PGA Hall of Famer Walker Inman Jr. remembers windy '56 Masters
When Ernie Els walked away from the first green Thursday after carding a 9 on the par-4 opening hole at Augusta National Golf Club, whatever he was feeling at the time was shared by Walker Inman Jr., who felt the same way 60 years ago.
An Augusta native, longtime PGA Professional at Ohio's Scioto Country Club, 1975 PGA Professional of the Year and member of the PGA of America Hall of Fame, Inman made a 10 on the par-5 15th in the final round of the 1956 Masters. That stood as the record for that hole until Jumbo Ozaki made 11.
NOT SO BIG EASY: Ernie Els six-putts No. 1 for a 9
All you can do in that instance, Inman said, is try to clear your mind, pick up the pieces and think about what's ahead instead of looking back.
"If you have enough patience just to go play and shake it off -- do as well as you can -- that's all you can do," Inman said. "And a lot of times, when you play in tournaments, that kind of thing typically happens. Maybe not to that degree, but there's always a turning point where you can look back and wonder how things would have turned out with a different result."
When it happens on the first hole of a major, like it did to Els on Thursday, it's such a mental blow, Inman said. You're standing on the first tee with visions of contending for the green jacket. And 20 minutes later, you're just trying to regain your composure and thinking about whether or not you can make the cut.
"You make a drastic mistake like that, you get too far behind that you can't catch up," Inman said. "The players are all too good, and it's rare that you can make a mistake like that and recover. Even if you birdie the next two or three holes, you're still behind where you ought to be.
"When that happens to you, there's nothing you can do about it. All you can do is grin and bear it, and go on to the next shot."
While Els six-putted from three feet, Inman's troubles were wind-related. He was 90 yards from the green after his drive and a 3-wood. But with gusts exceeding 45 miles per hour that day, Inman hit two balls that spun off the bank in front of the green and spun back into the water before finally safely landing his third attempt. He then three-putted for his 10.
"The wind was blowing in our face and you couldn't go for the green in two," Inman said. "Just like yesterday. None of the guys could do it, except for one or two -- like Rory McIlroy. But he hits it a long way.
"I hit the pitch shot perfect. It hit the bank and just sucked back in the water. Of course, being a rookie and not realizing how much the wind was going to affect the shot, when you hit the ball with a pitching wedge into the wind, it's just not going anywhere."
Inman said he still wonders why Masters officials didn't cancel the round. Augusta National is well-known for its unpredictable breezes, but if the winds are so strong that it makes the course nearly unplayable, that's not a true test of golf.
"It was so windy, Jack Burke shot 1-over par, and that tied the highest score ever to win the Masters," Inman said. "I remember the wind blowing that day. It was blowing so hard that you couldn't putt. I three-putted 13 through 18 because I couldn't stand still. You couldn't keep your balance because of the wind."
PGA HALL OF FAME: Walker Inman Jr. as featured speaker
Inman's association with the Masters runs deep. He first met Bobby Jones when he was 9, and Jones was at Augusta National, sent him a congratulatory letter and watched him play in 1956.
But even though that was Inman's first Masters, it wasn't his first time playing Amen Corner. In fact, he had played it many times, despite not being a member of Augusta National Golf Club.
Because Augusta Country Club and Augusta National share a boundary line -- and there was no fence separating the two courses -- it wasn't that hard to sneak over during a round, particularly during the summer months, as Inman recalled.
"One of my best friends and I were playing together all the time," Inman said. "We'd play down to the ninth hole (at ACC), walk down through the trees, play 12 and 13, then cut back up and play the rest of the round at the Country Club. In the summertime, there was nobody over there. It was closed, but they kept the golf course cut year-round. There was always nobody there in the summer."
So who does Inman think will win this week? Like a veteran politician, he's taking an impartial stance when it comes to his choice in the matter.
"Well, the way Ben Hogan used to answer that for the sportswriters, he'd say, 'The guy who shoots the lowest score is going to win,' " Inman said. "Anybody who tells you they know who's going to win, they're not telling the truth. They don't know. It's a guess.
"I would think the way Jordan Spieth won last year, and starting out with a 66, he's going to be tough to beat, I think. If he plays decent Friday, he's on the way to backing himself up. I would love to see him do that, because I think that kid has a lot of talent and he's a popular winner and player."
Inman has since retired to Florida but continues to play regularly with other PGA Professionals at Port St. Lucie's PGA Golf Club at 86, including a round Thursday in which "he played good and not so good. Much like Jason Day."