What happened the last time the Masters was cancelled?

The last time The Masters was threatened by cancellation was 1942. They decided to play on despite the news breaking that weekend about the fall of the Philipines. It’s a good thing they did play.

The 1942 Masters featured two of golf’s greatest champions. It went to a Monday, two-man playoff, and should be remembered as one of the most dramatic finishes in Major golf.

The 2020 Masters has been postponed, and possibly canceled, for 2020 due to the spread of the Coronavirus or COVID-19. It’s the first time since 1945 that The Masters tournament has been canceled or postponed.

The last Masters before the World War Two interruption was contested in Augusta on April 9-12, 1942. It would be canceled from 1943-45. The other Majors also had their contests interrupted.

The PGA Championship was played in May of 1942, but the British Open (canceled since 1940) and the US Open were both shelved in 1942. In 1943, no Majors were played. Only the PGA Championship would be held in both 1944 and 1945. All other Majors were suspended until after the war concluded.

It’s interesting to think about that April weekend in 1942 from the American perspective. Of course, Europe had been embroiled in conflict since late 1939. The cancellation of the British Open in 1940 made perfect sense when you consider Nazi forces were capturing Paris during the scheduled tournament weekend that year. No doubt the halls of British Parliament were filled with shouts of anxiety knowing the United Kingdom was next on Der Fuhrer’s list.

Even the venerable old links at Turnberry, a regular on the Open Rota, was doing its part by that time. The hotel had been converted into a hospital and the airfield running down the middle of the Ailsa course was a flurry of activity where new pilots were being trained to fend off the anticipated German invasion.

But the war had not yet reached American shores in 1940. While Europe erupted, the US was still trying to fight its way out of the Great Depression. Our military was a shambles, having been grossly under-funded for more than a decade. Simply put, we were in no shape to go to war. Roosevelt knew this and tried to remain neutral. He was able to hold this tenuous position until December 7, 1941.

The dominoes fell quickly after Pearl Harbor. We declared war on Japan the next day. We then declared war on Germany on December 11, 1941. It would be the official start of almost four and a half years of global war for the United States.

The first few months of the war for the United States were nothing short of a disaster. Our Pacific fleet had been crippled at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese overran Wake Island just before Christmas.

Since the day after Pearl Harbor, the American forces in the Philipines were under constant assault by the Japanese. We slowly lost ground, retreating down the Bataan Peninsula, through January, February, and March until the weekend of April 9. That was also the first day of the 1942 Masters Tournament.

On the morning of Friday, April 10, 1942, patrons and players alike entered Augusta National down Magnolia Lane to watch the second round of The Masters. Paul Runyan and Horton Smith were leading at 5-under after the first round.

The first day on the course had been a little wet and warm. A weather front was moving through and, by Friday morning, the temperature had dropped into the low 60s with a predicted afternoon high in the mid-70s.

As they filtered into the clubhouse and the locker room seeking a warm cup of coffee and a bite to eat there were no doubt fresh copies of the New York Times laying about. The top line of the front page headline likely threw a pall over the assembling crowd of fans and players.

“Japanese Capture Bataan and 36,000 Troops”

Among those 36,000 captured were roughly 12,000 Americans. Worse yet, the Japanese victory in the Philipines opened the real possibility of an invasion of Australia.

With that news bubbling through the Georgia pines, Byron Nelson, a shot back to start the day,  set out to secure the lead going into the weekend.

One has to wonder if the entire round was a bit subdued. No doubt there were many boys from Georgia among those captured in Bataan or forced to fall back to Corregidor in Manila Bay. Their families, likely some relatives in the crowd that day at Augusta, must have had their minds drawn elsewhere.

Still, they played on.

Saturday of the 1942 Masters was cold and dry. The temperature wouldn’t get above 70 and most of the field would fail to shoot below 70 – except Ben Hogan. His spectacular 67 was a full four shots better than anyone else in the top 10 and five strokes better than Nelson’s 72. Despite his sterling performance, Hogan would be three shots back heading into Sunday.

Nelson would maintain the solo lead all weekend until his final stroke on 18 when he tapped in for a 73. His stumble on the final day allowed that other Texan from Ft. Worth to sneak into a two-man playoff scheduled for the next day, Monday, April 13.

Just think about that. Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan in an 18-hole playoff at Augusta. What would you give to have been there? Did I mention the match was refereed by Bobby Jones himself? Yep, that happened, too.

Nelson had a wild opening nine holes of the playoff with a double-bogey, a bogey, two birdies and an eagle to go 1-under at the turn. Hogan had a considerably less stressful front nine going out in even par with one birdie and one bogey.

The back nine of the 1942 Masters playoff is likely one of the most compelling finishes you’ve never heard about.

Hogan bogeyed 10 and went two-down with eight holes to play. The dangerous and intimidating Amen Corner – holes 11, 12, and 13 – likely to decide the match. Hogan birdied 11, parred 12, and birdied 13 in an amazing effort to claw back from his two-stroke deficit.

Nelson, after a loose and confidence-shaking front nine birdie all three holes of Amen Corner. Combined they went 5-under on the treacherous three-hole stretch.

Hogan had entered Amen Corner 2-down. He exited 3-down, with only five holes left to play. So what do you imagine Ben Hogan did?

He birdied 14 and 15 to get within one shot of Nelson entering the famous par-3 16th hole.

The crowd must have been on pins and needles as Hogan teed up his ball on the 16th hole. Inexplicably, Hogan under-clubbed and had to chip up for a two-putt bogey. Nelson, having seen his competitor make the mistake, safely guided his ball on the green and two-putted for par. Hogan was now down two with two holes to play. The match was over. Despite a bogey from Nelson on the 18th, Hogan was unable to muster another birdie and fell one stroke shy of forcing another playoff.

Nelson’s 69 clipped the Hawk by a single stroke giving Nelson his fourth Major victory and second Masters title. It would be four long years before the Masters would be held again. Ironically, in 1946, Hogan would again fall one stroke short of victory, losing the title to Herman Keiser.

Like all of you, I will miss the PGA, NBA, NHL, MLB and virtually every other sporting event scheduled this spring. But we will make it through this interruption. It’s all temporary and life will resume much faster than it did back in World War Two. Until then, spend some time exploring the rich history of this game we all love. You’ll find it can bring a smile to your face even in hard times such as these.

For more information about COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website or the website for your state’s Department of Health.