AUGUSTA, Ga. — Standing on the first tee Friday morning around 11, Larry Mize took it all in. The swaying trees, the respectful patrons, the thick silver clouds that matched his hair, even the gusting winds and cool temperatures that made this feel more like a British Open than the Masters.
He was holding court really, sharing smiles and tales with playing competitors Paul Lawrie and Anders Hansen. The lines on Mize’s face were as much about the laughs of Friday as the long-gone days of summers gone by.
Can it be 25 years? Has it really been a quarter of a century since Mize made the chip from 140 feet on No. 11 to beat Greg Norman in a playoff and claim the 1987 Masters?
It’s a little easier to believe looking at Mize, not because of how he’s aged as much as how much we remember him at 28 years old, jumping through the 11th fairway and slinging his visor with a boyish enthusiasm and a champion’s elation.
It’s the moments that are iconic here. The memories that we cherish and the men who made us believe in the unbelievable and ask if that really did happen. It did, of course — ask Norman — and we remember exactly where we were, even 25 years later.
“It’s amazing. Times does fly,” Mize said with a wry smile despite missing the cut this year after a 75 Friday left him at 7 over par. “The older you get, the faster it goes, too.”
At Augusta National, membership certainly has its privileges, but championships bring with them so much more. Members wear green jackets; champions win them. And for that, they are always honored.
The former champions are welcomed back every year to play and are embraced with open arms by the patrons. The game has changed: It’s larger and longer and louder. The course has changed too, adding length in an effort to protect itself from the technology that created tee shots that cover zip codes and balls that happily comply.
The memories and the former Masters champs have only gotten better in our memory either way. Sure, Freddie Couples stirred the echoes here Friday with the best round of the day to take a share of the lead, but his continual flirtation with Masters magic is an anomaly, even if it happens annually.
The cheers and roars through the Georgia pines Friday, though, were fresh and quick and and had the familiar feel that often means, “One of ours is making a move.”
“This is such a special, special place, and I know how much Larry loves it here,” said Mark Immelman, Mize’s coach whose brother Trevor won here in 2008. “When you win here, they love you forever and you love them back.”
Mize, of course, was that on steroids. He’s as Augusta as pimento cheese sandwiches, as much a part of this place as the logo and slick greens. He was born in Augusta and spent a large chunk of his youth here. He watched through the fence surrounding these grounds during his pre-teen years, dreaming of playing this tournament. This was Mize’s white whale, and he landed it with one of the most remarkable harpoons in the history of this historic event.
Part of the glorious charm of the Masters is it’s played on the same course every year, so every hole is as recognizable to most fans as some friends. The all-too-familiar settings make those forever-Masters moments even more meaningful.
Think about No. 16 and it’s either Jack’s putt or Tiger’s chip. There’s Sarazen’s shot heard round the world on No. 15. Freddie’s ball defying gravity on the bank short of the 12th. There are too many to remember at No. 18, of course, but there is only one at No. 11.
On the second playoff hole in ’87 it looked like Mize, a local favorite, was overmatched against Norman, who at that time was the top-ranked player in the world. Mize missed the green short and right; Norman was on the fringe, hole-high. Mize bounced his chip twice on the fringe before it tracked the hole and trickled into history.
“Obviously it’s a great memory there,” Mize said about his thoughts when he walks up the 11th now 25 years later. “But when you play in the tournament you are really trying to focus on the play and try to stay focused. Maybe I should get a tingle there more often.”
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...