Noted golf writer Herbert Warren Wind coined the phrase “Amen Corner” in 1958 to describe the 11th, 12th and 13th holes at Augusta National Golf Club.
Wind came up with the term to describe the critical action that occurred on those holes as Arnold Palmer sweated out a rules question in the final round that year to win his first Masters Tournament.
Palmer led the tournament through 54 holes but had not expanded his lead after shooting even-par 36 on the front nine in the final round. A bogey on the 10th hole did not help matters, either.
Entering Amen Corner, Palmer knew he would have to navigate this stretch successfully if he was going to earn his first green jacket.
After making par on the 11th, Palmer’s tee shot on the par-3 12th flew the green and plugged into the bank behind it. Heavy rain the night before had made the course very wet and muddy.
Palmer and the rules official on the 12th were unsure whether he was entitled to a free drop from the plugged lie, so Palmer played the muddy ball and wound up taking a double-bogey five.
Then, he went back and dropped a second ball and played a smart pitch that finished close to the hole. He made the short putt for par and turned his fate over to the Masters committee to decide which score would count.
The committee’s decision was not instant, so Palmer and playing partner Ken Venturi proceeded to the 13th hole. After a big drive, Palmer went for the green and made it to set up an 18-foot putt for eagle.
When the putt dropped, Palmer flung his cap in the air.
Two holes later, Palmer got even better news: The committee ruled that U.S. Golf Association rules were in effect and that Palmer was entitled to his free drop at the 12th hole and a score of three.
Although Palmer bogeyed two of the last three holes, he still held the lead. Defending champion Doug Ford and Fred Hawkins each had chances to tie Palmer if they could birdie the 18th hole, but neither could, and Palmer had won his first major.
After the round, Palmer told reporters that he was not worried about the ruling being in his favor.
“There was no doubt in my heart that it was a three,” he said. “It was just a matter of the officials having to make a decision, and I thought I had a three. I wanted to protect myself, though, and that’s the reason I played both balls, so there could be no question one way or the other.”
The eagle at the 13th was also a big part of his win, and tournament co-founder Bobby Jones compared it to Gene Sarazen’s double eagle on the 15th hole in the 1935 Masters.
“Today, Cliff (Roberts) and I were watching Palmer at 13 and the same exhilaration came over me as did when I watched Sarazen from that mound in 1935,” Jones said. “I said to Cliff, ‘He really hit that one.’ It stopped 18 feet from the cup and he holed it, and that was the deciding factor of the tournament.”
Palmer, who had sweated out the finish with his wife, Winnie, in Roberts’ cabin, summed up what winning the Masters meant to him.
“This is probably the greatest thrill of my lifetime, and I’m not eliminating anything,” he said.