From the Golf Journal Archives - A Family Affair at Augusta

Mar 30, 2012

Charles, Dan and Danny Yates each had work to do at this year’s Masters, But it was no doubt made easier by having plenty of family support close at hand.

By David Earl

(Note: This article originally appeared in the May 1993 issue of Golf Journal.)

Everything seems to be green at Augusta National Golf Club during Masters week. Not only the closely cropped tees, greens, and fairways, and the towering Georgia longleaf pines, but everything, from the sandwich wrappers, the souvenirs, and the sweaters in the pro shop to the green jackets worn by the members – and the tournament winner. The verdant color seems to be omnipresent, even more so this year because of the slow-to-die winter that minimized the riotous outbursts of dogwoods and azaleas that usually color the venerable course.

Come to think of it, though, there’s one group that definitely isn’t green. That’s the Yates family, of Atlanta. From Uncle Charles Yates, the 1938 British Amateur champion, Walker Cupper and press committee chairman, to Daddy Dan Yates, former Georgia State Amateur champion and press committee member, to the son, Danny, 1992 Mid-Amateur champion, Walker Cupper and runner-up in the 1988 Amateur Championship, there’s no green in the Yateses.

No, sir. Here, we’re talking wisdom and experience aplenty. Charlie Yates – or Charles, as brother Dan calls him – in addition to his distinguished record in competitive golf has the honor of being the oldest current member of Augusta National. Not in years, mind you; he’s just been a member the longest. “Since 1940,” he pointed out proudly. Let’s also throw in that he competed in the first 11 Masters Tournaments – somewhat natural, since as a child he’d follow Bob Jones around East Lake in Atlanta, watching and learning. “Bob was always so kind to us youngsters,” said Charlie. “He’d take us into the locker room and give us a taste of that great elixir of Atlanta, Coca-Cola.” Both Charlie and Dan grew up in their grandparents’ house “just across from the fourth tee,” said Dan.

“Now, you see, the Masters Tournament came along in 1934. It was called the National Invitational, and there weren’t any rigid rules like there are now. In fact, the tournament was originally supposed to be a little get-together for some of Bob’s friends,” Charlie said. My how it’s grown ... but you could still suggest without much fear of contradiction that if Bob were alive today, the contestants would all be his friends.

Dan’s a few years younger than 79-year-old Charlie, as his brown hair attests. “I’ll be 75 my next go-round,” he says. But Dan’s also proud to be an Augusta member since 1960. He’s no slouch as a player, either. When asked his best round at the National, he replied modestly, “Sixty-three … but that was from the members’ tees. “Dan doesn’t take it easy during Masters week; he shares the podium in shifts with his brother and other press committeemen, and generally bears the responsibility of bringing players who’ve shot a hot round, or for some other reason are in demand by the hundreds of journalists, to the interview room. He can typically be found either there or by the scorer’s tent, awaiting the next interview subject.

Dan and Charlie both found enough time during the practice rounds and the competition, however, to walk a few holes and watch Danny play. Not an easy task for at least a couple of the Yateses, however. “It’s just wonderful,” opined Dan’s wife Margaret, “unless he goofs too much.”

“I can’t watch him play,” said Dan. “Once, he made a birdie on the first hole in one competition, and I just had to walk away.”

This wasn’t Danny’s first Masters. The reigning Mid-Amateur champion, who looks like a cross between eventual Masters champ Bernhard Langer and folk/pop crooner Livingston Taylor (brother of James), was participating in his second tournament. (His debut was in 1989; he’d earned the invite via finishing as runner-up to Eric Meeks in the 1988 Amateur.)

At Augusta, Danny was a man with a mission. “I just want to have some fun and enjoy myself this week,” he said on one occasion. When asked about goals, though, he admitted, “I want to make the cut.” Was it too much to suspect that, in addition, he wanted to erase the memory of his only previous Masters, when he struggled to a 77 and an 81? If you’re a golfer, you could understand that, couldn’t you? Sure you could . . .

One remarkable coincidence further ties this trio together. All the Yateses were Georgia State Amateur champions, but would you believe that they all won on the same course at Sea Island?

They arrived separately at Augusta National. Danny was first on the scene, rolling in from Atlanta on Sunday and getting in some ball-striking. It’s exceptionally important to be able to practice on the course in tournament conditions, he emphasized. “The greens are so much harder and faster, and the ball rolls so much farther on the fairways,” he said. “I’ve played here many times before, but the difference in the conditions you’ll find on the course, contrasting a regular round with the members and The Masters, is huge.” He had his cheering section join him, too; wife Lois, son Daniel and daughter Maggie were somewhere near him most any time you cared to look, be it around the golf course or in the clubhouse, and literally dozens of Danny’s friends and associates took time off to come to Augusta to watch him play and lend their support.

