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The 13th Hole Merely Has McCumber’s Number

There is a reason some hotels do not have 13th floors. There is a reason Friday-the-13ths are lousy days, as well as lousy movies. Maybe the Masters golf tournament should move its final round to Monday, just to avoid the 13th of the month altogether.

Mark McCumber was having a lovely morning Friday, whistling while he worked, breezing along through the gusts of Augusta on his way to a five-under-par 67, which put him only four shots behind the Masters leader after two rounds.

Jay Frank McCloud, 77, of Sumter, S.C., also was having a nice day. He had a ticket to the tournament, a Ben Hogan-style cap on, a wad of chewin’ tobacco in his cheek and a good spot off the 13th fairway, not far from the notorious Rae’s Creek, where he could watch the golfers decide whether to play safe, short of the water, or go for the green.

This was the very place where Curtis Strange blew his big lead on the last day of the 1985 Masters, going for the green and ending up in the blue.

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McCumber hit his tee shot. He saw it veer toward the gallery, then change directions suddenly and skip about 100 yards, back onto the fairway.

It had hit McCloud in the head.

McCumber ran over to check it out. A spectator told him the striking of the ball against the man’s skull “sounded like somebody hitting a tree with a baseball bat.”

McCloud was conscious. “He never dropped his drink and he never stopped chewin’,” McCumber said.

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Still, at the 13th hole, it’s best to play it safe. So, an ambulance drove right onto the golf course, and McCloud was taken to University Hospital, where he was treated and released.

“He was a Scottish gentleman, just like me. Probably has a head as hard as mine, too,” McCumber said.

It was OK to laugh and do jokes about becoming the next Gerald Ford, but McCumber, a former ministry student, also said a little prayer. On the 13th green, while overlooking his ball, the experience still had him shaking a little, and nausea almost overwhelmed him, McCumber said.

As it was, the little guy with the big swing--he’s 5-8 and 16th in driving distance on the tour--was in good spirits by the end of the round. When he birdied the 18th, something only nine other golfers did all day, he bent deeply at the waist and gave the gods a giant salaam.

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The crowd--those left in it--applauded warmly. Galleries as a rule have been very considerate to McCumber, which is more than can be said for the USA cable television network, which spent most of its live coverage ignoring McCumber, failing to list him among the leaders, even though for close to three hours he was the leader in the clubhouse.

Because of his 76 in the opening round, McCumber was forced to start Friday’s play nearly 3 1/2 hours before the first-round leaders, Bill Kratzert and Ken (I Am Not an Unknown) Green.

About the only time a crowd was unfriendly to McCumber was one year when he was battling Jack Nicklaus for the title at the Doral Open, which he has won twice.

Even though he is from Middleburg, Fla., the Miami audience wanted to see Nicklaus win. One time at Doral, when he had trouble finding his ball, a bunch of spectators became very helpful. “It’s up there! Up there!” they started yelling at McCumber, pointing to the branches of a very large tree.

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Tsuneyuki (Tommy) Nakajima, the Japanese golfer in third place at the Masters at the moment, said the golf crowds in his homeland are far more animated than the ones in the United States.

“I find American galleries very warm, kind and hospitable,” Nakajima said. “Over there, the gallery is not as orderly. They do not always follow the rules. For example, they do not always be quiet when they are supposed to be quiet. Sometimes they are still cheering when you are shooting.”

If American audiences said nothing to Nakajima during a round he played at the Masters eight years ago, it was either out of kindness or sheer pity. He was having a pleasant round one day, pleased to have qualified by winning the 1977 Japan PGA, enjoying the scenery, when suddenly he arrived at the terrifying 13th hole.

He took a 13 on it.

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That continues to be the worst score on any single hole at the Masters since its inception in 1934, matched only by Tom Weiskopf’s 13 on the par-3 12th in 1980.

When Seve Ballesteros got to the 13th Friday, his tee shot ended up in a bare area behind a couple of Georgia pines. One of the world’s great golfers, the two-time Masters champion, the leader of this Masters after two rounds, pulled a 3-wood out of his bag, lined up the shot. . . . and, like the worst weekend duffer, grounded it into the creek.

Nakajima, arriving two twosomes later, did not have such bad luck. He knocked a 5-wood onto the green, then dropped a 20-foot putt into the hole for an eagle.

Somebody asked Tommy Nakajima--a name that has an interesting number of letters, incidentally--how he felt about 13 now.

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“Thirteen?” he asked back.

“It is my friend.”


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