“Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.” ~ Lazarus Long
Fuzzy Zoeller rolled into Augusta way back in 1979 for the very first time. The fledgling pro had by no means set the world alight prior to his “Masters Magic” that year. In fact, his maiden victory on the PGA Tour had only come earlier that year at the Andy Williams-San Diego Open Invitational, now the Buick Invitational.
Zoeller had been playing on the Tour since 1973, but didn’t take it up full-time until 1975. Despite having two second-place finishes in 1976 and another two in 1978, a win eluded him until he triumphed in San Diego.
His San Diego success not only heralded the breakthrough for a player that had demonstrated a lot of potential, but it was also Zoeller’s ticket to the Masters that year.
The 27-year-old American was not considered amongst the favourites before the tournament began. Even on Sunday morning only the most ardent Zoeller fan would’ve expected him, since he started the day six shots behind the leader, Ed Sneed.
Anyone would say that six shots is an awful lot to make up in one day, especially when you're not Tiger Woods. Thankfully for Zoeller, he received a little help. Though he clawed back two shots on the final day, he had to wait in the clubhouse helpless.
Having scored in the sixties on the first three days, few expected Sneed to relinquish the lead. Unlike Zoeller, however, Sneed struggled as he approached the finale. Regrettably for Sneed, he bogeyed the last three holes.
Consequently, the 1979 Masters went to a three-way playoff between Zoeller, Sneed, and Tom Watson, who had played rather steady golf in the same vein as Zoeller.
The three combatants began the playoff standing on the tee to the 10th hole, Camellia, ready to wield clubs and do battle. The 10th hole tussle ended in stalemate, as all three men parred the hole.
So the war raged on. The venue for the next encounter would be the 11th hole, White Dogwood, where Zoeller would approach the pin with immaculate precision, leaving only a six-foot putt for a birdie.
Zoeller watched on as Sneed failed to chip in from the bunker. Next up was Watson, who also failed to convert his birdie opportunity.
Zoeller’s time had come. All that stood between him and glory was a six-foot putt.
He carefully assessed the shot before menacingly hunching over the ball. He gently brought back his putter before slowly caressing the ball on it’s way towards the hole. The ball merely travelled six-foot, but to Zoeller it must have felt like it had journeyed at least sixty feet.
Alas, the ball reached the hole and gravity did the rest.
A jubilant Zoeller couldn’t contain his delight as he thrust his arms skyward. He had become only the third person in history to win the Masters at their first attempt.
Thirty years later, Zoeller has embarked on one final journey around Augusta National Golf Club. At 57 years old he decided to say farewell to the place where he conjured up a piece of magic.
Ever the joker, Zoeller stated his reason for deciding to call it a day by saying, “Arnold Palmer asked me on the first tee last year ‘Why the hell was I still playing?’ I thought to myself, good point. Why am I still playing? It’s no fun hitting fairway woods into the green.”
So, the ageing champion began his farewell to Augusta on Thursday with one of three daughters, Gretchen, by his side as his caddy. They were determined for his last experience of playing round Augusta to be as memorable and entertaining as his first.
There is little doubt that the duo managed that.
Zoeller entered the clubhouse after his second round on +11, but his score was irrelevant. The key thing was that he had once again lit up the course with his charisma. Gretchen even provided some of her own light entertainment by making some humorous remarks each time her father lofted the ball into the sky.
Nevertheless, the moment of the second day certainly belongs to Zoeller.
The 12th hole was the scene to one of the great moments. He hoisted his tee-shot towards the pin on the par three, only for the ball to land inches away from the cup.
It had nearly gone straight in on the fly, but he didn’t care. It had rolled a few feet leaving a slightly trickier putt, but he didn’t care.
It was time to celebrate. He received a high five off both of his playing partners, Michael Campbell and Ken Duke. Finally, with the crowd cheering for one of their favourite players he lifted his arms into the air.
For Fuzzy Zoeller his Masters experience has come full circle.