The Week’s Work

On Monday morning, the rain was constant, an almost impenetrable deluge. A sign by the first tee informed the faithful few that play would be starting at 11 a.m., which at first looked impossible. But the Augusta grounds crew were out with the squeegees as soon as the precipitation let up, and off went the golfers, group by group. At one, Danny was joined by professionals Keith Clearwater and Fred Funk for a practice round. All three wore sweaters and windshirts – to ward off the damp and cold, but as the course dried, the wind came up and escalated discomfort to a bone-chilling degree. Funk opted out after nine, but Keith and Danny played on stoically. How cold was it by the time they were finished? Nick Price was in the preceding group and explained to no one in particular as he walked off the 18th green, “I haven’t felt my hands for the last hour.”

Tuesday, Phil Mickelson was Danny’s practice round partner. The two had been teammates on a previous Walker Cup, and had paired in a pro-am in Phoenix a few weeks before, where they’d lost in sudden death. It was apparent that they got along famously; Phil’s ready smile and Danny’s low-key wit made a good match. But Danny’s ball-striking seemed to cause him some concern. “My confidence is a little down right now,” he said. Compare that with a Nick Price comment in a pre-competition press interview, when Nick, oozing competence, said, “I’ve moved an extra rung up the ladder. Winning is the ultimate compliment you can pay yourself.”

While Danny was trying to find his game, Dan was occupied trying to find players for the press. Running around like a Sherpa preparing for an Everest climb, he was at one juncture trying to find Fred Couples and Nick Faldo to arrange interview-room appearances, the next second escorting Greg Norman through a gaggle of autograph hunters and camera-wielding galleryites who wanted “just one signature, just one picture.”

Charlie was the last to arrive at Augusta National. Around six in the evening, accompanied by his wife Dorothy and his daughter Sarah, they rolled down Magnolia Lane and, after a pleasant meal, retired to the Butler Cabin.

Wednesday

“I had the finest night’s sleep I can remember,” said Charlie, as they joined Danny, Justin Leonard and Ben Crenshaw along the second fairway The players had started on the 10th hole, and Danny had apparently resolved his swing problems to his satisfaction, because he birdied the 10th and 11th – two of Augusta’s most difficult – and just lipped one out on the 12th. Apparently comfortable with his longtime friend Crenshaw and 1992 Amateur champion Leonard, Danny was making some fine shots, and Charlie looked on approvingly. “I’m a great admirer of my nephew,” he said. “He’s what I’d call a true amateur. I think he’s not going to be unduly intimidated.”

All through his stroll alongside Ben, Justin and Danny, Charlie was the object of a barrage of inquiries by galleryites. “The green coat is like a magnet,” he commented. “When I watch golf with Dorothy, I generally take it off to avoid being asked all these questions. They consider you an authority.”

In the traditional par-3 contest, paired with Bill Casper and Gary Player (who had an ace), Danny shot 30. Joe, his regular caddie from Atlanta, got a rest from the bag-hauling, as young Daniel did the loop for his dad. “Were you any help to him?” one reporter asked. “Nope,” said the 13-year-old. Well, that’s succinct enough.

The Competition

Ah, well. The best-laid plans, and so on. Danny was paired with Ben again, but even his friend’s presence didn’t seem to help his game. It was certainly frustrating for him and his supporters; as Danny headed for the 10th tee, a friend called to him, “Hang in there!” From the expression on his face, that’s exactly what he was doing. I mean, four over on the front, what else could he do? After staying even on the inward nine, the result was a 76, nine back of the five first-day leaders.

“You know,” said Danny, “this was the only day that I can ever remember that I didn’t call my office. I was intending to, but the day just slipped on and on, and I never did.”

A Friday Farewell

Mark McCumber had also posted a 4-over 76, so he and Danny were paired on Friday, off at 8:26 in the morning. The weather prognosticators had called for rain around noon – as it turned out, the downpour held off until later in the afternoon – and the skies were gray and low. Danny’s iron play did not have the precision necessary to eat away at those over-par figures. He was reduced to long par-saving putts on Nos. 2, 3 and 5, and the bogeys, as they will, eventually crept in. It was not pretty to watch him struggle.

It’s a funny thing, though. When you are 42 years old and have been playing competitively for 30 of those years and had your share of victories, a couple of not-so-hot rounds at Augusta don’t bring you down. In the clubhouse dining room, Danny was on an even keel. Two family friends joined him at the table, and the talk didn’t dally on golf, switching instead to doings at school in Atlanta for the kids and such. At one point, Danny even took the lead in the interview, grilling me on Golf Journal circulation and frequency, where we find writers and photographers, and so forth.

Somewhere else around the National, no doubt, Charlie and Dan were scurrying around after the players who were posting scores in the 60s, and attending to other press-committee business. But the focus at Friday lunch was around a small table in the clubhouse, with Lois, Dan, Maggie, and Danny. Looking for a wrap-up to the saga? Why not try philosophy? “Danny 30 years from now, do you suppose you’ll go into a dresser drawer and pull out your competitor’s badge and think back?”

What could he say? Just that boyish grin, a shrug, and a nod. Probably an easier task with all that family support…

Good golf swings seem to be all in the family. When Charlie (above) was just a young’un, he could put a good move on the ball – not unlike his nephew Danny (below). (USGA Museum)


(USGA Museum)