As UTC golfer and 2012 U.S. Amateur champion Steven Fox prepares to make that life-changing walk to the first tee at The Masters Tournament on Thursday, it is worth a look back at the first U. of Chattanooga golfer’s run at the Green Jacket thirtysomething years ago.
It was 1980 and Seve Ballesteros was 16-under and held a 10-stroke lead on the field – including former UC golfer Gibby Gilbert - after nine holes on the Masters Sunday (April 13, 1980).
The tough-as-nails Spaniard was threatening to smile all the way to the Butler Cabin and the Green Jacket ceremony.
But as all good followers of golf have come to understand, the Masters – and 1980 was no exception – does not start until the back nine on Sunday.
Ballesteros’ game suddenly went South through Amen Corner (4-over on Nos. 10-13), his playing partner Jack Newton made a couple of birdies and Gilbert – playing two groups ahead with longtime friend J.C. Snead – posted some red numbers of his own on the scoreboard, the crowds came alive and the race was on for the Green Jacket.
Gilbert, who made the turn with a solid 2-under 34 (birdies on 4 and 6), continued to have a hot putting stroke with birdies on Nos.13-16.
While Gilbert was heating up, Ballesteros game went cold as he three-putted 10 from 25 feet for a bogey, found Rae’s Creek on 12 (double bogey) and 13 (bogey) and found himself 12-under after a par of 14.
“J.C. and I were standing on the 16th tee (Ballesteros was on 14) and he warned me to be careful with water on the left and the usual tough pin placement on Sunday’s, but I turned to him and said ‘watch this’ and I put my iron shot three feet from the hole and made birdie,” said Gilbert last week when asked about his best back nine at Augusta.
And quicker than you can say Ed Sneed and Greg Norman, Ballesteros’ seemingly insurmountable double digit lead was now down to two over Gilbert.
The former Chattanooga Central High School golfer and UC’s first golf scholarship player missed a fourth straight birdie on 17 as his 20-foot putt slid by the hole by an inch (Gilbert made par) and then made his only bogey of the day at 18. He posted a 5-under 67 and a four-day total of 279, while Spain’s newest hero had two-put pars coming home on 16-17-18 for even par 72 and a 275 total.
“If I had made the (birdie) putt on 17, I might have thought about winning but I didn’t think Ballesteros would back off (and he didn’t),” Gilbert was quoted by then Chattanooga Free Press Assistant Sports Editor Sam Woolwine in that Monday’s paper in April 1980.
Ballesteros, who at 23 years of age and four days became the youngest Masters champion, earned $55,000 for his first Masters title and second major championship, while Gilbert and Newton tied for second four strokes back and split $71,000.
Gibby Notes: The Chattanooga native, who was born C.L. Gilbert Jr., tied four others for low round honors on that Sunday with a 67 and tied three others, including Ballesteros with Saturday’s low round of 68.
Gibby’s Advice to Steven Fox: “If you expect to shoot well at Augusta, you have to be able to play right to left (which Fox does) … and with fast greens you must stay away from the 25-30 putts for birdie or par or it could make for a long round.”
Gibby’s First Masters: “It was 1971 and I was in shock as I walked to the first tee ... but I made par on the first two holes and shot even-par 72.”
Earlier in the week, I had played a practice round with defending Masters champion Billy Casper and I was able to gain a good bit of knowledge that day on how to play the course.”
Casper and Fox: Forty-Two years later, Casper met another U of Chattanooga golfer last week at the Georgia Cup match play event in Atlanta … the two were at the head table during the post -match press conference ... British Amateur champion Alan Dunbar defeated Fox, 1-up.
1 Seve Ballesteros … 66-69-68-72 – 275 … $55,000 (2012 Bubba Watson won $1.,4 million)
2 (tied) Gibby Gilbert … 70-74-68-67 – 279 … $35,500
2 (tied) Jack Newton … 68-74-69-68 – 279 … $35,500
(if they played in 2012, Gibby and Jack would have earned about $650,000 each)
6 (tied) Gary Player … 71-71-71-70 – 283 … $9,958
24 (tied) Arnold Palmer … 73-73-73-69 – 288 … $3,025
32 (tied) Jack Nicklaus …74-71-73-73 – 291 … $2,850
contact B.B. Branton at email@example.com