''I'd like to tell you I was right there when Sarazen hit that shot,'' he said.
Truth is, Johnson doesn't remember hardly anything about that day. He was only 4.
Still, the ''shot heard 'round the world'' would seem to have made quite an impression on Johnson, who has fired off one volley after another since taking over as chairman of Augusta National Golf Club four years ago.
Since then, Johnson has directed more substantial changes to golf's most prestigious tournament than the previous three men combined who followed co-founder and chairman Clifford Roberts in 1977.
- The criteria for getting invited to the Masters no longer include winning a PGA Tour event. Johnson revamped the qualifications in 1999 to rely more on the world ranking and the PGA Tour money list to get a stronger, deeper field.
- He introduced a second cut of rough at Augusta.
- TV coverage of the final round will be expanded to 18 holes for the first time this year, instead of starting when the leaders are making the turn.
- In the most drastic change of all, he oversaw the biggest renovation at Augusta National since it opened in 1933, adding up to 285 yards by lengthening half of the holes.
A Masters maverick? Johnson wouldn't hear of it.
A man who chooses his words carefully, one of the few stories the 71-year-old banker enjoys telling is the time a woman approached Roberts after one particular Masters.
''This lady told Mr. Roberts, 'You had such a wonderful tournament.' And he said, 'Thank you, ma'am, but we really never get it right.' That sums up our philosophy,'' Johnson said.
The legacy he wants to leave is not one of innovator, but simply to preserve the tradition, which he calls the goal of every chairman.
No one is as steeped in Augusta tradition as Johnson.
He was born William Woodward Johnson in Augusta on Feb. 16, 1931, about the time construction began on Augusta National (A childhood friend gave him the nickname ''Hootie'' when he was 5).
His family moved to South Carolina, where Johnson starred in football and was a second-team fullback at the University of South Carolina in the early 1950s.
''He wasn't a glory hunter,'' said Johnny Gramling, the Gamecocks' quarterback on those teams. ''He was just a low-key guy who hustled.''
That style served Johnson well.
He became the youngest bank president in South Carolina in 1965, taking over Bankers Trust of South Carolina. In 1986, Bankers Trust merged with North Carolina National Bank to form NationsBank, which eventually merged with BankAmerica.
His political influence is strong.
Johnson was a key figure in integrating higher education in South Carolina in 1968, getting the state to pay for an undergraduate business program at South Carolina State, which then was attended only by blacks.
''It's about nothing more or less than doing the right thing,'' Johnson told Golf Digest in a 2000 interview. ''It was the most satisfying public service work I've ever done.''
A few years later, he invited South Carolina State president M. Maceo Nance to serve on the board at Bankers Trust, the first black appointed to a bank board in the state.
Johnson first played Augusta National when he was 23 and was invited to join in 1968. He became vice president of the club seven years later, and his relationship with Roberts blossomed, especially since they shared interests in banking.
Asked what he admired the most about Roberts, Johnson cited his intellect, dedication to the club, his dry wit and ''being tough as nails.''
And how many of those traits apply to Roberts?
''I think I'm pretty good with people, and I can be tough if I have to,'' he said. ''I have tried to have a similar dedication - something close to what he had - to the club. I wouldn't say I have the same dedication, because I doubt if anyone ever has.''
Arnold Palmer is not so sure. Palmer became the first former Masters champion invited to join Augusta National in 1999. Jack Nicklaus became a member last year.
''Cliff Roberts set the pace many years ago, and I would say Hootie is right in the pattern,'' Palmer said. ''He runs the club in the way you would anticipate the chairman to run Augusta National.''
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