It's an amateur golfer's dream to play Augusta National Golf Club.
I have never been fortunate enough to play Augusta, but I do know a few members of the media who won the annual lottery to play a round the Monday after the tournament. Their memories of the course, the history and the feeble attempts at recreating some of the great shots in Masters lore have been my own personal lifeline to every inch of the course.
Well, that and video games.
My game is not up to par, if you pardon the pun, to actually play a course like Augusta, but I sure as hell would like to slap on a pair of white coveralls and lug a bag around for 18 holes. Yeah, caddying a round at Augusta would be pretty cool.
The question becomes, of course, who would I most want to caddy for? Whose bag would I most like to carry? And to make the game even more fun, let's expand the hypothetical to not just one golfer, but a foursome.
If you could caddy a round at Augusta, what four players would you want in that group?
I've narrowed the choices down to seven different categories: the best players in history, the best players at Augusta, the best living players, the best active players, the heartbreak group, the best lefties and, finally, the best potential foursome in terms of overall enjoyment and interest.
The Best Players
This list is a little harder than one might think. The first three are easy—there's Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer. The fourth member of the group is the tough one.
There's Bobby Jones, who is widely recognized as one of the three or four best players of all time. Jones was part of the team that designed Augusta National, but never got to play the Masters in his prime, struggling in the tournament as his health declined, never placing better than 16th in 12 career tournaments.
Sam Snead has not only the most career victories on the PGA Tour, but won three of those events at the Masters. Snead leads a list of five players with three green jackets that includes Gary Player, Nick Faldo, Phil Mickelson and Jimmy Demaret.
Player won nine majors to Snead's seven, and while Snead had more PGA Tour victories of the two, both had 165 career victories around the world.
Then there's the man that certainly has to fill out the foursome: Ben Hogan.
Hogan won two Masters in a career that included nine major championships. That number is incredibly low, not just considering his four second-place finishes at Augusta, but also considering how seldom he played in the majors.
Hogan not only missed all of 1949 after a near-fatal car crash, his career opportunities at the majors were put on hold because the tournaments didn't take place.
There was no Masters tournament from 1943-45, no U.S. Open from 1942-45 and no PGA Championship in 1943. Hogan played the Open Championship just once in his career in 1953, winning it. He didn't play in the PGA Championship, which was match play at the time, for more than a decade after his accident.
If we are looking at the best players to put together a foursome, it's Nicklaus, Woods, Palmer and Hogan.
The Best at Augusta
Now, fill in Jack, Tiger and Arnie and let's try to find the fourth player in this group.
Jack has six career victories at Augusta, followed by Arnie and Tiger with four apiece. Of the five players with three career Masters titles, the best player at the course may be Mickelson.
Heading in to 2013, Mickelson has played 78 tournament rounds at Augusta and has a stroke average of 70.97 per round. Mickelson's per-round average is the second best in history, one tenth of a stroke behind Woods (70.87 over 70 rounds).
No other player in history who has played 30 or more rounds has a stroke average below 72, other than Jack and Fred Couples who boast a 71.98 and 71.89 per round average, respectively.
To be fair, some players continue to play beyond their prime, raising their career averages. Tom Watson, for example, has played 126 rounds and has an average score of 72.44. Snead played 146 rounds and has an average of 73.30, surely raised by his play in later tournaments. Faldo, who has six majors to his name, has an average round of 72.72 at Augusta.
Still, the answer is Mickelson who, by the way, also has the second-most top-five finishes in Masters history with 10, five behind Jack and tied with Tiger. Phil also has 14 top-10 finishes in 20 career starts.
There are other greats who have put up amazing numbers at Augusta, but based on the number of victories, stroke average and top finishes, Mickelson is the fourth-best player in Masters history.
The Best Living Players
Jack, Arnie and Tiger are all still alive, and while Mickelson could be in the mix here as well, the nod would certainly have to go to Gary Player.
