Ed. note: Just as Augusta National is the ultimate insiders’ club, the Masters is the ultimate insiders’ tournament. Nearly nine decades after the storied venue was founded, the Augusta Experience has remained shrouded in mystery. To unlock some of its secrets, we asked those who have been part of the experience to describe one element of what makes Augusta Augusta and the Masters the Masters. The fourth installment of our “What It’s Like…” series (below) was contributed by 10-time PGA Tour winner Larry Nelson.
People ask me all the time: If you had one shot to do over in your career, what would it be? The answer is always the same: I would have played it safe at No. 12.
The year was 1984. As I stood on the tee on Sunday afternoon, I trailed Ben Crenshaw by only one shot. I felt invincible, having just made a birdie at No. 11, the most difficult hole on the course, after hitting a 4-iron to about 12 feet. And that was my problem.
One should never feel invincible at Augusta National. That’s usually when you make your most costly mistakes. Instead of hitting a 7-iron to the middle of the green and being satisfied walking away with a 3 — that’s what Jack Nicklaus and all the veterans usually did — I tried to cut a 6-iron to the traditional back-right pin position.
I failed, and I knew it right away. I hit it so fat that I didn’t know whether to tell the ball to get up or get down, as there was a chance it might not even make it to the water. It did, of course, and I wound up with a double bogey.
I still wasn’t out of it, as Ben still had to get through 11 and 12. I certainly had my chances coming in but couldn’t make anything. Ultimately, I finished fifth, four strokes behind Ben.
Given that I’m from Georgia, the victory would have been that much sweeter. Even so, at the age of 36, I figured I would have at least a few more good chances to get the green jacket before my career was over. I didn’t.
My chance was in 1984, and, because of the shot at 12, I didn’t take advantage of it.
With reporting by Michael Arkush