Michigan almost had a Masters champ: This week, Dan Pohl finally returns to Augusta

Dan Pohl played in seven Masters in the 1980s, losing in a playoff…

Michigan almost had a Masters champ: This week, Dan Pohl finally returns to Augusta 1

Dan Pohl played in seven Masters in the 1980s. But he hasn’t been back to the hallowed grounds of Augusta National Golf Club since his last appearance, in 1989.

And to think, he was one stroke from being able to go back every year.

“Every Masters,” Pohl said, laughing, when asked how often he thinks about that. “I wouldn’t be human and I wouldn’t be a golfer if I didn’t think that, if not for for one shot.

“I always tell people, ‘I tied for first at Augusta.'”

Pohl, then a 27-year-old mustachioed bomber on the PGA Tour, finished runner-up at the 1982 Masters, losing in a playoff to Craig Stadler on the first extra hole of Pohl’s first appearance at Augusta. He shot a final-round 67 and made up six shots on the back nine Sunday to a stumbling Stadler, who missed an 8-footer for par on the 18th hole, then won it with a par on the playoff hole, No. 10.

Masters champions get to return every year, for the Tuesday champions dinner, and to compete as long as they want. Gary Player played until he was 73. Runners-up get no such status.

This week, Pohl, a Mount Pleasant native, will return to Augusta for the first time since that last tournament appearance in 1989, when he finished 42nd. This Masters marks No. 40 since Pohl’s so-close date with history.

He’s making the trip with childhood friend Todd Anson, who attends the Masters every year. Anson is flying in Wednesday from San Diego, Pohl from Mount Pleasant.

“Todd has been trying to get me to go there for a while, but I’ve been busy with the golf course,” said Pohl, the designer of Mount Pleasant’s Pohlcat, who was brought back by ownership in recent years to help revitalize the facility. “It’s early April, we’re just starting out, and normally we do the Novi golf show, we’re booking things. It’s kind of crazy getting things ready, getting all our product in for the pro shop.

“This year, I kind of made the commitment to do some other things. I play a little bit more, just fun staff, I want to travel a little bit more. This last year, everything just kind of caught up with me. I just turned 66 last week, and you never know when’s the last time you’re gonna be able to get up and go.”

So many memories

Pohl, and Anson, also 66, will stay in Augusta through the weekend, at nearby Sage Valley. They’ll play some golf. They’ll hang with friends, including former PGA Tour player Notah Begay, who’s staying at the house. And they’ll hit the Masters on Thursday, for the first round.

Anson said he’s eager to walk the fairways with Pohl and observe his reactions. They’re former Pony League and high school baseball teammates. In one memorable 1969 Pony League game, Pohl struck out 16 and Anson homered. Anson now calls them just “two rednecks” from Mount Pleasant.

“I want one half a day to walk with Pohl, see what he sees, the practice center,” said Anson, noting back in the 1980s, Pohl became the first man to hit practice drives over the net onto Washington Road.

“For me, it’s like a full-circle nostalgia tour.”

Pohl said not so much excited to go back, but rather “intrigued.”

Augusta National has undergone many renovations since he last was there, most notably the lengthening of the course post-Tiger Woods. It was the first course to “Tiger-proof” its layout. There never was a thought of a “Pohl-proof,” even though he could drive it 320 to 330 yards back in the day. (Pohl led the PGA Tour in driving distance in 1980 and 1981, at around 280 yards. But those stats were misleading, because the PGA Tour only measured two holes a round, and often picked narrow driving holes where long hitters laid up.)

“I really want to take a look at some of the new tee boxes in the trees, like No. 7, places like that, No. 11,” Pohl said. “The golf course is not gonna change from the middle of the fairway from 150 yards out. It’s just about how you get there. I’m really interested in how they did the practice facility. Back when I first started, and before that, the first couple years, we had to have guys shag balls for us.

“The entry is probably not gonna change, that first drive in, but just the whole aura of the place has been opened up to so many new golf events, with the ladies event, and the (kids’) Drive, Chip & Putt.

“I’m just very intrigued about the whole complex.”

During that Thursday walk, Pohl, no doubt, will allow himself to reminisce, especially at Nos. 13-16, where on Saturday of the 1982 Masters he went eagle-eagle-birdie-birdie. He’s the only man to go 6 under through a four-hole stretch at Augusta. At the time, he was the first to make back-to-back eagles. Since, he’s been joined by Dustin Johnson in 2009, Phil Mickelson in 2010 and Webb Simpson in 2018.

