Having lost in the final of The Amateur in 1994, seeing an invite to The Masters slip by in the process, Gordon Sherry wasn’t about to make the same mistake in ‘95.
England’s Michael Reynard was beaten emphatically at Royal Liverpool, 7&6 the score. For months after, Sherry’s head was consumed by thoughts of one place and one place only: Augusta National.
“You have to remember,” he says, “I was 21 and still at uni. Until then, the Masters had been nothing more than a dream. It had captured my attention for the first time in 1986, when Jack Nicklaus won at the age of 46, and now, a decade later, I was going to play in it. For a young boy from Barassie, it was ‘Roy of the Rovers’ stuff.”
Twenty-five years on, Sherry talks us through that incredible week…
“I’d spent most of the previous week at the Golf Club of Georgia – just me and my caddie, ‘Turnberry George’ - getting acclimatised and doing a bit of practice. On the Sunday, I headed down to Augusta to register.
One of the things that really stands out is being asked what car I’d like to drive for the week. I mean, there’s me, a university student, driving a Nissan back home, and I turn up at Augusta National and they’re offering me a car. I said, ‘One with four wheels and a steering wheel please.’ They explained that I could take my pick from four different types of Cadillac. There was an SUV, a saloon, something else, and a sports car. Well, guess which one I went for? A Cadillac Eldorado with a 4.2L engine. I mean, what an experience to be handed the keys to this thing and told, ‘Okay, Mr Sherry, your car’s in Bay 4, off you go.’ It was unbelievable.
I declined the chance to stay in the Crow’s Nest above the clubhouse, though. It was very small and I’m not, so I stayed in a house ten minutes away instead.
I picked up clubhouse passes for my family: my mum, my dad, my brother and my aunt and uncle. I had a couple of extra passes for a few pals who were there. What I didn’t know was that, when you get there, you get offered extra grounds passes. At that time, you could get an extra 12 passes if you wanted them. I remember thinking ‘oh no’ because there were lots of people who’d asked me to get them tickets but I’d told them no because I thought I’d used up my allocation. A real shame and I felt a bit bad about that.
Sunday at Augusta is generally a pretty quiet day where there’s not much going on and the course is still open to members (or, at least, it was at that time). Anyway, I got myself ready – I shared a locker for the week with Scott Simpson and Curtis Strange and the latter apparently wasn’t best pleased at my size 15s taking up almost all the space! – and went down to the range.
John Daly, who, if you remember, was the reigning Open champion, came over for a chat and I stood and watched him hit balls for a while. Honestly, it was exceptional. He had a 0-iron in his bag and I’m not kidding, this thing was going further than my driver. What a player.
I then went out and played nine holes on my own. Gordon Simpson, who was with the Daily Record at the time, walked round with me and George. Being on the golf course at last was unreal. I remember standing there on the first tee and turning to the other two and saying, ‘Isn’t this incredible?’ It was hard to take in. There’s this course that you’ve known about all your days and, suddenly, you’re about to play it. I was in absolute dreamland for those nine holes."
“After the peace and quiet of Sunday, Monday is when patrons are allowed in for the first time. The place was mobbed. Through working with Bob Torrance, I’d arranged to play 18 holes with Sam, who invited Ian Woosnam and Frank Nobilo along, too. Thinking back on it now, it was probably one of the most special days of my life, and not just because it was my birthday.
Sam and Woosie were two of my heroes when I was a wee boy and, only a few years later, here I was, teeing it up at Augusta National alongside them. It was phenomenal, particularly with Woosie having won the Green Jacket just five years earlier. He and I have kept in touch ever since, actually, and exchange a few emails every year. The man’s a legend and, I kid you not, he shot the easiest 64 that day that I think I’ve ever seen. Honestly, it was just so good.
I played well that day, too. I eagled the 15th, almost had a hole-in-one at 16 and, when I walked up to the 18th green, the whole crowd started singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. God knows how they knew. It must have been in the programme or something. But, yeah, it was very special. I still get goosebumps when I think back to it.
That was Monday afternoon. On Monday night, I went to the International Overseas Dinner, which I don’t think they do anymore. I turned up early and, for a while, it was just me and Nick Faldo. We struck up a conversation. Again, unreal. Another hero and, of course, he would go on to win that week.
Anyway, the dinner table was a big square in this massive room and I was sat directly opposite Greg Norman. One of the traditions at that dinner was for the chairman of the club, Jackson Stephens, to ask first-timers to stand up and introduce themselves.
