It represents more than a half-century of history.
Aiken resident Steve Hale has attended 52 Masters Tournaments at Augusta National. He's had the opportunity to witness some of the greatest moments in golf history. But for Hale, the chance to attend the event has been a family affair.
Both of Hale's parents played golf back in the '50s. And it was during that time his father had the opportunity to acquire tickets to one of golf's four majors.
“My parents started going in 1956 or '57,” said Hale. “My dad took me when I was 8 years old. I missed a couple of years, but I've been every year since 1964.”
Hale had an opportunity to see history being made in 1965 when Ben Hogan shot his 30 on the back nine.
“I saw four or five holes like that,” said Hale.
The equanimity, poise and concentration demonstrated by the athletes is something that has made an indelible impression on Hale.
“It's really inspirational to see what gentlemen and good people they are,” said Hale. “If they're a great golfer, they have an aplomb, a presence about themselves of self-respect that carries onto other things they do. You can't play golf under that kind of pressure if you don't have that strength of personality.”
However, there are several Masters that stand out in Hale's mind, one in particular whose resounding roar left a deep imprint.
“I was there for Jack Nicklaus in 1986,” said Hale. “That was the loudest and the coolest thing I've ever seen. One of my favorites was Gary Player in 1978, when he came from seven strokes behind, shot 65 and won by one stroke. That was brilliant.”
The journalist and author also had the privilege of being at the 1975 Masters when Jack Nicklaus beat Tom Watson and Johnny Miller, with the lead changing hands several times, he said.
“They went back and forth on the back nine for two hours, and Nicklaus prevailed,” said Hale.
But Hale also saw his favorite golfer, Seve Ballesteros, miss a short putt on No. 10, losing in a playoff eventually won by Augusta-native Larry Mize.
The tournament itself has taken on extra meaning for Hale and his family, becoming an annual tradition, and it's something they've shared for decades.
“My parents used to get four tickets, and now my mom gets two, I get two, and my youngest sister, Anne, gets two,” said Hale. “My family gets six tickets. We're a middle-class family, but we're Masters rich. My sisters are such fans, too. We all get together to enjoy the tournament. It's been a big part of my family all my life. My dad was an avid golfer.”
Rory McIlroy is Hale's current favorite golfer, and he happened to witness the athlete's collapse several years ago.
“It was on No. 10, he had the tournament won, and he hooked it where no one has ever hit it before and lost the tournament,” said Hale.
His passion has served as an impetus, enabling Hale to attend the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship twice, with only the British Open eluding the writer from completing his personal Grand Slam.
“I saw when Payne Stewart beat Phil Mickelson up at Pinehurst, and I was a volunteer at the PGA two years ago when Rory McIlroy won in Kiawah.”
Not only was Hale at the 1986 Masters, but he also attended the 1991 Ryder Cup, better known as the “War at the Shore.”
“I was standing right there when Bernhard Langer missed that putt,” said Hale.
Ben Baugh has been covering the equine industry and equestrian sport for the Aiken Standard since 2004. Among the awards Baugh has won include the 2003 Raleigh Burroughs Award as the turf writer making the most impact on the Florida Thoroughbred Industry.
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