April 11, 2019: Matt Wallace made history on Wednesday, making the 100th hole-in-one at the Par 3 Contest. Now, the 28-year-old Englishman hopes he can break with history by becoming the first Par 3 champion to go on to win the week’s main event.
Wallace, a Masters rookie, earned his victory with a birdie on the third hole of a sudden-death playoff with Sandy Lyle after missing a birdie for the win on his final hole in regulation.
“I wanted to hole that putt on the last, and I didn’t, and then went to a playoff and it got a little bit more serious than how the nine holes went,” said Wallace, who aced the 120-yard 8th hole en route to shooting 5-under 22. “I guess I just I wanted to win this. I want to break history somewhat.”
The fact that since its debut in 1960 no winner of the Par 3 Contest has prevailed in the Masters the same week has led tour players over the years to muse, seriously and not, about the existence of a jinx.
When Ben Crenshaw held the Par 3 lead with one hole to play in 1987, his father suggested his son hit his ball in the water. Ignoring the advice, Crenshaw, perhaps because he had earned a Green Jacket three years earlier, won the Par 3 and then placed fourth in the Masters. Two winners of the Par 3 Contest have finished as Masters runners-up four days later: Raymond Floyd in 1990 and Chip Beck in 1993.
Like most players in the Par 3 Contest, Lyle was simply looking to make good swings and enjoy the support of the patrons.
“You have big crowds, you want to make some 1s if you can, and if things don’t go well in the first three or four holes, just have some fun,” Lyle said. “But I fortunately had some good starts and I had a whole bunch of birdies in a row so, I thought I better keep my game face on and see if I can do it.”
As always, the Par 3 Contest provided a welcome relief from Tournament preparations for the players, many of whom shared the walk with their significant others and young children.
The holes-in-one only enhanced the experience. In addition to Wallace, three other players made aces on Wednesday: Shane Lowry, Mark O’Meara and Devon Bling.
The inaugural Par 3 Contest was won by none other than Sam Snead. He went on to win it again in 1974, at age 61, a tribute to the ever-smooth tempo of his swing. Snead held the record as the oldest winner for 44 years, until Tom Watson, another golfer who over the course of his long career has all but defied the advance of time, earned the victor’s crystal bowl in 2018. Watson, who was 68 at the time, shot a 6-under-par 21.
Watson’s threesome last year, which also included fellow Masters legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, made history in other ways, too. Player shot a 2-under 25 to become the oldest player, at 82, to break par. On the group’s final hole, Nicklaus suggested that his grandson Gary Nicklaus Jr., who was caddieing for him, take a swing. Dressed in a white caddie jumpsuit, Gary waggled over the ball and hit a high, soft shot over Ike’s Pond that landed beyond the flag and trickled down a slope and into the cup.
Offering “all due respect” to the Masters, Jack Nicklaus tweeted that evening, “allow me to put my 6 Green Jackets in the closet for a moment and say that I don’t know if I have had a more special day on a golf course. To have your grandson make his first hole-in-one on this stage … WOW!”
The Par 3 course itself is nestled in the northeastern corner of the Augusta National property, down a hill from the Clubhouse and the Eisenhower Cabin off the 10th tee. The layout was designed by George Cobb and Augusta National co-Founder Clifford Roberts in 1958, over resistance from some Club members who felt there was no need for a “Tom Thumb” course.
In addition to providing an intimate stage for the Par 3 Contest, the short course has served as an agronomical testing ground. The Par 3’s greens were converted from bermudagrass to bentgrass in 1978, an experiment whose success led the Club to undertake the same makeover with the greens on the main course three years later. Today, the putting surfaces at Augusta National are widely considered some of the smoothest and fastest, as well as most undulating, in professional golf.