Photo: Jackie Burke at 1956 Masters, with Cary Middlecoff & Bobby Jones
Being good enough to earn an invitation to The Masters Tournament – arguably the most exclusive championship in the sport - is the Holy Grail for any golfer.
Just ask Jim McGovern, the head professional at White Beeches Golf and Country Club who spent 10 years on the PGA Tour and played twice in the Augusta, Georgia-based event. McGovern is one of 20 golfers with New Jersey connections – as a native, resident or professional in the Garden State – who has played in The Masters.
“When I was in college, watching Jack Nicklaus, The Masters was something you thought of, but didn’t know if it would ever happen. It’s really something you dream about, but to actually play in that tournament is one of the highlights of my career,” McGovern said.
He actually had a chance of winning in his first Masters in 1994, shooting 72-70-71--213 over the first three days to find himself only four shots behind third-round leader Tom Lehman.
McGovern vividly remembers a crazy Sunday final round that included a double bogey on the par-4, No. 3 and a triple bogey on the par-3, No. 6. After that, though, McGovern went on a tear, adding birdies on holes 8, 9, 11, 13, and 16 – combined with an earlier birdie on No. 5, for a round of even-par 72. That put him at 285, six shots behind champion Jose Maria Olazabal, who shot a final round 69, for a total of 279 to edge Lehman by two strokes.
“I tell people I played so well out of fear of embarrassing myself,” kidded McGovern, who won the 1993 Shell Houston Open, his only PGA Tour victory.
“The Masters was more than I could expect. It was a special week for all of us … my family and friends. Everyone loved it. It’s a bucket-list event. It’s a true test. Every shot is difficult. Sometimes it’s so peaceful. There could be 6,000 people there on a par-3 hole and it’s as quiet a place as there’s ever been.
“Augusta has different nuances. The wind changes from one hole to the next. Putting is like putting in your bathtub and trying to get it to stop before it gets to the drain,” he continued.
“Every hole out there is special. It’s so much bigger than life. When I walked out there for the first time, it was like walking out into a picture. There are more hills – and the course is much more open and wider than you think. I love watching it on TV. It definitely brings back some memories.”
Of the 20 participants with ties to New Jersey, four won the championship. Jackie Burke, Jr., a 16-time PGA Tour winner, won the Masters in 1956. Burke, now 96 years old, resides at the Champions Golf Club which he co-founded in his native Houston, Texas. The three other Masters champions with Garden State ties are Byron Nelson (1937, ’42), Ralph Guldahl (1939) and Craig Wood (1941).
Mike Killian, who served most recently as Director of Golf at Galloway National Golf Club from 2001-2014 and at Hollywood G.C. from 1991-2001, played as an amateur out of his native Florida in the 1973 Masters.
“I saw Jack Nicklaus win there in 1963 and told my father I wanted to play here one day, so when I did, it was pretty much the ultimate,” said Killian, who earned a spot in the event by finishing in the top eight at the 1972 U.S. Amateur. He also qualified for The Masters the next year, but opted for Q-School in November of 1973. He played on the PGA Tour for three years.
Here’s a look at players with New Jersey connections who have competed in The Masters:
(Golfer, N.J. Connection, No. of Appearances, Best Finishes)
• Bill Britton (Director of Instruction, Trump National-Colts Neck) - Two appearances: T-7, 1990.
• Jackie Burke Jr. (Assistant pro Hollywood) - 22 appearance 1950-59, Champion 1956, runner-up 1952.
• Jim Colbert (born in Elizabeth) - 10 appearances T-4, 1974.
• Bobby Cruickshank (Head pro Shackamaxon C.C.) - Seven appearances: T-4, 1936; T-9, 1935.
• Wes Ellis (Head pro Mountain Ridge) - 10 appearances: T-15, 1965; T-16, 1967.
• Johnny Farrell (Head pro Baltusrol G.C.) - 12 appearances: T-14, 1940.
• Brad Faxon (born in Oceanport) - 12 appearances, T-9, 1993; T-10, 2001.
• Vic Ghezzi (Native of Rumson, head pro Deal G. & C.C.) - 25 appearances: T-6, 1941, Eighth in 1935, T-8 1937.
• Johnny Golden (Head pro North Jersey C.C.) - Two appearances: T-21 1934, T-35 1935.
• Ralph Guldahl (Head pro Braidburn, now Brooklake) - 17 appearances: Champion, 1939; Runner-up 1937; Co-Runner-up, 1938
• Jim Herman (Assistant pro Trump National-Bedminster) - Cut, 2016.
• Morgan Hoffmann (Native of Wyckoff, member Arcola C.C.) - T-28, 2015.
• Mike Killian (Head pro Hollywood G.C., Galloway National G.C.) - Cut, 1973.
• Dave Marr (Assistant pro Westwood C.C., Head pro Rumson C.C.)- Nine appearances: Co-Runner-up, 1964
• Jim McGovern (Native of Oradell, member Hackensack, G.C.): Two appearances: 1994, T-5; Cut, 1995.
• Byron Nelson (Assistant pro Ridgewood) - 29 appearances: Champion 1937; Champion 1942; Runner-up 1941; Runner-up 1947; Third 1940.
• Robert “Skee” Riegel (Pro emeritus, Cape May National) - 11 appearances: Runner-up 1951; T-13 and Low Amateur 1948; T-13 1954.
• Paul Runyan (Assistant pro Forest Hill F.C.) - 12 appearances: Third- 1942; T-3 1934; Fourth-1938; T-4, 1936; Seventh, 1935.
• Jeff Thomas (Native of South Plainfield, Plainfield West G.C.) - Cut, 1994.
• Craig Wood (Head pro Forest Hill, Hollywood, Crestmont, Rumson, 1928-38) -23 appearances: Champion 1941; runner-up 1934 and 1935; 6th 1939; T-7, 1940.