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For someone that’s not what you’d call a Masters regular, my first couple of visits were pretty special.
My first time at the Masters was the Sunday round of 1986. What a time it was for my rookie trip. Seve, Norman, Kite and 46 year old Jack Nicklaus in the mix.
And we all know what eventually happened.
One year later, one of my college golf teammates, Doug Sargent, and I went over again on Sunday and watched the front nine before bolting back to Atlanta to catch the end on TV.
We had no idea it would end in a 3 way playoff.
Greg Norman, looking to avenge the loss in 1986 was in the playoff along with Seve Ballesteros, who too was looking to seek redemption for his collapse the year before, brought the star power to the sudden death playoff. Augusta native and 28 year old Larry Mize, was joining the as the long shot. Or so we thought.
And we all know what happened.
Fast forward to the year 2012 when I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to interview Larry on the 25th anniversary of his historic win. He took us through his preparation and back into his thoughts in that Sunday in 1987.
We bring that interview out of the vault and back into the forefront on this now the 30th anniversary of his historic playoff win over Norman and Ballesteros.
Into the time machine we go!
Tom Brassell: Joining us is a man who made history 25 years ago. It’s hard to believe. The 1987 Masters Champion, courtesy of our friends at Cleveland Srixon Golf, Mr. Larry Mize. Larry, thanks so much for joining us. It’s a pleasure having you.
Larry Mize: Well, thanks, Tom. It’s great to be with you.
Tom Brassell: Does it seem like 25 years?
Larry Mize: You know, it really doesn’t. You know, time does go by quick and I think the older I get it goes by even quicker, so it doesn’t seem like 25 years at all.
Tom Brassell: Yeah, you were what, 28 at the time, I think?
Larry Mize: That’s correct. I was 28 years old when I won the Masters, yes.
Tom Brassell: Let’s turn the clock back to back around then, but even before then you’re an Augusta native, I believe, played right next door to Augusta Country Club and then to Georgia Tech. I don’t think your driver’s license has ever read anything other than Georgia, is that correct?
Larry Mize: That is correct, Tom. I’ve always been in, lived in Georgia my entire life. I was born and raised in Augusta, Georgia, and then I was fortunate enough to grow up playing golf at Augusta Country Club, which was great for me, and could look over the fence on number nine at the Augusta National where the Masters is played and just kind of drool over the fence hoping to get there one day and it was a great town to grow up in.
Tom Brassell: Well, you turned Pro in what, ’80/’81, you won the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic in ’83, so you weren’t a stranger to winning, but in 1987, what was the state of your game going into that first full weekend in April?
Larry Mize: You know, I felt pretty good. I had played in the Players Championship a couple weeks before. I had played well there and I came into Augusta feeling good about my game and, you know, looking forward to playing well. I played the final round in ’86, I played really well and people may not kind of think this very often, but that can kind of propel you the next year. The last time I was on the golf course I played really solid, played my best round ever on that Sunday, the lowest score I’ve ever shot at Augusta that Sunday in ’86. So that was another positive and I felt really good going into the week.
Tom Brassell: Yeah, you’re right because back then there weren’t massive changes between ’86 and ’87, so it’s almost like you could pick up where you left off.
Larry Mize: Well, you really could and you could ride the momentum even though it’s a year later you’re back at the same place and you could just ride the momentum that year and sure enough I did. I got off to a nice start and was able to stay in contention and give myself a chance on Sunday.
Tom Brassell: Saturday, if I remember right, you had a pretty strong finish on Saturday, did you not?
Larry Mize: Well, I really did and the Saturday was, I think, a big key to the tournament for me. I hit my tee shot on number 12, the great Par 3 there, in the water and so I had to drop back and I wedged it up there about 12 or 15 feet or something and made that putt for Bogey, which was really a tremendous Bogey for me to keep me from making double because I was already two over coming into 12 and the Bogey there put me three over and I was kind of shooting myself out of it, but from 13 on in I played three under to get back to even par for the day and get back in contention and that was a tremendous finish for me on Saturday.
Tom Brassell: You know, Sunday at Augusta, now it’s turned into, it’s always been survival, but now it’s like attack and survive or no win to attack, but that final round, what do you remember that sticks out in your mind of your final round on Sunday?
