He was born in Augusta, Georgia, grew up in nearby Columbus, and dreamed of one day playing in The Masters at Augusta National.
As a child, Larry Mize was tempted to sneak over to the sacred course, just a few miles away from his home, to study it, so when his dream came true, when he got on the professional tour, he would know where every ball would land after hitting a certain spot. He was determined to know the terrain at Augusta as well as the arch in his 3-iron. Yet he never snuck in. Ever. It was too much of a shrine to do that. Instead, he landed a job at the exclusive club, working as a scoreboard operator on the tournament's third hole.
Mize was always a strong, consistent player, but he did have a tendency to blow leads and lose tournaments and had only won one PGA tournament in his life -- the 1983 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic, which isn't exactly a classic. He blew a four-shot lead on the last day of the 1986 Tournament Players Championship. He also blew a sudden-death playoff -- to Greg Norman -- at the 1986 Kemper Open by going into the water on the sixth extra hole.
But when the 51st Masters rolled around in 1987, this was the one Mize wanted, the one he dreamed of winning.
Mize eyes victory as he rolls toward the final few holes on the final day. But on No. 15, he plunks a 4-iron shot into the pond behind the green, bogeys and falls behind the leaders. It's his fifth bogey of the day. He also has six birdies, which enables him to stay among the tournament leaders.
As Mize approaches the 72nd hole of The Masters, he is locked in a nailbiter of a duel with Norman and Seve Ballesteros. Mize birdies the 72nd hole from three feet to finish at 71. He walks into the clubhouse, knowing he's the champion if Ballesteros and Norman bogey.
Next up is Ballesteros. He saves par from a bunker to set up the playoff with Mize. He also finishes at 71. Next, it's Norman, who pars 18 to complete a 72 that nearly mirrors Mize's inconsistent day with six birdies and six bogeys, putting him into the playoff.
After 72 holes, the trio sit atop the board at 285, three shots under par. The ninth playoff in Masters history begins on the 10th hole.
Ballesteros is the first to get ousted from the playoff. He 3-putts for bogey, missing a 6-foot second putt. Mize has a chance to win it all, but he leaves a 12-foot birdie attempt hanging on the lip of the cup. He taps in for par. Norman misses a birdie from 20 feet, settling for par … and they go to the 11th, where they both drive the fairway of the 455-yard par-4 hole with water on the left of the green.
Mize pushes his approach way to the right, almost to the 12th tee. He immediately turns his back on the shot while it's in the air, illustrating his frustration. Norman's approach bounces on the green, but dribbles to a stop, 50 feet right of the pin. Mize stares toward Norman's ball. His expression says "Oh no."
Mize knows that he needs to get up and down from a difficult spot to have any chance of extending the playoff. There he stands, 140 feet away. His thoughts creep back to earlier that morning, when he spoke to his teaching pro, Chuck Cook, who told Mize that to get "the sting" back into his strikes, he needs to stand more erect when addressing the ball.
With that in mind, Mize decides to go for it all, to hole the shot by hitting the ball on the face of the club. He knows, after all, there is only one shot to play from here -- the bump-and-run with the club face square.
The shot is as perfect as perfect can be. Perfectly executed, exquisitely timed. Mize freezes. He watches the ball, squinting, his hand over his eyes. He sees how good, how perfect, the ball was hit, and he is thinking, "Oh my God, that's right on! … "
The ball, amazingly, disappears, dropping right into the cup. Immediately, Mize's arms go straight up to the heavens, as high as they can stretch. He exults in a dance, then looks straight up, right up to the sky, to give a nod and a thank you.
Then, being a gentleman and sportsman, he hushes the crowd so Norman can attempt a potential tournament-tying putt in the hushed silence. Norman, needing to hole the long putt, misses and becomes the Masters runner-up for the second year in a row, the third time in the last five major championships he has finished second. He is stunned beyond belief, losing on a wild, unbelievable shot by an opponent.
Mize's shot immediately rises toward the top of the greatest shots in Masters history, right up there with Gene Sarazen's double-eagle in 1935. The day, the moment, belongs to Mize, a dream come true for the kid who grew up a drive and a long putt away from Augusta National.