Dan Forsman’s Final Four — at Augusta
With the Masters teeing off Thursday, Utah resident looks back at his years playing in the Masters. He competed for the Green Jacket six times, but four visits to Augusta National stand out the most.
The Final Four is traditionally billed as college basketball’s greatest weekend, with tonight’s championship game capping it off. It also precedes golf’s first major of the year, the Masters, nobly coined by CBS’s Jim Nantz as “A tradition unlike any other.”
In the case of Provo’s Dan Forsman, his Final Four is actually at the Masters.
Forsman played Augusta National six times as a professional. The closest he came to winning the coveted Green Jacket was in 1993, but his cluster of memories, including tremendous highs and gut-wrenching lows, remain firmly intact.
A round with The King
Passing through the gates of Augusta National Golf Club on the Georgia-South Carolina border might as well have been the Pearly Gates for Forsman, because he was in heaven.
“It was incredible,” he said, thinking back on his 1986 debut. “I had never been there before. The electricity of the whole idea of driving down Magnolia Lane, seeing the rolling hills, the pine trees, the azaleas in bloom. It was like a dream.”
The celestial moment even included a tee time with The King — Arnold Palmer.
Forsman won Palmer’s Bay Hill Classic three weeks earlier and the golf legend met him with a special request during the awards ceremony.
“Dan, it’s my tradition that I invite my champion to join me for a practice round on Tuesday at Augusta,” Palmer told Forsman. “Would you join me?”
“Yes, Mr. Palmer,” Forsman replied. “I’d be honored to.”
Forsman arrived at the driving range 1 ½ hours early to get ready.
“As I am warming up, I hear in the crowd, ‘There he is! Mr. Palmer!’” Forsman said. “I watched him come through the throng of people like he was Elvis, and he gave me a thumbs up.”
Adoring members of “Arnie’s Army” stood three and four deep on the tee box to watch Palmer, a four-time Masters champion, and Forsman begin their round.
“I was very nervous,” Forsman said. “I just tried to get the ball airborne.”
With the first shots in the fairway, the two began a 4 ½-hour journey together around one of the most revered golf courses in the world. For Forsman, the day was a mixture of shock and awe.
“He was the most genuine superstar I had ever been around,” Forsman said. “He had charisma that was appealing to everyone.”
The two didn’t keep score and at the end of the round, Palmer shook Forsman’s hand and wished him well.
“He said, ‘Best of luck in the tournament. I’ll be pulling for you,’” Forsman said, while remembering the pen marks all over Palmer’s hands from satisfying the autograph seekers who surrounded him at every turn.
When you are nicknamed The King, that’s what you do.
A second legend awaited Forsman in the second round of the tournament when he was paired with 1970 Masters champion Billy Casper. As it turned out, Forsman beat Casper, Palmer and three-time Masters champion Gary Player, but all four missed the weekend cut and each left with the same prize — a $1,500 check.
Jack Nicklaus won the Green Jacket.
When his alarm clock sounded Sunday, April 11, 1993, Forsman woke up at his third Masters as a contender, trailing Bernhard Langer by four shots.
A surprise visitor at the practice green provided a pep talk.
“I look up and Gary Player is walking over to me dressed in his all Sunday-black attire, and he says in his South African accent, ‘Dan, I want to speak with you,’” Forsman recalled. “He told me, ‘You’ve got the game to win out there, but you have got to use your head out there today. There are pin placements that you have to be careful with. I know you can do it.”
Forsman was stunned but motivated, and by the time he stepped onto the tee box at the 12th hole, he had pulled within one shot of the lead.
“People in the crowd were shouting, ‘You can win this!’ You can win it!’” Forsman said. “It was an out-of-body experience. I had always dreamed of being at Augusta on Sunday with a chance to win it.”
The giant white scoreboard showed Langer at 9-under and Forsman at 8-under. This was it. This was his moment to take command of the tournament, and everybody seemed to be on board — except for his 7-iron.
“As soon as I hit it, I saw the ball in the air and I knew it wasn’t going to make it,” Forsman said. “It all happened so fast, but it seemed to be moving in slow motion.”
Forsman watched the ball splash into Rae’s Creek that ran along the front of the green. The crowd gasped as the golfer and his caddie questioned the swirling winds and pine straw while trying to process what had happened.
With a penalty stroke, Forsman attempted a second shot from the drop area, which had been soaked by the overnight rain. The advice Player had provided earlier in the day was long gone. Forsman was in a panic and without a clean lie, his second shot hit short of the hole and slowly rolled back into Rae’s Creek — again.
