The Masters Champ Who Thought Augusta Members Tried to Prevent His Victory

The surprise winner of the 1946 Masters was Herman Keiser. And for decades after he won — for the rest of his life, really — Keiser was convinced that Augusta National Golf Club members had tried to stop him from winning.

Go back in time to the early days of the PGA Tour and you'll find a different beast entirely, a time in professional golf when gamesmanship that would cause outrage from modern golfers and furious social media posts from fans was par for the course. A time when conditions — both in terms of the physical conditions of golf courses but also the conditions under which tournaments were played — were very different. When procedures were often made on the fly and rules interpreted in, um, interesting ways by local tournament officials.

I often run across accounts of such things in doing research for articles, such as our biography of Herman Keiser.

For decades after his 1946 Masters victory, Keiser felt that he'd won that Masters despite the efforts of then-Augusta National members to prevent him from doing so. They wanted Ben Hogan to win, and many of them (according to stories Keiser said he heard) had placed big bets on Hogan to win. Later, Keiser enjoyed heading south to Augusta National every year for the Champions Dinner as a way of rubbing their noses in his victory, even after most of the Augusta members of 1946 were long gone. (Augusta National also paid former champs who showed up for the Champions Dinner.)

Why would Keiser feel that way? In 1997, a reporter with Sports Illustrated went along on the ride with Keiser and one of his sons as they drove from Ohio to Georgia for the Champions Dinner. That article explains Keiser's feeling about what happened at The Masters in 1946.

Keiser led by seven entering the third round. But the Augusta National poobahs changed his third-round tee time without, Keiser said, bothering to inform him. His friend Chandler Harper happened to hear the starter calling Keiser to the No. 1 tee as Keiser was enjoying a meal in the dining room; he informed Keiser, who rushed to the tee without warm-up.

When he got to the first tee, Keiser also discovered that his caddie had been changed — he now had a 13-year-old who could barely carry the golf bag. (Players were not allowed to use their own caddies in those days.)

He also was, Keiser said, warned by sportswriter Grantland Rice, an Augusta member who, Keiser believed, had a big bet on Hogan to win, that Keiser better start playing faster or he'd have to call a penalty on himself. It was an attempt to rattle him, Keiser believed.

Keiser still led by five entering the final round, but had to deal with (in his recollection) withering stares from Augusta members, not to mention non-existent crowd control that sometimes resulted in fans racing across fairways just as he was about to hit.

One thing that didn't change for Keiser: His final-round playing partner. In the early days of The Masters, it was tradition for Bobby Jones to play the final round with the third-round leader. Beginning in 1946, that tradition fell to Byron Nelson, and Nelson always believed his role was to encourage the leader and help him to victory.

And Nelson was, no surprise, a classy fellow-competitor to Keiser that day. And Keiser needed the support: Rattled, he shot 74, including a 3-putt on the final green that he figured cost him the title. But a short time after Keiser finished, Hogan reached the final green with a chance to win, only to 3-putt himself. And Herman Keiser became — despite, he believed, the efforts of Augusta National members to prevent it — the 1946 Masters champion.

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