Larry Mize: You know, I guess the biggest thing is how nervous I was on the back nine. It’s an intense day and that back nine … You know, the front nine doesn’t get a lot of credit. The front nine is a great nine holes of golf, but the back nine with the water and the potential for disaster there on 11, 12, 13 and 15 it just really gets your attention and with the Masters on the line, it just, the back nine is a major, it doesn’t get much more intense than that. So that’s the biggest thing I remember is how intense, but at the same time, how much fun it was. I mean, that’s why we work hard to get in those positions, so it’s a nerve wracking, intense feeling. It’s a lot of fun.
Tom Brassell: Larry Mize joining us, ’87 Masters Champion. So you’re in that position and you’ve got to walk over to 10 tee and everybody remembers David and Goliath, the little, you know, the sweet swinging kid from Augusta and Greg Norman, but there was another Goliath up on that tee, as well, wasn’t there?
Larry Mize: Yeah, you know people forget Seve, Seve Ballesteros was in the playoff, as well. He bogeyed the 10th hole and so Greg and I went on to 11 so they remember me and Greg, but yeah, I had to deal with two great players at the time, Seve and Greg, and it was a high order, but I felt really good going in, I played really well, I birdied the last hole, the 72nd hole, number 18, at Augusta on Sunday and that gave me a lot of confidence going into the playoff.
Tom Brassell: If you were to have a Masters pool, an office pool, back in the ’80s look at what Seve did. He was the champion in ’80, he was tied for second, one shot back, in ’82, he was the champion in ’83, tied for second in ’85 and ’86, he’s got the lead going into 15, so you’re looking at two monsters there on 10 tee. What people, I think, forget is your second shot on 10 was awesome. You stuck it.
Larry Mize: Yeah, I hit a really great drive on 10 and got the big bounce off the hill and was actually, I out drove those two guys, which doesn’t ever happen, and had a good seven iron in there, had about a 10 or 12 footer right up the hill, just what you want, and really I thought I hit a pretty good putt, just didn’t quite make it, but I had a great chance to finish it off right there and just came up a little short.
Tom Brassell: Yeah, that’s what I was going to say, you had a chance after they both putted, Seve blew his by the hole. I think, correct me if I’m wrong, the grain on 10 kind of runs from front right to back left and it looked like your putt, it doesn’t seem like it would work that way, but it looks like the grain kind of grabbed it at the end and just kind of took it a little left.
Larry Mize: Well, it did. It took it a little left and you could have hit it a little harder. Either way, I could have played a little more break or a little more speed, I would have made it, but no question it dove off left pretty good there at the hole and just missed it on the low side.
Tom Brassell: So Seve three putts, you and Greg move on to 11 tee. This is all kind of lost in the whole translation, but the handshake right then with Seve or does he just move up the hill?
Larry Mize: Well, he did. It was really special. Seve came over and shook my hand and wished me luck and that really meant a lot to me. Seve and I have always gotten along really well and, obviously we miss him now, but he was very genuine in wishing me luck and that was very, it meant a lot to me when he did that.
Tom Brassell: You and Greg have to go and hit out that bowling shoot on number 11 and you both hit pretty good drives if I remember right. What happened on the second shot?
Larry Mize: Well, you know, I’ve got, it’s back to the way it should be. Greg was in front of me by about 20 yards, so I’ve got a 5 iron and I think he’s hitting about an 8 iron or something. You know, I’m trying to hit a draw in there and put it in the center of the green, get myself a good putt for birdie, but your mind says just make sure you don’t hit it left so I kind of blocked it out for the right and hit it to the right of the green about 100 feet from the hole and was a little disgusted with myself because that was definitely not the shot I was looking for.
Tom Brassell: You can’t go left, like you say, so you’ve gone right, Norman knocks it on the green. You start surveying the shot. On TV it looks like you’re more elevated than you actually are. I don’t think you are, but what kind of options did you have, Larry, as far as that shot?