It went in alphabetical order and, by the time they got to ‘S’, I could sense everybody was getting a bit bored. So, when it came my turn, I stood up and said, ‘Hi everyone, my name’s Gordon Sherry, I’m from Scotland and I’m an alcoholic – sorry, wrong meeting!’ The place went berserk. I met Norman’s eye and he was laughing and shaking his head at the same time. Afterwards, he came up to me and, still laughing, he said, ‘I cannot believe that you did that, at Augusta of all places! You’re insane!’ Luckily, everybody saw the funny side.”
“Another incredible day – 18 holes at Augusta in the company of Tom Watson. It came about completely by chance. We’d obviously played a practice round together at The Open the previous summer and, in January ’96, I was over in Arizona whilst I was off uni and went to the Phoenix Open. I met him after the pro-am on the Wednesday and he said to me, ‘Do you fancy a practice round at Augusta?’ Of course, I accepted. He said, ‘Okay, I’ll see you at eight o’clock on the range on the Tuesday morning and we’ll tee off at nine.
That was the end of January and I never saw him or spoke to him or exchanged emails or anything like that between then and the week of The Masters. So, obviously, I wasn’t sure if we were still going to play. But on the Monday, I saw he had put our names down on the tee sheet for Tuesday morning, 9am, with two ‘X’s in the fields for the third and fourth players. I thought ‘Wow’. Sure enough, there he was at 8am on the range on the Tuesday morning.
He was brilliant with me. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s also incredibly observant. One of the first things he said to me that day was, ‘Oh, you’ve got new clubs. What happened to your Titleists?’ He was right, of course. I had used Titleist clubs at St Andrews in 1995 but had recently started testing a set of Callaways and Tom noticed immediately. Not that I was all-Callaway that week. Titleist sent me some balls to use. I say ‘some’. They sent me 12-dozen. Clearly, they thought I was going to struggle!”
“I played another nine holes in the morning with Sam and had planned to play in the Par-3 in the afternoon. Trouble was, I hadn’t realised that spaces were limited and that, by the time I put my name down, the tee sheet was full. So, I missed out on that but I wasn’t that bothered. I was already starting to think about the first round and, besides, I had another dinner to go to that night.
This one was for all of the amateurs in the field, which, of course, included Tiger Woods. Sitting between us was the club chairman, Mr Stephens, and, over dinner, he asked me why I hadn’t made a visit to practice at Augusta before that week. I said, ‘I didn’t know I was allowed.’ He said, ‘No, we told the Scottish Golf Union that you could come any time you wanted.’ That message was never passed on to me. Never mind me being angry, he was angry. I could see it in his eyes. Obviously, if I’d been given the message, I would have been there. No question. It was really disappointing. Still, I couldn’t dwell on it. I had a tournament to play.”
“It’s different now but, back in 1996, the Masters field was smaller and so players went off in two-balls. My partner for the first round? The winner of the tournament just four years earlier, Fred Couples. You’ve never met a more laid-back person in your life. I remember the pair of us standing on the first tee. I’ll not say what was running down my leg but put it this way: it wasn’t sweat. I was shaking like a leaf. Meanwhile, there’s Couples standing bouncing a ball on his driver. What a guy.
Anyway, the moment arrived and it was my turn to play. Total shambles. The announcer said, ‘On the tee, from Scotland, England, Sherry Gordon.’ At first, there was an awkward silence, then a little smattering of polite applause and just as the applause died down, somebody from over on the left shouted, ‘It’s Gordon Sherry, ya twit!’
Over the next nine holes, I learned why Augusta has the reputation it’s got. I was seven-over at the turn. It was just total inexperience. I made so many bad decisions. I rallied well on the back nine, came back in 35… and signed for a 78. I walked off feeling like it was the end of the world. Welcome to The Masters.”
“Looking at the leaderboard on Thursday night, I figured I was going to have to be at least ten shots better on Friday to make the cut. Like me, Couples had also carded a 78 on the first day and, because in those days there was a re-draw after the first round, we found ourselves playing together again in round two.
I played better but hit balls in the water at 12 and 13 which killed off any hopes I had of making the cut. Three-putting 17 and bogeying 18 didn’t help. I carded a sloppy 77. The cut fell at 146. At 155, I was well off the pace.
Couples? Couples did what I wanted to do. A four-under 68 saw him make the cut on the number. He went on to finish tied 15th. But for me, my Masters was over.”
“I decided to stick around over the weekend, practice a bit more and just try to enjoy the experience of watching the golf with my friends as much as I could. It’s just such a special place. It’s fascinating, a place we all feel like we know so well, but not many of us will ever get to see in person and fewer still will get to play. Then you’ve got all of the traditions.
It’s one of those places you never want to leave. I’ve been back a few times since 1996 and it doesn’t get any less magical. I’ve got so many special memories of it. It’s quite a place.”
This feature first appeared in issue 183 of bunkered. For our latest brilliant subscription offer, click here.