No one should have been surprised that Horton Smith won the first Augusta National Invitation Tournament.
After all, the pro was the last man to beat Bobby Jones before his Grand Slam campaign of 1930. It happened in Savannah, Ga., early that year, but Jones got revenge a few weeks later when he won the Southeastern Open in Augusta by 13 shots. He wouldn’t lose again as he swept the U.S. and British opens and amateurs.
Jones received most of the attention at the first Masters in 1934, but he really wasn’t much of a factor in the first tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.
Smith, instead, held at least a share of the lead each day. He opened with 70 and was tied with Emmett French and Jimmy Hines. A 72 in the second round put him in the clear, and another 72 in the third round left him two shots ahead of the field.
On the final day – remember, the nines were reversed at Augusta National for the first Masters – Smith was in a nip-and-tuck battle with Craig Wood. A 3-putt on the 15th resulted in a bogey, and Smith came to the final three holes all tied with Wood.
After a par on the 16th, Smith came to the par-5 17th (now the eighth) looking for a birdie.
O.B. Keeler, the premier golf writer of the day, wrote the following account in The Augusta Chronicle’s March 26, 1934, edition:
“Horton laced out a great drive and played sensibly to the right of the green, and short of it, to try for a pitch that might be close. It was a fine pitch, but the ball was three yards, or a bit more, past the flag. The tall boy put the putt right in the middle. It had not a chance to stay out.”
Smith came to the final hole with the lead.
“And while he left himself a five-footer after his first putt at the home green, and while that putt was down the slope, he canned that one, too, as a champion should, and he was a stroke in front. It was enough,” Keeler wrote.
The victory was worth $1,500 to Smith.
Two years later, Smith won for the second time at Augusta National when he nipped Harry Cooper by one shot. Smith sank a long chip for birdie at the 14th en route to his victory in 1936.
Smith’s win in the inaugural event produced the following headlines in The Chronicle:
“Horton Smith Wins Tournament” was the banner, and a smaller headline read: “Chicago Pro Produces Par 72 To Pace Wood By Lone Stroke; Jones Finishes in 13th Place.”
Alan Gould, the sports editor of The Associated Press, led his front-page story as follows:
“Picking up where he left off in Georgia four years ago as the last man to whip Bob Jones in open golf competition, lanky Horton Smith of Chicago paced the professionals to a smashing triumph over the former world champion yesterday in the final round of the $5,000 Masters Invitation tournament.”
The Masters, and its first star, had been launched.