There is a case to be made for Tom Watson making the call for this group too. Watson has more majors than Palmer, after all. Watson also had nine top-five finishes, including three second-place results.
But for now, it should be Player.
The Best Active Players
Now this is a fun one! There's Tiger and Phil, of course, but who would be the other two in the foursome of best active players?
Rory McIlroy is the second-ranked player in the world, ahead of Justin Rose and Luke Donald. But if we were going just by World Golf Rankings, Phil wouldn't be in the group, which would be just downright ridiculous if you were actually putting together a foursome of the best players in the modern game.
Let's not rely on just the rankings and look at another metric: major titles.
McIlroy does have two major championships to his name, but famously imploded at the Masters two years ago (more on that in a bit). Louis Oosthuizen is ranked sixth in the world and has one major. Keegan Bradley, ranked 11th , has one as well.
Next on the major title list are two Masters winners in Bubba Watson and Charl Schwartzel in 14th and 15th, respectively.
Keeping by the measure of the description of this foursome, I'd suggest the best active players are Woods, McIlroy, Mickelson and Donald, who has been No. 1 in the world as recently as last year despite never winning a major.
Replacing Donald with Rose, Adam Scott, Brandt Snedeker—who won the FedEx Cup last season—or Steve Stricker should not rankle anyone.
The Heartbreak Group
What if we put together a foursome of players who never won at Augusta, but came painfully close?
Can Greg Norman just tee off four balls and call it a foursome?
Actually, Norman, who finished second three times in his career without ever winning the Masters—and losing in horrific fashion on more than one occasion—may not actually be the most tragic Masters runner-up.
In 1956, then-amateur golfer Ken Venturi led after three rounds before carding an 80 on Sunday to lose to Jack Burke, Jr. by one stroke. Venturi, 24 years old at the time, shot 42 on the back nine on Sunday.
Venturi then finished second again in the 1960 Masters, losing to Arnold Palmer, who birdied his final two holes to win the tournament that year. Heartbreak.
Let's not forget about Chris DiMarco, who might just ask to play through on the 16th hole. More heartbreak, indeed.
While there could be some push to have Lee Trevino in this group, he never had much heartbreak at the Masters because he was really never in contention. Plus, Trevino made no bones about the fact he hated Augusta, and who would want to be around a guy who hates the course?
The fourth person would have to be McIlroy, who was cruising at the 2011 Masters, leading for three and a half rounds. Then the back nine on Sunday happened. Well, specifically, the 10th hole happened, where McIlroy completely imploded, carding a triple bogey en route to an 80, finishing in 15th place.
The Best Lefties
I'm a lefty, so sue me for including this group.
Clearly, the best lefties at the Masters are Mickelson, Watson and Mike Weir, who have each won at least one green jacket. With those being the only three lefties to ever win the Masters, the fourth slot would come down to either Steve Flesch, who had two top-10s in his career at Augusta, or Bob Charles, who never finished better than 15th at Augusta but did win the 1963 Open Championship.
I'll take the major winner. Or, hell, maybe the three Masters winners would actually let me be the fourth.
The Best Foursome
With all that, what would be the best foursome to caddy for at Augusta? Well, given the number of times Tiger, Jack and Arnie showed up in potential foursomes, it would stand to reason the three of them would be near locks for the group.
And Palmer would have to order all of the drinks, for sure.
But if I had to narrow down the list of choices to round out the foursome, it would have to come down to Mickelson, Hogan, Jones or Norman. Mickelson certainly belongs in the group and would provide two players from yesteryear and two from today.
Hogan has a darn bridge named after him, so that would be a cool photo to tweet. By the way, explaining what a tweet, or the Internet or even a cellphone to Hogan would be half the fun.
Norman may be an enjoyable addition if only to hear the horror stories from green to green, breaking up the monotony of all the success from the other three.
Still, with all those greats in the running, the best choice has to be Jones. The man did create the course, after all.
Note: Records and statistics via Masters.com.
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