Fuzzy Zoeller
The 1979 Masters was the second of 10 career PGA Tour wins for Fuzzy Zoeller and the first of two major championships. Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It happened so long ago, Fuzzy Zoeller and Jeriah “Jerry” Beard aren’t certain how it happened.

One of them thinks it happened on the Sunday before the 1979 Masters, the other on the Monday.

Fuzzy says it was the “luck of the draw” that landed him Beard as a local caddie for his first trip to Augusta National. Beard said a PGA Assistant Professional at the club hooked him up with Zoeller, who earlier in the year won at San Diego to become eligible.

Either way, what is known is this: Zoeller and Beard teamed up that week to do something that hadn’t been done in 44 years – and hasn’t been done since: Win the Masters as a rookie.

When Zoeller flung his putter into the air after making a 10-foot birdie on the 11th hole to defeat Ed Sneed and Tom Watson in the first sudden-death playoff, Zoeller became the first neophyte to win at Augusta National since Gene Sarazen in 1935. Horton Smith was the lone other rookie, in the inaugural year of ’34.

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How did Zoeller and Beard do what no other player-caddie combo has done in 74 years?  How did this unlikely duo win perhaps golf’s most revered championship when they were supposed to just show up, learn the protocol and be happy to be there?

Beard is certain their first meeting happened on Sunday. He was hanging out with the other local caddies at the club, waiting to find out their player, when the assistant pro gave him the thumbs up.

“We only played nine holes that Sunday,” Beard said recently by phone from his home in Augusta, Ga. “We played the back nine. As we were walking down 10, he asked me, ‘You pull clubs?’”

“Once I know how far you hit them,” Beard responded.

Beard suggested he hit a 5-iron into 10. The 5-iron landed on the green.

“We get to the 12th green, and he says, ‘You read greens? What does this one do?’”

“I tell him, and he makes it,” Beard says. “He looked at me and said, ‘It’s your game. You got it.’

“He didn’t even have a yardage book. It was all me. I pulled all the clubs and read all the putts.”

Sounds like the perfect caddie yarn. Zoeller is willing to play along.

“That’s pretty close to how I remember it,” Zoeller said, laughing. “He told me what to do and I did it.

“I think our personalities is why we clicked immediately. I’m laid-back, easy going and Jerry is kind of the same way.”

Beard knew how to read Augusta National’s greens. For that, he credits course co-founder Clifford Roberts.

“A member saw one of the caddies putt and told Clifford, ‘I can’t believe you allow your caddies to putt out here,’” Beard said. “Mr. Robert said, ‘Sir, we want our caddies to be the best at reading greens. How else are they supposed to learn them?’”

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Fuzzy Zoeller, Jerry Beard
This week marks 40 years since Fuzzy Zoeller won the Masters with caddie Jerry Beard. Zoeller remains the last rookie to win the Masters. Photo: The Masters on YouTube

Their magic didn’t start early at the ’79 Masters. Zoeller shot a 2-under 70 in the first round to leave himself in a pack three shots behind leader Bruce Lietzke.

A 71 in the second round left Zoeller six behind co-leaders Sneed and Craig Stadler. A 69 Saturday in tough conditions moved Zoeller into a tie for fourth, but he was six behind Sneed.

Beard, nicknamed “Bubba,” didn’t care. “It was supposed to be windy Sunday and I told my buddies if the wind blows, take my man. Fuzzy hit that low hook that would be perfect for the wind.”

The course was brutal Sunday. Jack Nicklaus, who tied for fourth, was the only leader to break 70. Zoeller was 1 over through 12 holes and still trailed Sneed by four shots.

It was time to get aggressive.

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Zoeller birdied the par-5 13th hole and made a good par at 14. Still trailing Sneed by 4, Zoeller reached his defining moment: the par-5 15th.

After a so-so drive, Zoeller was facing 235 yards to the front of the green against a stiff breeze. Zoeller said the most he could hit a 3-wood was 235 yards.

Decision time.

“Jerry says, ‘Can you see water? If you can see water, you gotta got for it.’” Zoeller says.

“See water? I can’t see any water. I’m on my tip toes leaning on the back of him trying to see water. I finally see a little blue right next to the Sarazen Bridge.”

“Then you gotta go,” Beard said. “I ain’t been wrong yet.”

Zoeller hits a career 3-wood that barely clears the water and lands on the edge of the green — “I don’t know how it got there” — and he lags his long eagle putt to move within three.

