1956 Masters: TV makes Augusta debut

March, 11, 2011

It's a good thing somebody decided to televise the 1956 Masters -- the outcome might not have been believed, otherwise.

For the first time, the Masters was on TV, in a very limited fashion, so different from what we take for granted today. Only holes 15 through 18 were shown, in black and white, and the coverage of golf remained a work in progress.

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But captured in that grainy footage, albeit sparingly, was what remains the biggest comeback in Masters history.

Jack Burke Jr. started the day eight strokes behind amateur Ken Venturi and, despite shooting what on paper appears to be a rather pedestrian 71, made up all that ground and won the first of his two major championships.

Burke, now 88, is the second-oldest living Masters champion behind Doug Ford and will be honored next month in Augusta by the Golf Writers Association of America for his contributions to the game.

The longtime owner and operator of Champions Golf Club in Houston, Burke was a 17-time winner on the PGA Tour and captured the PGA Championship in 1956, defeating Ted Kroll in the match-play final.

"I thought Venturi was going to win," Burke told Sports Illustrated two years ago in an interview at the Masters, where he was returning after a seven-year absence. "But with that wind, you could only play your best and hope you didn't shoot a hundred."

It was a rainy day, and the wind gusted up to 50 mph at times. That's why only Burke and Sam Snead managed to break par, both shooting 71. Nobody shot in the 60s. And Burke's winning total of 289, 1 over par, remains (along with Snead's in 1954) as the highest winning score in Masters history.

"Going to 17 I knew I had a chance because Mike Souchak told me they were all falling dead behind me," Burke said.

He managed to birdie the 17th and then needed a par at 18 for what turned out to be a one-stroke victory over Venturi, who shot 80. It was the last Masters played without a 36-hole cut.

"Venturi just couldn't make it on the back," Burke said. "He handed me the trophy. And I thank him a lot for that."

Burke, who won the 1952 Vardon Trophy for low scoring average, competed on five Ryder Cup teams and twice was the U.S. captain. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

ESPN Senior Writer




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