“It’s humiliating, embarrassing, shocking, a jolt to the system,” Forsman said. “You can’t believe it. You played so well up to that point and in a matter of 10 minutes, it was gone.”
Forsman tapped in for a quadruple-bogey 7 and fell five shots off the lead.
CBS golf analyst Verne Lundquist described it this way during the broadcast: “It’s a quadruple bogey for Dan Forsman and one that will remain in his memory for as long as he lives.”
As Forsman moved to the next hole he was in deep need of a pick-me-up when a familiar face in the crowd caught his attention — it was BYU golf coach Karl Tucker. Forsman had followed Tucker’s advice years before when the coach introduced him to his future wife Trudy Holley — and he was wise enough to listen again.
“He said, ‘Forget about that hole and play hard and focus,’” Forsman recalled. “You are playing great!”
Comforted and with some renewed determination, Forsman responded with birdies on the next two holes and went on to record a personal-best seventh-place finish.
Two months later, at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament in Columbus, Ohio, the winningest major champion in golf history sought Forsman out.
“Dan, Barbara and I watched you on the flight home. We saw what happened on 12. We are so sorry about that,” Nicklaus told him. “But let me tell you this, you will never forget that, and you will be better for it.”
Nicklaus finished his classy consultation by giving Forsman a tip on improving his swing.
Forsman returned to Augusta National in 1994 and delivered a masterful performance during Friday’s second round.
“I felt good that day. I felt confident,” Forsman said. “I was driving the ball well and hitting a lot of greens.”
Forsman made seven birdies, including a 25-foot putt on 16 to shoot a 66 and lay claim to the lowest round in the tournament. He went to sleep Friday night one shot off the lead.
“I was thinking maybe I’ll get that second chance,” he said. “But I ran into trouble on Saturday and shot a 76.”
A second straight top-14 finish and a crystal vase for shooting the lowest round was enough to make for a memorable Masters, but there was something else that meant a little bit more.
Forsman returned to the scene of that quadruple bogey to make amends. Clearly, the demon that terrorized him on the 12th hole the year before had gone on to bother someone else, as he shot a redemptive par in all four rounds.
Tailing a Tiger
The drive down Magnolia Lane to play in the 1997 Masters didn’t seem too different from the other five for Forsman, but it ended unlike any of the others.
Facing a Friday putt on 17, Forsman noticed a spike mark in the path of his ball. Rules back then prevented a player from repairing it before his shot.
“My putt hit the mark and it pushed the ball offline just enough where it caught the corner of the hole and lipped out,” Forsman said. “As a result, I had to birdie 18 to make the cut and instead I made par.”
The par on 18 would become his last hole at the Masters, but instead of packing up and heading out, Forsman decided to stick around for the weekend. He sensed there was something special brewing. Tiger Woods was on the grounds and making his professional debut at a major.
“I was in the clubhouse and caught wind of what he was doing on the course, how far he was hitting the ball and the shots he was making,” Forsman said. “I wanted to see this young phenom who was, by all accounts, going to be the next superstar of the game.”
Forsman joined the patrons on Sunday and followed Woods on the course for 18 holes. A national writer noticed him in the crowd and asked, “Dan, what are you doing out here?”
“I want to see history,” Forsman replied. “And I’ll be darned if he didn’t do it. It was amazing. I applauded for him.”
Woods won the first of his five Masters and 15 majors by a Masters tournament-record 12 shots. The New York Times described Tiger’s performance as the “four days that changed golf.”
A special place
Forsman won nine professional tournaments with 64 top-10 finishes that pushed his career earnings to just under $14 million. At 64, he dabbles with the Champions Tour on occasion, but for the most part, his current golf conquests are mostly confined to Riverside Country Club, where he freely shares his expertise with area golfers who can only dream of playing in the Masters.
“Going there (Augusta National) and seeing what Bobby Jones created in a celebration of golf was a special experience,” Forsman said. “He had the foresight to build this place and create this amazing tournament.”
Amazing indeed, but that doesn’t mean Forsman will be watching this weekend.
“I almost can’t watch when it’s on television,” he said. “When I get into it, it’s like I’m back there. All the emotions come flooding back.”
Forsman’s quest for the Green Jacket may be history, but his personal Final Four still stands as tall as the Georgia pines. His recollections of driving down Magnolia Lane, walking with The King, contending on a Sunday, and witnessing Tiger’s triumph are what will forever keep Forsman’s memories of the Masters “unlike any other.”
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and is a play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.