It was called the “shot heard ‘round the world.”
No, not the one at Concord’s Old North Bridge in 1775 that ignited the American Revolutionary War and launched a new country – this one happened in Augusta, Ga., in 1935, some 160 years later.
But to a golfer, this shot was almost as significant, as it vaulted the Masters Tournament into the big time.
This shot wasn’t taken with a musket, but by Gene Sarazen (pictured above receiving the winner's check from the 1935 Masters) with his 4-wood – it was called a spoon then – from 235 yards on the 15th hole in the fourth round. It flew straight as any shot in Lexington and Concord and found the cup for the rarest one of all – a double eagle – a 2 on a par-5 hole!
By the time Sarazen reached the 1935 Masters, the second one played, he was already an established star.
Born Eugenio Saracini in Harrison, N.Y., in 1902, he later changed his name to Gene Sarazen because he felt it sounded like a golfer’s name, as opposed to his birth name that he thought better suited to an opera singer. Dropping out of school in the sixth grade, Sarazen caddied at the nearby Apawamis Club where he reportedly saw Harold Hilton – the winner of four British Amateurs and two British Opens – win the 1911 U.S. Amateur.
As a 20-year old he won the U.S. Open at Skokie in 1922, shooting a 68 in the final round, the first player to shoot under 70 to win. He added the PGA Championship at Oakmont later that year. With great bravado he challenged golf’s supreme showman, Walter Hagen, to a 72-hole event for the “world championship,” and won. Repeating his victory in the PGA the next year, Sarazen won numerous tournaments in the ensuing years – his total eventually reaching 39 PGA Tour victories. In 1932, on the strength of his new-fangled invention, the sand wedge, he won the British Open at Sandwich, then the U.S. Open at Fresh Meadow, for a historic double in the world’s two major Open Championships. In 1933 he added a third PGA at Blue Mound in Wisconsin.
The 1935 Masters featured an incredibly strong field of 64. All four of the reigning U.S. national champions were entered – Olin Dutra, Open; Lawson Little, Amateur; Paul Runyon, PGA; and Charlie Yates, Intercollegiate (NCAA). There were also nine former National Open champs, including the sainted Bobby Jones, and two former British Open victors. It was quite a formidable field, fitting for what would ultimately become America’s most cherished golf tournament.
The fourth round started with Craig Wood leading at 209, on the strength of a 4-under 68 the previous day. Olin Dutra was second at 210, Henry Picard third on 211 and Gene Sarazen fourth with 212.
Dutra, with a 42 on the front, shot himself out of the tournament, despite a stellar 32 on the back, ultimately finishing third. Picard, paired with Wood, shot a 38 on the front en route to a 75 and fourth place.
Ultimately, only Sarazen stood to challenge Wood.
With a 39 on the front, Wood missed a 20-inch putt on the 10th for bogey. He then went on one of the great rallies of the tournament, making three birdies in a row – the 13th, 14th and 15th – before bogeying the 16th and, with a final flourish, birdied the 18th, to finish with a 73 and a 282 total.
Sarazen, paired with his pal and rival Walter Hagen, was playing an hour behind Wood. Even par on the ninth tee before making a bad bogey-5 for a 1-over-par 37 on the front, Sarazen was only one behind Wood at that point. On the 14th tee, Sarazen, two behind Wood now, hooked his drive into the rough leaving some 200 yards to the mounded, undulating uphill green. Hearing a distant roar from the area of the 18th green, word quickly reached the duo that Wood had birdied the final hole to extend his lead to three. Now Sarazen needed three birdies over the last five holes to simply tie Wood. Tough? Yes. Doable? Maybe.
O.B. Keeler, reporting in The American Golfer, related the needling byplay between the two friends:
Hagen: “Well Gene, that looks like it’s all over.”
Sarazen: “Oh, I don’t know. They might go in from anywhere.”
It is almost a cliché to say truer words may never have been spoken.
Sarazen proceeded to hit his first great 4-wood of the day as he ripped the ball out of the left rough, reaching the green, but ultimately leaving a putt of some 100 feet. Two putting for a par – the second one of some 6 feet – he came to the fateful 15th hole and his date with golf immortality.
Hitting a fine drive of some 265 yards to the right side of the 15th fairway, Sarazen had a full 4-wood of some 230 yards off a close, wet lie in cold, heavy air to a green fronted by water.
Jones, perhaps realizing the moment, decided to come down from the clubhouse to see if Sarazen could catch Wood, thinking he needed three birdies coming in to force a playoff. He reached Sarazen and Hagen just as a young Byron Nelson, playing the adjacent 17th hole, pushed his drive near where Sarazen’s ball had come to rest.
So, all four of those ultimately on golf’s Mount Olympus – the hallowed Jones, the flamboyant Hagen and the soon-to-be great Nelson, watched as Sarazen’s arrow-like 4-wood hit a foot before the green, “…bounded once - twice - and settled to a smooth roll, while the ripple of sound from the big gallery went sweeping into a crescendo – and then the tornado broke,” according to Keeler.
Eugenio Saracini, now the golfer Gene Sarazen, had made all three birdies with one swing of his now magical 4-wood.
In an almost anti-climatic 36-hole playoff the next day, Sarazen defeated Wood by five strokes, 144 to 149.
No less an authority than Grantland Rice, America’s first great sports writer and a founding member of Augusta National, called it “ … the most thrilling single golf shot ever played.”
Even now, with the passage of 75 Masters Tournaments, one can clearly say without equivocation or hyperbole that Rice’s simple assessment of Sarazen’s shot is as appropriate today as it was in 1935.
It may have been Jones’ reputation for sterling play and sportsmanship that leant credibility and panache to this new tournament, but it was Sarazen who indelibly put the Masters on the map for all time with his “shot heard ‘round the world.”
– Martin Davis is Golf Channel’s historian and the author or editor of some 25 books on golf.