Henley looks to make Masters history

April 8, 2013 

Macon’s Russell Henley will try to become the fourth native Georgian to win the Masters in Augusta this week. He is making his first appearance in the famed tournament, but he is not totally unfamiliar with the Augusta National Golf Club, where he played four times while a member of the Georgia golf team. His best score during those four rounds was a 1-under-par 71. The Georgia golfers get the opportunity to play the course annually.

If you were of the opinion, as I was, that only two native Georgians have won the Masters, you would be incorrect. Tommy Aaron, a lifelong resident of Gainesville, captured the 1973 green jacket, edging out Sam Snead’s nephew J.C. by one stroke. It was one of three PGA wins for Aaron during Aaron’s career. He won the 1969 Canadian Open and the 1972 Atlanta Classic.

Larry Mize, a native of Augusta who now resides in Columbus, won the 1987 Masters in dramatic fashion, beating Greg Norman on the second hole of sudden death. Mize holed out a chip shot with a sand wedge from 140 feet for the victory. Mize won four times on the PGA Tour. In addition to the Masters, he also claimed victories at the 1983 Danny Thomas Classic, the 1993 Northern Telecom Open and he 1993 Buick Open.

The other Peach State native to win in Augusta was Claude Harmon in 1948. Harmon, who grew up in the Orlando area, was born in Savannah in 1916. He was primarily a club pro and had just one other win on the PGA circuit as he teamed with Pete Cooper to take the Miami International Four Ball in 1950. One of his sons, Butch, is among golf’s most well-known instructors and is a former coach of Tiger Woods.

Interestingly, Georgia’s greatest golfer of all time, Bobby Jones, who co-founded the Masters along with Clifford Roberts, played in the event 12 times with his best finish coming in the first tournament in 1934 when he tied for 13th. Jones, who had retired from competitive golf in 1930 after winning the Grand Slam, only played because Roberts thought his presence would add to the prestige of the early tournament. In his 12 appearances at the Masters, Roberts never broke par and shot even-par 72 just five times.

Texas has produced the most Masters champions with eight golfers from the Longhorn State laying claim to 13 titles. That group includes Jimmy Demaret from Houston with victories in 1940, 1947 and 1950, Byron Nelson of Waxahachie in 1937 and 1942, Ralph Guldahl from Dallas who took the championship in 1939, Ben Hogan of Stephenville who won in 1951 and 1953, Jack Burke Jr. of Fort Worth won in 1956, Charles Coody of Stamford won in 1971, and Ben Crenshaw of Austin took the title in 1984 and again in 1995.

And if you thought, as I did, that Horton Smith, won the first green jacket in 1934, you would be incorrect again. The tradition of awarding a green blazer to the Masters champion didn’t begin until 1949, and the first recipient was Sam Snead. Augusta National members originally wore green jackets, starting in 1937, so they could be easily identified to answer questions of fans attending the tournament.

While Henley will be making his first appearance at the Masters, it is rare for rookies to win the event, but it has been done three times before. Smith was the winner in 1934, Gene Sarazen in 1935 and Fuzzy Zoeller won the Masters in his first try in 1979. It should be pointed out that Smith’s win came in the inaugural year of the tournament.

Bobby Pope is the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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