Augusta High Jinx: Masters Par 3 Contest

The story of The Masters par 3 contest and its supposed “jinx”

A view of Augusta's par 3 course
A view of Augusta's par 3 course
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Nobody who’s won the curtain-raising par 3 contest at The Masters has gone on to win the tournament proper. Here we tell the story of the event and the rise of the “jinx.”

The charismatic and much loved Bobby Jones stands out when one considers the origins of Augusta National and The Masters tournament. The great amateur was the public face of both from their inception. But, another man was equally responsible for turning 365-acres of an old indigo plantation into America’s most famous golf course and administering the early invitational tournaments at the club.

Clifford Roberts was a mysterious character. Intimidating and opinionated, Arnold Palmer admitted to being, “almost instantly scared to death of him.” Roberts was Augusta chairman from 1931 to 1976 and of the Masters from 1934 to 1976. A Wall Street banker, Roberts worked tirelessly behind the scenes to create and protect the image of the club and the annual tournament it hosted.

In the planning of Augusta National, Roberts wanted to include a short course in addition to the main track. Jones was less enthused by the idea though it was the club’s fragile, post-depression, finances that dictated the plan was shelved.

The project was only shelved though and, in 1958, Roberts hired course architect George Cobb to build nine par 3 holes around two ponds close to the clubhouse. For Roberts, renowned as a perfectionist, this short course was an essential component of the club and something he felt had been omitted from the original designs.

In 1960, Roberts announced a par-3 contest around the short course on the Wednesday afternoon prior to The Masters. “He was always looking for ways to give spectators value,” said David Owens, author of a book about Roberts. The fact the chairman stipulated the main course would be closed for practice at 2.30 was a clear indication of his intentions. “It meant he wanted us to play in the par 3 contest, and we did,” said Gary Player.

The first par 3 tournament was won by Sam Snead who negotiated the pristine track in just 23 strokes – the course record is 20, shared by Art Wall and Gay Brewer.

Since 1960 the par-3 competition has become a Masters tradition – a grand spectacle and perfect warm-up to the year’s first Major. It’s a joyous celebration of golf where Masters patrons have a chance to see tournament participants, non-competing past champions, and honorary invitees in relaxed mood enjoying the company of their peers, families and the people who come to support them.

Just like the big course, the setting of the par 3 layout is fantastic. Surrounded by towering pines, azalea’s and dogwoods, the holes play across DeSoto Springs pond and Ike’s pond – named after President Dwight Eisenhower, an Augusta member and close friend of Clifford Roberts who regularly fished there. It’s a peaceful and hidden oasis, one you wouldn’t know existed unless told. But, when the spectators pile in on Wednesday afternoon, it becomes a bustling, lively and colourful amphitheatre with cheers ringing out as wedge shots pepper the flags and threaten the cups. In fact, there have been 73 holes in one in the 55 par 3 contests to date and at least one on each of the nine holes.

Following Tom Fazio’s addition of two new holes over Ike’s pond in 1987, the course measures 1,060 yards with the longest hole just 140 yards. One of the most famous things about the par 3 contest is its supposed “jinx” – nobody has ever won it then gone on to triumph in the tournament proper. George Bayer who won the par 3 in 1963 fell dramatically from grace with an 84 in the third round of the tournament and Joe Durant finished dead last with rounds of 87 and 79 after winning on the short course in 1999. Over the last 10 seasons the par 3 winner has missed the cut in the main event.

Par 3 winners have also lost The Masters in dramatic fashion – Raymond Floyd led by four shots with six to play in 1990 before losing to Nick Faldo and Ben Crenshaw lost a 54-hole lead in 1987.

Most competitors, however, (particularly past par 3 winners) deny harbouring any superstitions with regards the jinx.

“It’s just an old wives tale or a myth, or whatever you want to call it,” said the 2009 par 3 champ Tim Clark. “I don’t believe in that jinx thing. I want to win it, of course,” said 1988 Masters champion Sandy Lyle. The Scot won the par 3 back-to-back in 1997 and 1998.

