Snead outlasts Hogan, Patton to win 1954 Masters
NOTE: This story takes readers back through tournament champions, from the first tournament in 1934 every 10 years to present day.
For a more complete Masters history tour, visit our history section.
There’s no denying that the final round of the 1954 Masters Tournament was one of the most thrilling in golf’s history.
An unheard-of amateur, Billy Joe Patton, almost stole the show. His heroics included a hole-in-one and the lead on the final nine before he found disaster on the incoming par-5 holes.
Almost lost in the shuffle is that Sam Snead and Ben Hogan wound up tied after 72 holes, with Patton alone in third just one shot back. The two golf legends would meet in an 18-hole playoff the next day.
Snead, Hogan and Byron Nelson formed a trio of American golfers that dominated the game from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s. While Nelson had been retired from full-time competition for nearly a decade, Hogan and Snead were still at the top of their games. Hogan had won three majors in 1953, and Snead was eager to add to the six majors he had already won.
While that trio of golfers got the lion’s share of attention, Patton came to Augusta with little fanfare. He earned his invitation on the basis of being an alternate on the 1953 Walker Cup squad. Other than a couple of regional victories, no one expected much from the North Carolina native.
Everyone, that is, except Patton. Right after getting his invitation, he ordered a new white jacket.
“You couldn’t buy a cashmere jacket in Morganton, you had to order it,” his brother, James Patton, said. “He said he wanted to look good at the presentation ceremony.”
Patton started off with a bang, winning the long-driving contest held before the tournament, and shot 2-under 70 to share the first-round lead with Dutch Harrison. Patton slipped to 74 in the second round, but he still held the 36-hole lead.
“Everything’s running my way,” Patton told reporters. “I’m supposed to shoot 80 sometime in this tournament, you know, and I probably will.”
It wasn’t an 80, but Patton did shoot 75 in the third round. Hogan shot 69, the tournament’s first sub-70 round, and he led Snead by three and Patton by five entering the final round. Cary Middlecoff and Tommy Bolt also were in the mix.
In 1954, the Masters didn’t pair golfers by score. The leaders were often staggered, and there were not a lot of leaderboards around the course.
Patton was paired with three-time Masters winner Jimmy Demaret, and for five holes his round was uneventful. Then lightning struck, in the form of an ace, on the par-3 sixth.
Veteran golf writer Dan Jenkins was covering Ben Hogan for the Fort Worth Press, and he was hanging out with fellow writer Bob Drum.
“Drum and I are standing behind the sixth green, he’s coming up, and I go away to get a Coke at the concession stand,” Jenkins said. “I hear the roar. ‘What happened?’ ‘Billy Joe made a one.’ I said, ‘What did it look like?’ And, you know Drum, he was incredibly funny. I said, ‘What did it look like, Bob?’ He said, ‘Here’s the hole and here’s the ball. That’s a one.’ I said, ‘Did it bounce, did it fly?’ ”
Patton added birdies at Nos. 8 and 9 to finish the front side in 32 and grab the lead, and by the time he reached No. 13 he was still in the thick of things. Hogan and Snead were not pulling away from the amateur.
Patton’s tee shot at the par-5 13th was pushed to the edge of the fairway. Unsure of where he stood, Patton elected to go for the green in two.
“Bob Drum and I were standing right there on 13 and he was in the rough,” Jenkins said. “Everyone wanted him to lay up. And he said, audibly so we could all hear it and quote it, ‘I didn’t get where I am by playing safe.’ And he got in the water.”
Patton found the tributary of Rae’s Creek that fronted the green, and wound up with a double bogey.
He bounced back with a birdie at the 14th, but made another poor decision on the par-5 15th. From a questionable lie, he tried to hit the green in two but found the water again. This led to a bogey.
Up ahead, Snead had birdied the 13th and 15th to shoot even-par 72 and get in the clubhouse with a total of 1-over 289.
Patton parred the final three holes and missed an 18-foot birdie putt that would have tied him with Snead.
Hogan, playing behind the other two, struggled to 37 on the front nine. He fell behind on the 11th when his second shot found the pond guarding the green. That led to a double bogey and later prompted the famous quote from Hogan: “If you ever see me on the 11th green in two, you’ll know I missed my second shot.”
Hogan played the final seven holes in even par, but his 75 opened the door for Snead to tie. Just a few years removed from his near-fatal car accident, the last thing Hogan wanted was to have to walk another 18 holes.
