How a snake almost derailed Bembridge’s Augusta course record

How a snake almost derailed Bembridge’s Augusta course record


Maurice Bembridge picked the back nine of The Masters on Sunday to hole everything and go lower than anyone had previously done.

Maurice Bembridge played in 15 Opens, four Masters and four Ryder Cups but nothing will likely compare to his trip to Augusta in 1974. The Worksop star, now 77 years of age and an Honorary Member of the PGA, was one of 11 ‘foreign invitations’ to the Masters that year.

The goal at the start of the week was to finish inside the top 24 and get an invite back the following year. The previous year Bembridge and Brian Huggett would beat Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer in the opening fourballs at the Ryder Cup at Muirfield and he would win three times in 1974 including the PGA at Wentworth. But there was nothing out of the ordinary happening in Georgia as Bembridge began with rounds of 73-74-72.

There were some encouraging signs with a front nine of 34 but then Bembridge lit up the back nine to even threaten a leaderboard which Gary Player would finish on top of come Sunday night.

“At the 10th I always felt like the tee was on a downslope, I hit a 3-iron safe and it pitched perfectly on the slope and down onto the flat bit. I hit another 3-iron and somehow holed a 12-foot birdie putt. At the next I drove it to the top of the hill from what is probably the forward tee now. I had a 10-yard putt which I struck very, nicely, too nicely, as it set off like an express train and hit the back of the hole and jumped up and went in.”

The 12th played its full distance which meant that Bembridge would need as much as a 4-iron, which he hit to 10 feet and made for a third birdie on the trot. Five under for the day and two par 5s come.

What did follow was as bizarre as it was entertaining as it was terrifying. Bembridge found the fairway at the 13th where he also encountered, in the middle of the fairway, a water moccasin snake.

“I walked up there and my caddie, Pappy, who had been at the club forever and a day was 50 metres away in the trees. He said in his deep Georgian accent, ‘He’s going to get you, he’s going to kill you!’ I had a plane to catch so I got the longest club, which was a Slazenger blade 2-iron, and came up from behind and bopped him on top of the head. He wriggled about a bit and I caught him on the end of the club and tossed him into Rae’s Creek.

“Pappy was still 50 metres away, I didn’t know they are supposedly very dangerous. The shot looked like a 2-iron anyway so I had the right club and I hit the front of the green and putted up to three or four feet and made another birdie. So that was four in a row.”

Bembridge parred 14 and laid up at the next hole before playing a sand wedge close and that moved him to four under overall and well inside the top 24. He would play a ‘coward shot’ at the short 16th but an up and down from the sand kept the scoreboard ticking over and there was still plenty more to come, on and off the course.

“At 17 I hit too much club, a 6-iron, which hit the back of the green and took the downslope and finished on top of the old 18th tee. I couldn’t see any shot other than a low shot which finished about 15 feet short and I holed that.”

Another 6-iron ran towards the back of the green but Bembridge’s red-hot putter stayed lit for one final effort.

“I left myself 35 feet which only needed a tickle and it was just a matter of two putts and off we go. It kept rolling and just gave itself up at the last minute, another birdie!”

Eleven putts on Augusta’s famed back nine, with something like 115 feet of putts holed, a score of 30 which had never been done before and a share of the course record of 64 with Lloyd Mangrum and Nicklaus.

Peter Alliss rated it as one of the greatest rounds in the history of the game – only Nick Price and Greg Norman have eclipsed it since.

Bembridge’s day of days, he would eventually tie for 9th, would actually continue at the same pace as he was called for at the Butler’s Cabin with CBS before finding a limousine waiting for him.

“I got on a private jet, I had no idea what was going on other than I had to get to New York to change to get to London and then on to the Spanish Open. At Newark there was another limo at the bottom of the steps and I was driven to JFK and I then realised this guy who was looking after me was the boss of CBS. All their big wigs were on the plane, I didn’t know who any of them were other than they liked gin and tonics and liked to play rummy.”


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