With the season's first Major, the US Masters, now on our doorstep, Bill Elliott looks back on the history and how European golfers once dominated at Augusta
A year later as I helped him write his autobiography, Bernhard told me: “I had finished the third round two strokes behind Raymond Floyd, one adrift of Curtis Strange. More significantly, I was tied with Seve. Significant because Seve was a difficult man to partner. We were different sorts of people when we played. I like to be friendly, to talk with my partners during a round. Seve, on the other hand, preferred to say little or nothing. He was so intense out there it was unbelievable. If he did not think it was a great – a truly great – shot he didn’t say anything. I found this attitude off-putting and so I knew it was going to be an even greater challenge playing alongside him.”
The pair wished each other luck on the first tee and the next time Ballesteros spoke to Langer was as they stood on the last. By then, Bernhard was two shots clear and he felt a tap on his back and when he turned, Seve simply said: “Well done, this is your week.” They are words that resonate still for Langer. What resonates slightly less pleasingly is his decision that final day to wear a pair of red trousers that clashed terribly with the Green Jacket he ended up having slipped over his shoulders. “No, I did not think that through properly, “ he admits and a rare example of this carefully considered man missing a trick.
Two years later Lyle was the victor. The amiable Scot played some of the very best golf of his life that week in Georgia, his drives finding the correct placement on the undulating fairways, his approach shots slipping quietly on to greens and his ball rarely more than 20ft away from its target.
Of course, he was also required to come up with a sublime 7-iron out of a fairway bunker at the last, his ball thumping into the green above the hole before trundling back down to set up a clinching birdie. This was a shot and a result that was forecast by Lyle’s great rival Faldo as the Englishman, his own Masters over, joined the TV commentary team to cover the last few holes.
Faldo was gracefully courteous in his public congratulations to Lyle, but inside he was building an irritated determination to follow the Scot’s example at a Masters.
Three years earlier he had embarked on a courageous, some thought foolhardy, mission to totally rebuild his swing under the narrow scrutiny of David Leadbetter. He did so because his old swing, good enough to win him much in Europe, had broken down under pressure at, yes, Augusta.
In 1987 I bumped into Faldo at Atlanta airport. I was waiting for a flight to Augusta, he was heading off to Palookaville and some minor event. It was the second year he had not qualified for the big week and, as it turned out, it was to be the last.
That summer he won his first Open title and in ’89 he followed up Lyle’s Masters win with his own victory. Okay, Scott Hoch had to miss a two-foot putt during their play-off, but there was no doubting the fact that the Faldo era truly had begun.
When he successfully defended the following year and when Ian Woosnam won in 1991, it meant four successive Masters falling into British hands. The Americans were as confused as they were upset about this turn of events. It meant that Woosnam had to withstand some crude heckling from an upset crowd at times during his Sunday round with Tom Watson. Naturally, this heckling stuff only made the pugnacious Welshman even more determined to win the Green Jacket.