Lynn Neeck will never forget hearing that her father, Tommy Aaron, was crowned Masters champion in 1973.
In Gainesville while her mother, Jimmye, recovered from multiple surgeries, the 10-year-old was at her regular Monday afternoon ballet class at Brenau University.
Then, without any prompting, a man swung open the doors to the room and belted out, “Tommy Aaron won the Masters!” Neeck said.
She didn’t know who the man was or if he knew Aaron’s daughter was in the class.
However, it’s a moment she’ll never forget.
“I was excited,” said Neeck, who now resides in New York, but was in Gainesville on March 28 to celebrate at the Chattahoochee Golf Club the 50-year anniversary of Aaron’s Masters victory. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh, wow.’”
It’s very hard for Neeck to believe it’s been 50 years since her father’s crowning achievement in golf.
On April 9, 1973, Aaron added his name to the rather short list of players over the past 89 years who have won at Augusta National.
For fans from Gainesville, many of whom were in Augusta for the Masters 50 years ago to pull for Aaron, memories of that Monday afternoon are still fresh.
Gainesville’s Gene Cobb, who has attended more than 50 Masters tournaments and is a friend to Aaron, remembers those final holes of the fourth round as Aaron had to hold off J.C. Snead.
Aaron’s victory was made possible with a gutsy chip shot on No. 15 that came to rest about four feet below the cup on a downhill slope toward the water.
“That was one of the best chip shots you’ll ever see,” Cobb said. “That ball could have easily ended up in the water. Unless you’re a golfer, you don’t know what you’re looking at.”
Then with the lead in hand, Aaron went about parring the final three holes to win by one stroke.
When it was all over,Aaron was presented the green jacket by the previous year’s winner, Jack Nicklaus, a custom that still exists to this day.
“It was so fantastic to see Tommy win it,” said Cobb, who has been a playing partner with Aaron for many years. “I remember how emotional a time it was for me and all the fans from Gainesville.”
Aaron’s lifelong friend Bradley Lawson was there, too, that day in Augusta.
Lawson said he would bring water or soft drinks to his friend at the tee box.
That day, Lawson said that there were easily more than 100 people from Gainesville who were hanging on Aaron’s every shot as they walked all 18 holes at Augusta National.
While the majority of those people who attended the 1973 Masters from Gainesville have since passed away, Cobb and Lawson are still crystal clear about how exciting it was to be there for the first crowning achievement in sports for an athlete from Gainesville.
And adding to the drama, Lawson said, was the fact that Aaron had to stave off Nicklaus, who fired a final-round 66 to tie for third place.
“There was a real good crowd, really exciting to see Tommy,” Lawson said.
Cobb said he made one mistake.
When Snead missed the putt for birdie on No. 18 to tie with Aaron (and force an 18-hole playoff), he let out a spontaneous yell.
“I was just so excited, but everyone was looking at me,” said Cobb.
Once the Masters finished and Aaron was wearing the green jacket, Cobb and Lawson remember watching as the major champion chatted with Times sports editor Phil Jackson, who was there in Augusta all four days to report on the historic event.
The following day, the celebration returned to Gainesville.
Aaron was treated to a parade in a convertible, riding with his parents and younger brother, David, down Green Street and eventually to a reception at Brenau University.
Even though it was cold enough for some snow flurries that day, as Jackson wrote, it didn’t stop the fans from coming out to see Aaron, who was now firmly entrenched among golf’s greats.
Even though fans see Aaron as a public figure, he’s still the same mild-mannered father who was always a family man, his daughter said.
“He’s the best role model a child could have,” Neeck said. “He’s such a gentleman and so loving.”