Larry Mize: Well, that’s a great question. There really weren’t many options, which was really a very positive thing for me and actually I’m down below the green. There’s a kind of a valley to the right there and the greens were so hard and fast that year that I could not land it on the green and keep it out of pond on the other side, so the only shot I had was a pitch and run with a sand wedge. I thought anything with less loft would kind of be running too hot once it hit the green. You know, this is a shot I and I know a lot of guys we practice it and everything, so I played it back in my stance, hit a little pitch and run with the sand wedge to land short of the green. I just kind of bumped it through the rye grass they had that’s, to me, kind of sticky, and hit a couple of times and just jumped on the green and rolled like a putt. You know, my main thought was to hit a good, aggressive shot and put the pressure back on Greg, give myself a short par putt, so, you know, made him make his putt a little harder.
Tom Brassell: It goes in. Your visor flies up in the air. It looks like you say a few words like a Danny Wuerffel or a Tim Tebow to the heavens before its time, like a thank you. Talk about that moment.
Larry Mize: Well, it really was. I mean, I just, when it went in I couldn’t believe it and I ran. I threw my club up in the air, knocked my hat off and was running around. I was actually screaming. I remember thinking, oh, you’re screaming, you know, shut up Larry, don’t be screaming like this. You know I did. I mean, you know, my faith in Jesus Christ is very important to me and I was just thankful for the opportunity and the talent that God’s given me and I wanted to give him the glory and, you know, my hands went to Heaven just as a thanks for what he’s done for me in my life and I picked the ball up out of hole and then my main focus then was to quiet the crowd down so Greg could have a chance to play because we needed quiet for him to play the shot, but, you know, I think the run and jump says it all. It was such an exciting moment for me when that ball went in the hole. It was just an incredible thrill for a young man from Augusta. I mean, for me to play in the tournament was a dream come true and to have a chance to win it was incredible.
Tom Brassell:You know, 25 years later you look at it and the only other shot of that kind of magnitude at the Masters has to have been Gene Sarazen’s double eagle on 15.
Larry Mize: Yeah, I mean that was a phenomenal shot that Mr. Sarazen hit to make a 2 on 15. I can only imagine. I’ve never made a double eagle or holed a shot that far out, but that was a great shot he hit and just to be mentioned with that shot is a lot of fun for me.
Tom Brassell: So you got the jacket on, Jack puts it on you. I know you’re in tears because everybody watched it. It was a very, very emotional moment. Rumor had it that they asked you to or did you ever go back and hit the shot again?
Larry Mize: You know I didn’t. One of the golf publications did ask me to go back and recreate it, hit the shot again and I don’t think they were real happy with me when I declined, but you know, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because now when I see the chip shot, you know, when I see the pitch shot and see the ball go in that was the last time I was in that spot and the last time I hit the shot so it’s still just a pure memory and I still get excited and a big smile comes across my face whenever I see it so I was really glad I didn’t do it and just the other note, to get the jacket from Jack was also a dream come true for me to have my favorite, my childhood idol put the jacket on me, it doesn’t get any better than having Jack Nicklaus put the green jacket on you.
Tom Brassell: And I guess one little trivia question, 365 or so days later, or 360, you get to pick the menu out for the Champions Dinner. What did you choose?
Larry Mize: You know, I’m a big steak guy, so I just had steak and had some peach cobbler for dessert, being a Georgia boy. I wasn’t sure what to do so I just kept it real simple and had steak and, obviously, the little bit from Georgia, the peach for dessert, so that was my menu.
Tom Brassell: Well, Larry, it’s hard to believe, like we said, that you’re over 50 now, but you’re taking it to task out on the Champion’s Tour. Just final thoughts, what plans for the remainder of the year for you?
Larry Mize: Well, you know, just continue to work hard. I mean, I love to play this game and so thankful that I get to continue to compete and do this, but I’ll just be working hard to try and get back in the winner’s circle in the Champion’s Tour and continue for that Charles Schwab Cup at the end of the year. So we’ll be working hard for that and, you know, just look forward to the rest of the year.
Tom Brassell: Well, we know it’s a busy time and a busy week for you and we want to thank you for taking some time out with us and our listeners. It’s special and 25 years it’s still kind of hard to believe, but just wanted to say thanks for joining us and we’ll be pulling for you the rest of the year.
Larry Mize: No problem. It’s my pleasure. I appreciate it very much.
Tom Brassell: Thanks. Have a great day and talk to you soon. Bye bye.
Larry Mize: All right. Take care. Bye bye.