Curtis Strange lost the 1985 Masters by two chokes.
The first one was at the 13th hole. Six holes left, three-shot lead.
Strange’s tee shot at the 465-yard, par-5 left him in a predicament. Grab a wood and go for the green, or grab a 7-iron and lay up short of Rae’s Creek.
He grabbed the wood.
Strange’s second shot left him up the creek.
Virtually the same thing happened at the 15th hole, a 500-yard par-5. Once again, Strange auditioned for the movie “Splash.”
He wound up tied for second place, losing to Bernhard Langer by two strokes.
So ended The Strange Masters of Curtis Strange --a supernatural golf experience during which a man who opened the tournament with a round of 80 wound up blowing the championship three days later.
“Choking like a dog,” as Strange now refers to it.
In a practice round for today’s Masters, Strange returned to the scene of the crime for the first time. He was playing in a foursome with Roger Maltbie, Mark O’Meara and David Graham when he reached the unlucky 13th.
For his second shot, Strange grabbed another wood.
Where did he hit it?
“Right in the middle of the green,” he said. “Dammit.”
The foursome started laughing. Strange suddenly remembered a banquet he attended last May, when the Masters choke was still fresh on everyone’s mind.
He gave some opening remarks at the dinner, then asked for questions. No one raised a hand.
“How many of you watched TV about a month ago?” Strange asked the crowd.
Hands went up.
“You mean to say you watched me on TV and you don’t have any questions?”
Maltbie was at the dinner, paying attention.
“Would you do it again?” a face in the crowd finally asked, referring to Strange’s choice of clubs.
Maltbie beat Strange to the answer.
“Not if I was caddying for him, he wouldn’t!” Maltbie shouted.
Strange can laugh about it now. When it happened, though, he was too numb to either laugh or cry. Even when he pulled out of the Augusta National parking lot Sunday night, he “didn’t realize the impact” of what he had done.
For two weeks, he relaxed at home. He noticed that good friends were avoiding the subject of the Masters around him.
“They were probably scared I’d be too sensitive,” Strange said. “If I was as sensitive as people thought, I’d still be (hiding) in the closet.”
Letters started arriving. Friendly, encouraging letters. But Strange began to realize that he had become a tragic figure.
“They treated it like a death in the family,” he said.
He worked up the courage to watch a videotape of the telecast. There he heard “Ken Venturi and all those other armchair quarterbacks” second-guessing his decision.
“I made ‘em look like heroes,” Strange said, sarcastically, of the broadcasters. At this he gave an audible sigh. “Whew. Got that off my chest. That’s all right. You can print it.”
Life on the tour continued, but players, too, avoided the subject.
“There was this one fella who said I didn’t make the right decision at 13,” Strange said. “By the name of Jack Nicklaus, matter of fact.”
“Would you not do the same thing?” Strange recalled asking Nicklaus. “Would you have laid up?”
“ ‘Where the pin was, yes,’ ” Nicklaus answered.
The Golden Bear gave Strange some advice: “ ‘This will do one of two things to you. It will help you or it will destroy you.’ ”
Actually, Strange corrected himself, Nicklaus did not use the word destroy. He said the experience could “prove detrimental.” He also said he thought Strange would recover.
“All I know is that there was only one player in my shoes that day, and that was me,” Strange said. “Only one player had to make that decision, and that was me. Only one player had to live with that, and that was me.”
For a solid year, Strange has had to live with it. He knew that if it had been the Quad Cities Open or the Canon Sammy Davis Jr. Greater Hartford Open he had blown, instead of the Masters, no fuss would have been made.
“Or if it’d been 70-70-70 and then blow a four-shot lead instead of 80-65-68 . . . " he said.
“But I’ve spent an entire year answering questions about it. Every town I go into, there’s the same headline: ‘Masters Still Haunts Strange.’
“Listen, it doesn’t haunt me. Curtis Strange is not haunted by the Masters. It’s part of my life. It’s part of my life that’s not the happiest part, but that’s it. Until I win two or three U.S. Opens or two or three Masters, I’m always going to remember it.
“But it’s not the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
Strange suddenly laughed at his own words.
“On second thought, maybe it is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
When he hit the 13th green in the practice round, Strange felt nice and relaxed. The hole did not haunt him. Ghosts did not jump from the cup.
“My nerve ends weren’t popping out of my fingers,” he said. “I wasn’t choking like a dog like last year. That $10 I had bet today wasn’t like the money on the line last year.”
Still, he was happy to put the hole behind him. Happy to put both holes behind him. Happy to put a whole calendar between the 1985 Masters and today.
“Somebody asked me: ‘What did you learn by it?’ ” Strange said. “Well, I didn’t learn a damn thing.
“I learned not to do it again, that’s what I learned.”
Masters No Longer Haunts Strange.