Tim Aggett looks at the origins of the Masters and why it came to be a Major Championship
As I sit and ponder a new season of major championship golf, considering whether possession of the most spectacular golf course in the world excuses Augusta National as the bastion of elitism, I find myself asking two other questions.
Who decided that the Masters would be treated as a Major Championship from its very outset? Why do we ignore victories in the all-time lists in the Championship acknowledged as a Major before the creation of the Masters?
The foundation of the Masters seems now to be close to a creation myth. The sainted R T Jones jnr and the great Mackenzie designed the most beautiful golf course in the world, and in one voice we all cried out that a tournament played across its hallowed turf must, by definition, be one of the four most important in the world. Granted, it absolutely has that status now; didn’t at the start though.
The Masters was originally not even called that. It was an invitational jolly for Jones’ friends from the world of professional golf. And nothing wrong with that, but to accord it super-human status from the get go? Let’s face it, the Gene Sarazen double-eagle, the “shot heard round the world”, was witnessed by three spectators, a dog and a passing hobo. It gave the tournament the oxygen of publicity, for sure. A long way from a Major though.
From when it should have that status accorded it I have no idea. Perhaps that is my answer – believe the Augusta press machine and just say “OK 1934 it is then”, not least since ignoring Sarazen’s 1935 victory would rob him of his record as the first winner of all four of golf’s modern classics, and no one should be that churlish.
That doesn’t answer my second question though; what about what went before? Uncomfortable though it might be to acknowledge, there was a tournament regarded as the fourth professional major in the days before the Masters – one of the oldest professional tournaments in the world, the Western Open, pre-dated only by the Open and US Open.
Now globally speaking you might say this doesn’t matter, but I think for a few reasons it does. Firstly there genuinely is a need to be historically accurate; second you then have a man who has won five major tournaments – that man Sarazen again.
Lastly, and perhaps why no one wants to talk about this, it would make Tiger Woods third on the all-time list. Walter Hagen won the Western Open 5 times. That would take his total haul of majors to 16.
Hagen had more character than Woods and Nicklaus put together, great golfers though they undoubtedly are. 80-odd years past the time of his prime I suspect few people think of him as the great player he was, but when his record is set in its proper context it becomes clear he warrants just as much respect as those most regularly mentioned in the pantheon of the modern greats, and probably more when you consider the kit and course conditions he played in.
In an era when there is again discussion of a fifth Men’s Major – which obviously has to be the Australian Open on the basis of history, geography and quality of venues – ignoring the historic importance of a previous major makes no sense. Time to rewrite the history books.