Who Started the Masters Ball Skipping Tradition on Augusta's 16th Hole?

Every year during Masters Tournament practice rounds at Augusta National Golf Clubs, fans gather around the 16th hole and urge every golfer who arrives on the tee to "skip it!" What the fans want to see is the golfers attempt to skip their balls across the pond in front of the 16th, and onto the green. And today, almost every golfer obliges and tries the skip shot.

But who started it? Who was the first Masters Tournament golfer to try skipping his ball across the water on the 16th hole?

We'll be honest with you up-front: The correct answer is, nobody knows for sure. But the Masters ball-skipping tradition has been traced back a ways. Some golfers have even claimed credit for it, even though we now know they shouldn't have.

So let's take a look at the some of the suspects in the creation of the Masters ball-skipping tradition.

Ken Green and Mark Calcavecchia

In a tweet he sent in 2018, Calcavecchia wrote: "Masters fact of the day: Ken Green and me stated the skip shot in 1987. ... A tradition was born!"

In practice rounds for the 1987 Masters, Green proposed to Calcavecchia that they have a little fun on the 16th hole. Green proposed a wager over skipping the ball across the water, even boosting the value of the wager for the number of skips each golfer could achieve and still get the ball onto dry land across the pond.

After word got out of what had happened, Green received a letter from then-Augusta National chairman Hord Hardin scolding him for the supposed affront to Masters Tournament standards. Green says he threw the letter in the trash, and Calcavecchia told Golfweek that he and Green, in a following year, even tried skipping it once on the Augusta National Par-3 Course.

Soon, other golfers in the orbits of Calcavecchia and Green were copying their friends, and the tradition grew from there. Green even told Golfweek, "I'm definitely the one who started it. Seve has been given credit for it, but it was clearly me."

Except that it wasn't. We know, with certainty, that at least a handful of golfers had skipped balls across the 16th hole pond before 1987 — perhaps even long before.

Give Green and Calc credit for this, however: They weren't the first to do it, but once they started doing it, ball-skipping on the 16th hole caught on and spread, and today almost every golfer in the field makes an attempt during practice rounds.

Lee Trevino or Seve Ballesteros

We've already heard Ken Green reference the suggestion that it was Ballesteros who started the Masters ball-skipping tradition. And some pros who were at Augusta National in the 1980s claim they saw — or heard about — Ballesteros doing it.

Lee Trevino is another who fits into that category. Some Masters old-timers swear they saw (or heard about) Trevino skipping balls across the pond at the 16th hole in the early to mid-1980s.

And Trevino himself has confirmed that. In fact, Trevino claimed in an interview with Golf Digest in 2005 that he skipped a ball on the 16th hole in the early 1980s not during a practice round, but during The Masters Tournament itself!

Trevino did not enjoy playing The Masters (he even skipped the tournament several times during his prime), and one year in the early 1980s was having a poor round in the tournament. To break things up, to lighten his mood, Trevino, as a lark, pulled out his one-iron and skipped the ball across the pond. His ball found the green and he 2-putted for par, Trevino told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper.

But wait, we can go back farther than the early 1980s, back beyond Trevino and Ballesteros.

Billy Casper or Tom Kite

According to Golfweek, there is a practice round photo from 1979 that shows Tom Kite skipping the ball across the pond on the 16th hole. Definitive proof that at least some golfers were doing it by that time.

Kite, who played in his first Masters in 1971, told Golfweek: "I don’t know the timing of when I first did it, but I know it has been going on a long, long time."

Billy Casper is another golfer believed to have started skipping the ball from at least the late 1970s. One of his sons recalls hearing Casper claim to have started the shot.

Conclusion?

We can't really make a conclusion, can we, because too much is unknown about the genesis of this partcular Masters tradition. I do think we can say that it was Green and Calcavecchia who popularized it, who helped turn the skip-shot into what it is today, as the shot spread out from them through their circle of friends.

But they definitely weren't the first to do it, not even close. And it won't be a surprise if, some day, evidence, or at least anecdotes, emerge showing the skip shot predates Casper and Kite.

See also: Masters skip shot holes-in-one

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