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Kitchener golfer recognized as creator of Masters skip-shot tradition


A Canadian Hall of Fame golfer from Kitchener is finally getting recognition for starting the skip-shot tradition at The Masters.

Last week, the major golf championship recognized Gary Cowan, 85, as the father of the tradition.

"I'm the guy that did the shot in 1972," Cowan told CTV News on Friday.

Left: Gary Cowan poses behind the championship cup after winning the National Amateur Golf Championship at the Wilmington, Delaware Country Club on Sept. 4, 1971. (AP Photo) Right: Gary Cowan speaks to CTV News on April 19, 2024. (Colton Wiens/CTV Kitchener)

A two-time U.S. Amateur champion and member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame, Cowan was in a practice round in 1972 with now retired two-time major champion Ben Crenshaw, when he skipped a ball across the pond at the par-3 16th hole at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. Cowan did it again right after, and the tradition was born.

"It's sort of a real rite of playing in the Masters to try that that shot," TSN golf analyst Bob Weeks said.

"If they don't do it, they boo them," Cowan said.

For years, different golfers have laid claim to being the first to do it at Augusta.

"There have been some other golfers who've sort of laid claim to it, but interestingly enough, most of those came well after Gary did it for the first time when he was in his prime," Weeks said.

Billy Horschel's caddie captures the shot as the American golfer skips his ball across the pond on the 16th hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Cowan’s long-time friend, and fellow golfer from Kitchener, Ernie Hauser heard broadcasters talking about the creation of the tradition during different Masters tournaments and wanted to make it clear that his friend was the first to do it there.

"I knew it was Gary and they never ever mentioned his name. I was annoyed with Gary, because I said 'you should phone Ben Crenshaw, because he played with you," Hauser said. "Ben Crenshaw phoned me back and he told me, 'I know all about it and we're going to do something about that.’”

Gary Cowan’s long-time friend, Ernie Hauser (pictured here during an interview with CTV News) was instrumental in Cowan getting recognized as the creator of the Masters skip-shot tradition. (Colton Wiens/CTV Kitchener)

Most golfers only skip a ball by mistake. Cowan said to do it on purpose, it’s like skipping a rock on a pond, just with a golf ball instead.

"Well, it's pretty easy. I won't say any more than that," Cowan said.

Calling his friend the “Houdini of golf,” Hauser said there’s not many situations on the course Cowan can’t get himself out of.

"He gets out of jail all the time when he gets it in there. Someone says, 'well, why don't you?' I say, 'Because I can't,'" Hauser said.

Gary Cowan waves his arm as his putt drops into the cup on the 5th green for a birdie in the fourth round action in the National Amateur Golf tornament at the Wilmington, Del. Country Club, Sept. 4, 1971.

Cowan has made several major shots in tournaments. Perhaps the best amateur golfer this country has ever produced, Cowan won the U.S. amateur in 1971 by holing out his approach shot at 18. Hauser said the best skip shot he's seen from Cowan was during a playoff round at an international tournament in the 1990s, where Cowan used a driver off an elevated par 4 tee and reached the apron of the green.

"I'm almost laughing because I'm thinking 'I'm going to have to play these two guys alone.' He nailed one and it just went out there like a frozen rope. Bounced about four to five times," Hauser said.

Cowan doesn't remember where he first did the skip-shot, but said every time he's near water, it's worth a try.

"I like to have a little fun and that's how you do it," Cowan said.

An esteemed member at Westmount Golf and Country Club, with a shrine of accomplishments on display, Cowan has only done the skip-shot a few times at his home course. But he said it’s still in the repertoire.

"I've been doing it for 50 years, so I'm sure that I can do it again. I mean, I did it a week ago,” Cowan said.

"I think he's a humble guy, but I think it's appropriate that he does get the recognition for something that has become a real part of the fabric of the Masters," Weeks said. Top Stories

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