Others have been more cautious, “I never played it in the years I had a chance to win,” said Jack Nicklaus. “I’m a little superstitious like everybody else.” In 2004 Tiger Woods aced the ninth hole to tie Padraig Harrington and Eduardo Romero on the lowest total score of 23. Woods declined to compete in the playoff. He cited a prior commitment though the suspicion was he didn’t want to tempt fate.

The jinx is subtly avoided by some competitors who allow their children to take the odd putt on the small and super-slick surfaces. Kids are a big feature of the par 3 and it’s common to see youngsters caddying for their fathers, decked out in mini white boiler suits. “It’s a wonderful experience to have my daughters caddy,” said three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson.

Team Mickelson

Team Mickelson

As it's been televised since 2008, Masters week will begin for most of the UK’s armchair golf fans with the par 3 contest on Wednesday night. Prepare for The Masters in miniature – current and former greats enjoying the appreciation of loyal fans as they fire over water into lightning-fast greens framed by pines and azaleas. There’s bound to be the odd ace, plenty of laughter and perhaps this year that jinx might be broken.

Past par 3 winners

YEAR                 PLAYER                      SCORE                TOURNAMENT PLACING

1960                   Sam Snead                     23                       T11

1961                   Deane Beman              22                       MC

1962                   Bruce Crampton           22                       T29

1963                   George Bayer               23                       T28

1964                   Labron Harris Jr.          23                       43

1965                   Art Wall Jr.                   20                       T45

1966                   Terry Dill                       22                       T17

1967                   Arnold Palmer              23                       4

1968                   Bob Rosburg                22                       T30

1969                   Bob Lunn                     23                       MC

1970                   Harold Henning            21                       MC

1971                   Dave Stockton             23                       T9

1972                   Steve Melnyk               23                       T12

1973                   Gay Brewer                  20                       T10

1974                   Sam Snead                   23                       T20

1975                   Isao Aoki                      23                       MC

1976                   Jay Haas                      21                       MC

1977                   Tom Weiskopf              23                       T14

1978                   Lou Graham                 22                       MC

1979                   Joe Inman Jr.               23                       T23

1980                   Johnny Miller                23                       T38

1981                   Isao Aoki                      22                       T45

1982                   Tom Watson                23                       T5

1983                   Hale Irwin                    22                       T6

1984                   Tommy Aaron               22                       MC

1985                   Hubert Green               22                       MC

1986                   Gary Koch                    23                       T16

1987                   Ben Crenshaw             22                       T4

1988                   Tsuneyuki Nakajima     24                       T33

1989                   Bob Gilder                    22                       37

1990                   Raymond Floyd            23                       2

1991                   Rocco Mediate              24                       T22

1992                   Davis Love III              22                       T25

1993                   Chip Beck                     21                       2

1994                   Vijay Singh                   22                       T27

1995                   Hal Sutton                    23                       MC

1996                   Jay Haas                      22                       T36

1997                   Sandy Lyle                   22                       T34

1998                   Sandy Lyle                   24                       MC

1999                   Joe Durant                   22                       MC

2000                   Chris Perry                   23                       T14

2001                   David Toms                  22                       T31

2002                   Nick Price                     22                       T20

2003                   Harrington/Toms (tie)  21                       MC/T8

2004                   Padraig Harrington      23                       T13

2005                   Jerry Pate                    22                       DNP

2006                   Ben Crane                    23                       MC

2007                   Mark O’Meara               22                       MC

2008                   Rory Sabbatini             22                       MC

2009                   Tim Clark                      22                       T13

2010                   Louis Oosthuizen          21                       MC

2011                    Luke Donald                 22                       T4

2012                   Harrington/Byrd (tie)    22                       T8/T27

2013                   Ted Potter Jnr              23                       MC

2014                   Ryan Moore                  21                       MC

2015                  Kevin Streelman            22                      T12

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?