Dr. Ed Bailey peered intently from under his floppy hat Friday, eyes focused on the golfer who was hitting high, arcing draws toward Washington Road. He was seated in the first row of the bleachers behind the practice tee at Augusta National Golf Club, taking it all in, pretty much as he has, at various spots around these impossibly manicured grounds, since long before the grooming began.
Bailey remembers hearing, but not seeing, Gene Sarazen, right, get a double eagle at No. 15 in 1935. Sarazen beat Craig Wood in a playoff.
There had been a lot of talk on this day about streaks. Gary Player was playing in his 51st Masters and assuring everyone that he would be back next spring for a 52nd. Fred Couples was trying, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to add to his impressive streak of 23 cuts made at the Masters. But the man with the most amazing streak on the premises was not addressing his own feat just yet.
“You know,” Doc Bailey said, “I have seen fog during the tournament, but it was never a problem — always gone by the time they were going to play golf. It was never as heavy as it was yesterday. No.”
If Doc Bailey tells you he has or has not seen something at Augusta National, you can take it to the Augusta National Bank. Because unless someone else decides to come forward with some compelling proof — a letter from every Masters chairman from Cliff Roberts to Billy Payne, maybe — the good doctor appears to be the only living patron to have witnessed every single Masters tournament.
He saw the clubhouse long before the bachelor wing, suites building, trophy room and kitchen were added in 1946. He was there when the golf shop and the Eisenhower Cabin came along in 1953, and by the time the Butler Cabin was added in 1964, Doc Bailey had already exceeded Couples’s streak by five.
On the day he arrived at his 72nd Masters, Doc Bailey, 92, had attended every tournament since 1934. He was sitting in the brilliant sunshine, pointing across the current range to the location of the old practice area and talking about how, during the years World War II intervened in 1943-45, he was in the Pacific Theater patching up wounded soldiers. He talked about hearing — but not seeing — Gene Sarazen’s double eagle at the 15th hole in 1935.
“I heard the commotion over there at 15,” he said. “I was over by the 17th. That was quite a moment for the tournament. It put it on the map.”
Born and raised in Augusta, Doc Bailey still lives in the house on Belleview Avenue where he and his wife, Georgia, raised their children. His roots in the state run deep and wide, like the old oak trees that stand sentinel behind the Manor Clubhouse at Augusta. He first hung his M.D. shingle in the 1930s in an office wing of the old Shirley Hotel, built by Ty Cobb, the Georgia Peach.
He has tales about playing golf with Cobb, with the president of United States Steel and with many of the original members at Augusta National. He talks about conversations with Bobby Jones, the co-founder of the Masters, and about how he has watched every Masters winner from Horton Smith in ’34 and Sarazen in ’35 to Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson from 2005 to 2007.
He saw Larry Mize pitch in at No. 11 to beat Greg Norman in sudden death in 1987, and he had lunch with Sarazen and ate breakfast on Masters Sundays with Jimmy Demaret. He counts Norman and Nick Price among his friends.
As great as these players were and are, he said, none compare to Ben Hogan, the Masters champion in 1951 and 1953.
“Hogan, I will tell you, when he hit it, he hit it right where he wanted it to be,” he said. “I guess the one thing of the many things I saw here was Ben Hogan playing with Arnold Palmer, in 1950-something, I forget what year exactly. But Hogan shot a 30 on the back nine, and when he got in they were talking and Arnold Palmer said to him, ‘Ben, I enjoyed the round, but you gave me a lesson today.’
“I saw most of the back nine. Hogan was something else. Never saw anyone like him.”
“Do you see anyone playing now who reminds you of him?” he was asked.
“No,” he said, flatly.
About that time, Woods walked slowly across the range, about 10 feet away from the bleachers. He wore a tight black golf shirt that accentuated his powerfully built shoulders, large biceps and thin waist.
“This fella walking by,” his son, Bernard, a trader at Bear Stearns said, “What about him?”
Doc nodded. “Of course, he has the advantage of a lot of equipment and stuff that has changed through the years,” he said. “And golf balls have gotten better, too. And then you get a lot of them have had years of teaching, which most of those old-timers like Hogan, they were caddies, most of them, Nelson, too.”
Of Jones, whom he admired greatly, he said: “He was a damn good golfer, don’t let anybody ever kid you. And he played fast, didn’t fool around.
“He was a smoker then, he’d smoke a cigarette when he was walking down the fairway. He was a fast player. He’d take one look, throw the cigarette down, and take out the club and, Bam! He’d hit that ball. He wasted no time. He was such a nice pleasant fella.”
Asked about his own game, he smiled and said: “First golf clubs I ever had my daddy bought me when I was just a little 6-year-old kid. It was what would be called a 2-iron now, and he gave me three golf balls.
“Where we lived then, there was a big field. There weren’t any houses built up in those days then. I would hit those three balls and go out and get them and hit them back.”
Doc gave up golf a few years ago, after Georgia died on Good Friday in 2004. He said he got tired of having to ride a cart instead of walking. Said his handicap was going up and he was not having fun. But his passion for the game, that he keeps. He shook hands and said goodbye.
“See you next year,” he said.