Woosnam’s Master stroke
We’ve all got our Masters memories this Sunday. Mine takes me back 29 years to the master stroke that helped Ian Woosnam slip on a green jacket.
And have quite a few golf fans in Augusta offering to buy me drinks that evening.
There have been times in my career when the sheer power and talent of the players I’m watching is almost too hard to comprehend. Woosnam’s tee shot on the final hole of the 1991 Masters is one of those times.
I was on the 18th hole that day and watched him hit that tee shot. I was a little confused at the time. Initially I had no idea where his ball had ended up. I didn’t give it much thought that he’d ended up on the members’ practice ground to the left of the 18th hole’s two fairway bunkers.
Back in those days there was a media platform to the left of the 18th green. I managed to get on it to watch Woosie’s famous eight-foot putt and uppercut celebration at winning what we thought would be the first of many majors the diminutive Welshman would win.
Like fellow press members, I headed back to the media centre for the post tournament interviews. At the time, I focused on the fact he’s taken down childhood hero Tom Watson to win the green jacket, and that it was the fourth successive British win following Sandy Lyle’s 1988 victory and successive wins in 1989 and 1990 for Nick Faldo.
It wasn’t until the following morning I realised the herculean stroke Woosie had played on the 72nd hole. I walked down to the 18th tee on Monday morning and stood there open mouthed. It was a colossal hit to carry the bunkers in those days. Remember, we’re talking persimmon driver here and a ball that doesn’t scream off metal-headed clubfaces.
You have to take Woosie’s stature into consideration too. He’s just five foot four and a quarter inches. Yet the power in that wee frame was gargantuan. If ever there was a player who defined the term “effortless power,” it was the Welshman in his prime. It’s one of my favourite golf swings, as close to John Jacobs’ “two turns and a swish” philosophy as you can get. It was a thing of beauty.
How Woosnam didn’t win more than that one major is still a mystery. True, he might have won the 2001 Open Championship at Royal Lytham if not for the 15th club violation. His battle with ankylosing spondylitis, a rheumatic disease that sometimes caused his vertebrae to lock, obviously hindered his major prospects. So too did losing confidence in his putting.
For someone with the confidence to hole an eight-foot putt to win the Masters and then turn to the long putter to battle putting problems is still puzzling.
What was also puzzling that Masters Sunday all those years ago were the number of people coming up to me in Augusta bars to congratulate me on winning the Masters. I had about seven incidents that evening, and then a porter at Augusta airport the following afternoon tell me well done on my Masters win.
I suppose there was a time when I did have a fleeting resemblance to the Welsh wizard, although strangely no one has ever confused him for being Alistair Tait. As for having a fleeting resemblance to his talents as a golfer, don’t be silly.
Woosie’s 18th hole tee shot in 1991 still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was the stroke of a true Master.