Plaque on Sarazen Bridge on No. 15 at Augusta National Golf Club
“Erected to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the famous “double eagle” scored by Gene Sarazen on this hole, April 7, 1935, which gained him a tie for first place with Craig Wood and in the play-off won the second Masters Tournament. Dedicated April 6, 1955.”
The Squire and Marco Island
Gene Sarazen was the resident professional at the Island Country Club from 1981-99. He was involved in a redesign of the golf course in 1991.
A gallery of rare Gene Sarazen memorabilia, donated to the club by Sarazen, is open to members and guests, and a statue of Sarazen sits by the club’s putting green. The club’s restaurant is named the “Double Eagle,” in honor of Sarazen’s shot.
Sarazen said he and his wife, Mary, first came to the island because she liked collecting shells there.
He was named the Daily News’ Citizen of the Year on the island in 1995.
South Beach Park and the Urgent Care Building on Marco were renamed in Sarazen’s honor in 2000.
NAPLES — Seventy-five years ago Wednesday, Gene Sarazen hit the shot that put the Masters on the map. And eventually gave “the Squire,” as he was known, the modern Grand Slam.
Sarazen’s 4-wood “double-eagle” on the 485-yard, par-5 15th in the 1935 Masters — the second played at Augusta National Golf Club — tied him with Craig Wood. Sarazen beat Wood by five strokes in a 36-hole playoff the next day.
Legendary sports writer Grantland Rice dubbed the double-eagle the “Shot Heard ’Round the World.”
“He didn’t talk about it much,” says Ken Venturi, the former longtime Marco Island resident and CBS Sports golf analyst who gave a eulogy at Sarazen’s funeral on May 17, 1999, four days after his death at the age of 97. “He said there’s probably more publicity of that shot, with hardly nobody watching it.”
At that time, No. 15 had a creek in front of the green. That was expanded into a pond in 1961. But it wasn’t an easy shot, particularly considering Sarazen wasn’t a bomber. He stood just 5-foot-6.
“It was a historic shot in the game of golf,” six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus said last week. “And to find somebody of Sarazen’s height that could knock it over the water on the green (and in the hole) in two, it’s pretty good, isn’t it?”
Thursday, Nicklaus will follow in the footsteps of the Squire, in a sense, when he becomes an honorary starter at the Masters for the first time. He’ll join Arnold Palmer, who played in Sarazen’s group in the King’s first Masters back in 1955.
“It was a day that I will always remember,” Palmer said in 2007, his first year as an honorary starter. “I remembered, as soon as we talked about being honorary starter or playing in the Masters, that first day that I ever played here was something that came straight to my mind.”
Sarazen was an honorary starter from 1981-99, with one of his last public appearances being that 1999 Masters, just over a month before his death.
What was the double-eagle really like? It was heard — and seen — by just a few, in reality. According to Sarazen, there were just a handful of people watching, and even the one sports writer who had been following the group left because Wood had already finished and was expected to be the champion.
“I must’ve met 10,000 people who came up to me and said ‘I saw your double-eagle,’” Sarazen told Venturi.
“Really, how many were there?” Venturi asked.
“The best of my account, there were probably eight people,” Sarazen responded.
We’ll let the Squire take it from there, as told to John Olman in the 1987 book “The Squire: The Legendary Golfing Life of Gene Sarazen.”
“The aspect of the double-eagle that I cherish the most is that both Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones witnessed the shot,” Sarazen said. “Hagen, of course, was playing with me that day; Jones had completed his round earlier, and just happened to have come back out on the course. To have two of the greatest golfers in history witness what turned out to be one of the game’s greatest shots was really something special.
“Another amazing thing about that hole was after I hit a really good drive, I was faced with a bad lie — the ball was sitting down. My caddie was a tall, black fellow named Stovepipe who was a preacher when he wasn’t caddying. Stovepipe thought I needed a 3-wood to reach the green. He was right from the standpoint of distance, but I felt that my 4-wood would get down to the ball better. So I decided to toe-in the 4-wood a little to lessen the loft and let it fly. That was one of the few times I hesitated over a shot, because I was unsure of which club to use, and it sure paid off. I can remember Hagen standing on the other side of the fairway and yelling over ‘Hurry up, will ya, I’ve got a date tonight.’
“But that double-eagle wouldn’t have meant a thing if I hadn’t won the playoff the next day. And if I hadn’t played the last three holes on Sunday in even par, there wouldn’t even have been a playoff. The eighteenth was no easy hole that day, and I needed a par to tie for the tournament. The wind had shifted on us and I had a long shot to the green.”
Sarazen reached the green, but had a 40-footer left on a putting surface he described in another setting as a “skating rink.” But he was able to leave his birdie putt three feet short, and tap in for par to force the playoff.
Sarazen took control early in the playoff, and had the lead for good after the 10th hole.
As time went on, Sarazen sometimes took issue with being known for the double-eagle more than anything else.
The former Eugene Saraceni — he changed his name after not liking how it looked in the newspaper’s hole-in-one announcement as a youngster — is one of only five golfers to win the modern grand slam, and is credited with inventing the modern, steel-shafted sand wedge, all the way down to the markings and flange. Sarazen often told the story that he got the idea after flying in former business tycoon Howard Hughes’ plane.
Sarazen’s Masters gave him the modern grand slam — victories in that tournament, the U.S. Open (he won in 1922 and 1932), British Open (1932) and PGA Championship (1922, 1923, 1933). And the Gene Sarazen Cup is presented to the winner of the CA Championship, the former name of the World Golf Championship now played at Doral.
Still, no matter the significance of the double eagle in Sarazen’s career, it’s perhaps better known as creating the standing that the Masters would become. Clifford Roberts, who co-founded Augusta National with Jones, once was asked what made “the Masters, the Masters.“
“Bob Jones, of course,” Roberts said. “His presence. Then the double eagle.”
THE SQUIRE, GENE SARAZEN
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