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Bembridge Remembers A Glorious Augusta Day

by John Hopkins - April 6, 2015

Maurice Bembridge belongs in a Tolkien novel: small, stooped and soft voiced, with twinkling eyes and a creased, sunburned face, he looks younger than a man in his eighth decade.

He reminds you of Ian Woosnam. Though neither would trouble a bar set at 5 feet 7, both are golfers you would want on your side because they punched above their weight. And both have history at Augusta. Woosnam’s came with his victory in 1991. Two decades before that, Bembridge played four times in The Masters, three times lasting all four rounds, once finishing in the top 10 and once in the top 25. His highest score was an 86; his lowest, a record-equalling 64, in the last round in 1974. On the 13th in that round he killed a snake with his 2-iron before dipping the club into Rae’s Creek to clean it. As you do.

That performance has been Bembridge’s calling card in a career that saw him play in four successive Ryder Cups starting in 1969 and become a steady performer on the burgeoning European Tour. “I was straight but not very far,” he said recently at Delamere Forest Golf Club, where he qualified for the 1967 Open with a 63, 9-under par, a record that stands to this day.

As he moved around Europe, the southern hemisphere in the winter and the US where he taught for 20 years before settling in Switzerland, Bembridge answered two questions more than any others. The first was about his name: “It’s Morris not Mau-reece” he would say; the second was about his six-birdie back nine of 30 in 1974 when he took only 11 putts.

He recalled this round recently and even after 41 years he has no explanation for his startling form on the inward nine holes.

“On the 10th, I hit 3-iron, 3-iron for a birdie,” he began. “From what would now be the ladies tee on the 11th, I drove to the top of the hill and then hit a 4-iron onto the green and sank a putt of 10 yards.

“The first day we played number 12 we played from the front of the tee to the front of the green, which was a 9-iron, but on the last day we played from the back of the tee to the far right of the green and that was a 4-iron. Holed from 10 feet for a 2.

“Number 13: I hit a soft draw to the middle of the fairway and when I walked to my ball I noticed Pappy, my caddie, was over in the trees to the right. ‘Come over here, Pappy,’ I said. ‘I ain’t coming over there boss,’ he replied, ‘ ... he gonna get you, man.’ He pointed to my ball and I saw a 2-foot long black thing next to it.

“I worked out that this was a snake, a water moccasin, but I wasn’t scared. I didn’t know they are poisonous and dangerous. Anyway, I was in a hurry. I had an aeroplane to catch so I took a 2-iron out of the bag, walked up behind it and bopped it on its head. I picked it up on the clubhead and tossed it into Rae’s Creek. Back at my ball, I hit the same 2-iron on to the front of the green, and two-putted for another birdie.

“Number 14: perfect drive and 8-iron right behind the lag. Two putts.

“Number 15: I was not long enough to take on the water so I laid up with a 6-iron. Hit a sand wedge that pitched 1 yard on the green, bounced and stopped 3 feet away. Birdie.

“On 16 I hit a real cowshot into the right-hand bunker. Played out sideways and from there it rolled to 8 feet. Holed that for a par.

“Number 17: Avoided Eisenhower’s Tree. A 6-iron pitched over the back of the green and ran on to the old 18th tee. From there I hit a linksy shot with a 6-iron, running it through the gully, up the slope and onto the green. It stopped five yards from the hole. Would you believe, it went into the hole?

“Number 18: Kept my drive away from the right side of the fairway and followed it with a 6-iron, which ended on the green’s top level leaving me a 12-yard downhill putt. Two putts and I’m home, I thought. I nudged it and it kept rolling and fell in at the last minute.”

Bembridge didn’t appreciate what he had done. “I was full of adrenaline. It wasn’t my fault that the putts kept going in. I wanted to hold onto the red numbers. That would make me safe for next year.”

Nor did he understand why he was wanted for an interview in the Butler Cabin. He said he had more important things to do, such as catching a plane to Newark and on to London and Madrid for the Spanish Open.

And the 2-iron? “It’s probably in my older son’s garage in Iowa. He has a collection of my old clubs. It was a Slazenger Australian blade. I didn’t change clubs very often in those days.”

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