“If you’re in the history books in anyway at Augusta National,” said Pohl, “that’s something to be said.”

From 1982-87, Pohl was one of the better golfers on the PGA Tour, with two wins and seven top-10s in majors (he was tied for third in 1983). In 1987, he led the PGA Tour in scoring average. He was considered arguably the best athlete on the PGA Tour, back when conditioning and athleticism weren’t valued like they are today. At Mount Pleasant High, Pohl was all-state in golf, baseball and basketball. But back injuries derailed his career following 1987. They still hamper him. He had another back surgery last year.

Pohl still compiled one of the most-decorated professional golf careers in Michigan history, winning twice in 1986, playing in the 1987 Ryder Cup and doing on-air work for NBC Sports. He’s in the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame. But nationally, he’s probably best remembered for the one that got away, in 1982. He would’ve been the first and only Michigan native to win the Masters (Horton Smith won it, but spent his later years in Michigan, not his early years). Pohl hit the perfect tee shot on the par-4 10th. He had just a 6-iron, staring at a middle pin. But he pushed it to the one place you can’t, right, leaving him a long putt through a couple feet of fringe. He left that attempt short, and missed an impossible-to-read 6-footer on a crown that announcers that day — Vin Scully was lead analyst — called the toughest putt on the course that day.

Stadler left his approach 25 to 30 feet short, and two-putted for what would be his only major championship.

“I relive the second shot more than anything,” said Pohl, who’s PGA Tour career started a long line of Mount Pleasant representation on the major golf tours (Cindy Figg-Currier, Kelly Robbins, Doug LaBelle and Ryan Brehm). “I’m not concerned with the putts. I did what I could with those. … I just left the 6-iron in a really bad place to try to two-putt from.

“I was told from a lot of people that nobody that particular day two-putted from that area.

“Not that that makes you feel any better.”

The $39,000 second-place check, the biggest of his career to that point, probably did, though. Never mind that at this past November’s Masters, runners-up Cameron Smith and Sungjae Im earned $1.242 million. Each. Everything’s bigger at Augusta, now.

Ten minutes after the missed putt, Pohl sat in Butler Cabin, as Tom Watson put the green jacket on Stadler.

Parting gifts

Anson, still with strong ties to Michigan as a Central Michigan booster and board member, has been planning this trip with Pohl for some time. He went to Augusta in November, but wasn’t able to get on the grounds because of COVID-19. So he spent some time shopping.

Anson found a little antique shop a stone’s throw from Augusta, and bought seven Masters patron badges — one from each year Pohl played in the Masters, 1982-83 and 1986-89, and had them framed. Pohl doesn’t know about that.

Badges are tricky to secure, because patrons aren’t allowed to sell them. There are random badge checks, and if you get caught without your ticket or holding somebody else’s, the original purchaser can lose privileges. There are so old, the statute of limitations is probably up.

“We can’t be bold about it,” Anson said, with a laugh. “Reselling badges gets you in trouble.”

As for Pohl, yes, he still thinks about his Masters experiences, especially 1982. But he’s never watched the final-round broadcast, available now on YouTube. He said he’d like to see some of the good parts — like the stiff tee shot at the 16th hole, or his birdie at the other back-nine par 3, No. 12 — but not the bad parts. Like his approach at 15, which landed on the green, only to roll back into the water (he still saved his par).

He occasionally thinks about what he would’ve served at his Masters champions dinner, the honor given to the reigning winner: prime rib with twice-baked potato, fresh green beans, salad, shrimp cocktail and German chocolate cake.

Over the years, Anson and Pohl have pondered, half-jokingly, organizing an annual Masters runner-up dinner, at a nearby country club. Guests could include Tom Weiskopf, Tom Kite, Ernie Els, Davis Love III, Greg Norman, Johnny Miller, Chris DiMarco, Curtis Strange and Kenny Perry.

“It’d be interesting,” said Pohl, “to see who would come.”

That’s what this week is all about for Pohl, pondering — what could’ve been, what nearly was, and what’s new with an old friend he hasn’t seen in 32 years.

The Masters

When: Thursday-Friday, Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga.

TV: Thursday-Friday, 3-7 (ESPN); Saturday, 3-7 (CBS); Sunday, 2-7 (CBS)


Defending champion: Dustin Johnson

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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