Zoeller, who’s playing with Watson, makes a clutch birdie putt at 17 to move within two of Sneed, who just three-putted 16. Zoeller makes another knee-knocker at 18 for par and watches as Sneed finishes with three bogeys to force the playoff.

You could have cut the tension with a 2-iron, but Zoeller and Beard remained loose. They cracked jokes. They slapped each other on the back. Fuzzy and Bubba were having fun.

All three players had birdie putts inside 15 feet on the first playoff hole, but each missed — Zoeller hit a pure putt that broke just past the hole — and they moved to No. 11.

Beard said Zoeller asked for a new ball on the second playoff hole. He wanted to use every inch of his length off the tee. His drive bounded down the hill, some 35 yards past the other two drives.

“Hit a hard sand wedge,” Beard told Zoeller.

“I hit the best knock-down 8-iron in the world,” Zoeller responded, a rare overruling that week.

Zoeller’s approach went directly at the pin, stopping 10 feet underneath the hole. Sneed’s approach went over the green and Watson’s birdie try stopped just short.

“Zoeller for immortality …”

“Two balls right and don’t leave it short,” Beard whispered to Zoeller and quickly moved out of the way ‘cuz Zoeller plays fast.

The ball drops and Zoeller flings his putter skyward. You wondered if it would hit one of the many Augusta National officials on the green.

“Everybody worries about that dang putter,” Zoeller said. “It was OK. I’m sure Karsten Solheim would have gotten me another Ping Anser. It landed on the fringe of the green and Jerry got it.”

What was one last task for Beard after all he had done that week? They would forever be the answer to a trivia question.

“First off, it doesn’t seem like it’s been 40 years,” Zoeller said. “Secondly, I can’t believe there hasn’t been another rookie winner. As much talent that has walked through the gates of that place, you would think another would have won by now.”

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Fuzzy Zoeller
Along with the 1979 Masters, Fuzzy Zoeller also won the 1984 U.S. Open. Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Golf may be a traditional game, but time marches on everywhere, even a place as resistant to change as Augusta National.

Four years later, players no longer had to use local caddies during the Masters. Watson was one of the players who argued the pros should be allowed to bring their own caddies.

After their victory, Beard caddied for Zoeller three more years (finishing 19th, 43rd and 10th). Beard said there had been a brief conversation about joining Zoeller as a full-time caddie, but he knew that wouldn’t last.

“I pull the wrong club or make a bad read, and I’m out of a job,” Beard said.

Beard was fortunate he had a full-time job with a paper company (with benefits) so he didn’t need the Masters gig to make ends meet. Most of the local caddies did.

“It bothered me a great deal when they stopped using the local caddies,” Beard said. “That was the only time we had a chance to make big money. This course closes in May and those guys need that money to get by until the course opens in October.”

Zoeller said he never considered to continue using Beard at the Masters after ’82 because “that wouldn’t have been fair to my caddie who travels around the world with me.”

Fifteen years after his victory, Zoeller had a forgettable day when he made a couple of racist jokes during Tiger Woods’ historic victory in 1997. When the “fried chicken and collards” comments came to light a week later, Zoeller lost endorsement deals to K-Mart and Dunlop.

Beard, who is African-American, came to Zoeller’ defense.

“I know Fuzzy had been drinking and he didn’t realize he had been recorded,” Beard said. “Fuzzy was a prankster; he talked a lot of bull. He might have said the same thing to Tiger one-on-one. You can’t say those things any kind of way.”

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Beard is 78 and can’t remember the last time he stepped on the Augusta National grounds. Like most of the former local caddies, he spends plenty of time playing golf at Forest Hills Golf Course.

He has enjoyed his five minutes’ additional fame as the 40th anniversary of Zoeller’s win is celebrated next week — and the last few weeks at Forest Hills. Beard’s name doesn’t appear on the trophy, but he takes great pride in what they accomplished four decades ago.

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“It showed I knew the course well and I was a pretty good caddie,” he said.

No surprise Beard has more betting tips to give his buddies. “I bet on Tiger and Brooks Koepka,” he said. “They’re going to be tough.”

At 67, Zoeller will once again make the drive on Magnolia Lane for Tuesday night’s past champions dinner. He stopped playing the Masters in 2009 and quit the PGA Tour Champions in 2017.

Zoeller had a wonderful career: He also won the 1984 U.S. Open among his 10 PGA Tour titles and played in three Ryder Cups.

But for now: He will be remembered as the last guy to win a green jacket in his first attempt, thanks to Bubba Beard.

“It feels good to be part of history,” Zoeller says.

Of course, it does.