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Rubenstein: The Masters endures, as do my memories

Jack Nicklaus, 1986 Masters


Thirty years have passed since I covered my first Masters, which Craig Stadler won.

I wanted to see and do so much in 1982 during that initial visit. For one, I'd grown up reading Herbert Warren Wind's graceful Masters essays in The New Yorker, and hoped I would meet him.

But before I sought him out in the old Quonset hut, the ramshackle two-story structure that served as the press room - there was no such thing then as a "media centre" - I made my way to the first tee at 9:15 the morning of the first round. Gene Sarazen, the 1935 Masters winner, and Byron Nelson, the 1937 Masters winner, were there to play nine holes in the ceremonial opening pairing.

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As luck would have it, I was standing beside Herb Wind, and introduced myself to him. We watched Sarazen, then 80, and Nelson, 69, hit their tee shots. I walked the entire nine holes with Herb, who became a friend. I still have letters he wrote me in his meticulous script.

I'm looking at the Globe column I wrote, dated April 9, 1982. Herb said that Sarazen, wearing blue plus-fours and playing an orange ball, looked "chirpy." I see that he drilled his tee shot on the 205-yard par-three fourth hole to the heart of the green, and that Herb told me, "If you see nothing else all week, you've seen something beautiful."

Nelson missed the green to the right, into a swale. He was 90-feet from the hole, closed the blade on a pitching wedge, and ran the ball across the green and into the hole. Everybody following was feeling good.

"There's a different mood in this crowd," Herb said. "It's an esprit. The people seem lost in the game. I don't think we'll have a more pleasant walk all week."

Four years later, when Jack Nicklaus seemed so old at 46 - how young that seems now - I was sitting in the top row of a spectator stand left of the 15th green on Masters Sunday. I watched as he hit a soaring four-iron to the green on the par-five, and made the 15-foot eagle putt. I turned my head left and watched Nicklaus nearly hole his tee shot on the par-three 16th, while, a moment later, Seve Ballesteros, then leading, hit a weak four-iron from the 15th fairway, and slumped as the ball came off low and left. The pond in front of the green swallowed the ball and the great Ballesteros' chances. Nicklaus went on to win his sixth green jacket.

Ten years later, Greg Norman shot a 68 in the third round to take a six-shot lead over Nick Faldo into Sunday. I walked much of the last round with David Leadbetter. He had helped Faldo convert his handsy swing into a machine-like action. Faldo had won the 1989 and 1990 Masters, and the 1987, 1990, and 1992 Open Championships. Norman had won the 1986 and 1993 Open Championships. They were titans. Tiger Woods was a 21-year-old amateur who had won three straight U.S. Juniors and then three consecutive U.S. Amateurs. He had tied for 41st in the 1995 Masters and missed the cut in 1996.

On the par-five eighth hole, Norman, who had been taking differing amounts of time over his shots, hooked his second shot badly. Leadbetter said this was a telling shot that showed the degree to which Norman was discombobulated. Faldo was metronomic. He shot 67 to Norman's 78, and won his sixth and last major.

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Faldo embraced Norman on the final green, and to this day has not revealed what he told his fallen foe. Norman came into the media centre - the Quonset hut had been replaced in 1990 by a state of the art "media centre." He spoke openly about his failure on Masters Sunday.

Woods turned pro in August of that year. I was there when he shot 40 on the first nine of the 1997 Masters. He had a talk with himself on the way to the 10th tee, shot 30 on the back nine, and went on to win by 12 shots. Mike Weir won his PGA Tour card later that year, and eventually earned his way into the Masters. He had won two PGA Tour events by the time the 2003 Masters arrived. I had started work on a book tentatively called "A Season in the Majors: Mike Weir in Pursuit of Golf's Ultimate Prize."

Weir was in command of his game in Augusta. I followed his every shot and, on Sunday, scrambled up to the top row of a stand reserved for media beside the 18th green. Weir's approach putt from 40-feet below the hole came up seven feet short. I was scribbling furiously as he stood over his par putt to get into a playoff against Len Mattiace, who was in the clubhouse. Weir made the putt. I continued to write, but I was in the exit seat where the row started. Nobody could leave unless I did.

"Rubenstein, are you going to write your damn book right now?" Rick Reilly, then working for Sports Illustrated, yelled. I was startled into motion and made my way down the 10th fairway, the first playoff hole. A few minutes later Weir had won and was hugging his wife Bricia and father Jim. I returned home to Toronto to write my book, the title having changed to "Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters."

My road to the Masters had started long before that, when I watched the last few holes in black and white on a small television at home in north Toronto. Generations of golfers have come and gone. The Masters endures, as do my memories.

RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein

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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round's on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf's Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

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