, April 10, Miller opened the tournament “choking”– bogeying the first hole and bad-putting his way to 75. Bobby Nichols shot 67, the low score of the day, to lead Nicklaus by one. Palmer and Weiskopf were two behind Nichols while Casper and Watson were three back of the leader. On Day Two, Nicklaus began to separate himself from the field, shooting 67 to lead Casper, Palmer and Watson by five shots. Trevino and Weiskopf were tied for fifth, six strokes behind the “Golden Bear,” who led Miller by 11. Jack was the most dominant player in golf history, and the 1975 Masters appeared to be all but over. The rain and mist of the first two days gave way to bright sunshine on Saturday and appeared to give Johnny Miller a wake-up call. Miller, who had won the ’73 U.S. Open with a final-round 63 at Oakmont, was capable of catching fire and did, making six birdies in a row to shoot a record 30 on the front nine en route to 65—the low score of the day. Nicklaus was paired with Palmer and neither played well, as Jack’s 73 kept the tournament interesting. Weiskopf posted a 66 to lead Nicklaus, who was in second place, by one. Miller, four off the pace, was in third, one ahead of Watson.
Vin Scully [Daily Dose, November 27] opened Sunday’s final round broadcast on CBS with some prophetic words, telling viewers, “The Augusta National Golf Club has seen some marvelous finishing rounds, and this fourth and final round of the 1975 Masters might very well be a story that will live for many years to come.” Nicklaus was paired with 26-year-old Tom Watson, while Miller and Weiskopf followed in the final group of the day. Nicklaus birdied the first hole and shot three under par on the front nine. Weiskopf was two under and Miller went out in four under. At the turn, Nicklaus and Weiskopf–former teammates at Ohio State–were tied, while Miller was two back. It has been said that the Masters doesn’t actually begin until the back nine on Sunday afternoon. In 1975, nothing could have been more true, as a fierce three-way battle was brewing on the former Fruitlands Nursery. Weiskopf’s “fat five iron” found the pond at 11 but the lanky Ohioan made a nifty up-and-down to rescue a bogey, giving Jack a one shot lead. The leaderboard changed again at 14. After Nicklaus made bogey and Weiskopf rolled in a birdie, the three best players in the world were within two strokes of one another. On the par five 15th hole, Nicklaus hit what he later called “the best pressure shot of my life,” a 240 yard one iron approach shot that gave him an easy two-putt birdie from 15 feet. CBS commentator Ben Wright was calling the action at the 15th hole and, after Weiskopf sank a birdie putt to go up by one, said, “What a tremendous putt by Tom Weiskopf, and that is going to be evil music ringing in Nicklaus’s ears.” Miller also birdied to remain two back of Weiskopf and one behind the Golden Bear. The 16th—a 190 yard par three called “Redbud”—proved to be the pivotal hole of the championship. Nicklaus, having barely reached the front of the green with his tee shot, sank a 40 foot putt for an improbable birdie that sent tremors through the loblolly pines of Augusta National. A shaken Weiskopf left his tee shot at 16 well short and three putted for bogey, while Miller made birdie, putting them one behind Jack with two holes to play. The challengers had birdie putts to tie the match on the final hole, but after both barely missed, Jack Nicklaus was fitted for his fifth Green Jacket while claiming his 13th major championship.
Jack Nicklaus would go on to win the PGA Championship in August and would win his sixth Masters—a record—eleven years later. Johnny Miller beat Nicklaus at the Open Championship in 1976 to claim his second and final major. Tom Weiskopf was runner-up for the second year in a row and fourth time in his career, saying after the round, “I can’t believe I lost this tournament. The luck balances out. It comes down to the last hole and you hit a good drive, a good approach shot and good putt and it stays out. All I know is, one of these days the putt is going in and I’ll win a Masters.” Mr. Weiskopf—the greatest player not in the World Golf Hall of Fame, would finish second at the U.S. Open the following year and record two more top ten finishes at Augusta, in 1976 and 1982. Lee Elder missed the cut in 1975 but played five more Masters Tournaments. His best finish was in 1979, when he tied for 17th place, but he paved the way for African-Americans, including Calvin Peete, Jim Thorpe and Tiger Woods, to compete in the golf’s most prestigious tournament in the coming years.