After an epic final round, the Monday playoff between two of the all-time greats didn’t come close to matching the excitement of the day before. But it was Hogan vs. Snead with a green jacket on the line, and that was enough for Jenkins.
The playoff was tight, and Snead took the lead on the 10th with an unlikely birdie.
“In the playoff he played so much better than Snead,” Jenkins said of Hogan. “He missed two fairways and greens. Sam chips in on 10 with a 7-iron all the way across the damn green.”
Snead gave back a stroke at the 12th, and they came to the par-5 13th all square again. Hogan elected to lay up and wound up with a par, while Snead hit the green in two and made birdie.
Hogan three-putted the 16th to fall two shots behind, and after Snead made a bogey on the final hole, the final tally was 70 to 71 in Snead’s favor.
“I’m happy I was there,” Jenkins said. “It was historic. Two of the greatest players in the world. The best-kept secret in golf was that they were really good friends. Ben and Sam were much better friends than Ben and Byron, who grew up together.
“Ben loved Sam’s humor, and he admired his game. He always said Sam Snead’s the greatest golfer in the world, he’s got the greatest swing in history. He said if I could caddy for him he’d never lose a tournament.”
Those lucky enough to have witnessed the playoff could not have guessed it would be the end of an era. Although both men would challenge for future majors, they would never win another major.
“Clairvoyant me, I wrote in the Fort Worth Press that this will be the last time we’ll see these two giants contending for a major,” Jenkins said. “I was a little bit wrong, because they did contend, but they never won another major.”
Hogan, who also had lost an 18-hole Masters playoff to Byron Nelson in 1942, was gracious in defeat.
“He always gives you some good shots and a few chuckles,” he said of Snead.
At the awards ceremony, Patton was on hand to receive his low amateur medal. With tournament co-founder Bobby Jones, Snead and Hogan all wearing their green jackets, Patton stood out with his white coat.
Years later, he said he didn’t regret coming up short in his bid to become the first amateur to win the Masters.
“If I’d won that tournament, I’d had difficulty handling the money, the liquor would have been a problem, and with the women I didn’t have a chance,” he said.
Horton Smith was the last man to beat Bobby Jones before his Grand Slam campaign of 1930, winning a tournament in Savannah, Ga. Four years later, Jones took the spotlight as he opened his new course for a new event.
Smith, though, held at least a share of the lead each day. On the final day, Smith came to the final three holes tied with Craig Wood. He birdied the 71st hole to edge Wood by a stroke.
The Masters was not held from 1943-45 because of World War II.
Arnold Palmer became the first four-time Masters winner in dominant fashion, defeating Dave Marr and Jack Nicklaus by six shots.
Though neither Palmer nor his adoring public could have predicted it, the 1964 Masters would be his last victory in a major championship. He finished no worse than fourth the next three Masters, but after 1967 never seriously challenged again at Augusta National.
By the time of Gary Player’s second Masters triumph, he was well established as one of the game’s top players and one of only four men to win all four of the game’s major championships.
Starting with a pair of 71s, Player found himself five behind Dave Stockton at the midway point. A 66 in the third round, however, cut Player’s deficit to just one stroke.
No less than half a dozen of the game’s top players battled it out on Easter Sunday, but Player’s closing 70 was good for the win. He punctuated his two-shot victory with a tap-in birdie at the 17th hole after hitting his 9-iron less than a foot from the hole.
Ben Crenshaw will always be remembered for being one of the greatest putters in golf history, but not even “Gentle Ben” would have predicted he would make a 60-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole in the final round.
That unexpected birdie completed three in a row, and Crenshaw held on to win his first Masters by two shots.
Jose Maria Olazabal won his first major when he held off Tom Lehman for a two-shot win in Augusta.
Olazabal made an eagle on the 15th in the final round, and used his superb short game to join fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros as a Masters champion.
Phil Mickelson had played in 46 majors without a victory. He had his share of close calls, but he could hear the whispers that labeled him the best player to never win a major.
So when he made the turn in the final round of the 2004 Masters, Mickelson knew he was in the mix. Birdies at Nos. 12, 13, 14 and 16 put him into a tie with Ernie Els, who had already finished.
Mickelson came to the 18th hole needing a birdie for the outright win. His approach finished 18 feet past the hole, but playing partner Chris DiMarco was on a similar line and putted first.
With a good look at how the putt would break, Mickelson stepped up to his putt. His putt caught the lip of the cup and fell in, giving Lefty his first major victory and sending him skyward as he jumped for joy.