At 7:25 this morning, Elisa Sneed went looking for the Easter Bunny's goodies. Gayly colored plastic eggs, filled with jelly beans, had been delivered over the night. Loving the hunt, leaving no furniture in its rightful place, no azalea bush unsearched, Elisa, 4 1/2, finally woke her daddy, Ed Sneed, who on this beautiful Easter day wanted to become the Masters golf champion.
Only the day before, Elisa had bounded around the house in joy at seeing her daddy on the television. "Daddy won . . . Daddy won," the little girl said.Her mother, Nancy, reminded Elisa that the tournament wasn't over yet. Ed Sneed led by five strokes, a comfortable margin, and was playing wonderfully. But . . .
At noon, the wind began to blow.
Augusta National Golf Course is hell in the wind.
"Going to blow away those 64s," a friend said to Sneed over lunch.
The words were meant as reassurance. The only way Sneed could lose, it seemed, was to have someone, a Jack Nicklaus, shoot the lights out, run in a 64 and leave Ed Sneed helpless against the assault.
"No," Sneed said when someone wondered if the wind would bother him. "Everybody's got to play in it. I believe I'm a good wind player."
Six hours later, after Sneed had missed three straight little putts on the last three holes of his scheduled 18, Fuzzy Zoeller won this Masters in a playoff with Sneed and Tom Watson. It was a cruel ending to a happy day that saw Nancy Sneed confessing to jitters that her husband, so cool, seemed immune to.
"My stomach has been churning like crazy," she said at 2 o'clock, the words spoken precisely as her husband walked by on the way to the first tee for a day's work that could render him immortal.
"I've even yelled a couple times this week during Ed's rounds," she said, smiling as if embarrassed at the revelation of emotion. "I've never been so excited about a tournament so early. I even had trouble sleeping last night."
In a business that breeds uncommon behavior with the year-long road trips and long separations, Nancy Sneed, 32, is a beacon of common sense among tour wives and mothers. A journalism graduate of Ohio State -she met Ed there when he asked to play golf with her during a chance meeting on the course-Nancy has written free-lance articles about golf and the tour. She notices things.
"I know you can't tell by looking at Ed, but, yes, I imagine he is as excited as I am," she said. "He's just trying to keep himself on an even keel so he doesn't get too pumped up too early."
To that end, the Sneeds had a late dinner at the private home they rent here. Sneed settled down in the family room, watching TV, while Nancy and her mother helped the Easter Bunny by coloring eggs in the kitchen.
Nancy, whose brown eyes and short black hair combine to give her a Mediterranean pixie look, glanced toward the first tee. It was time. At Ohio State, she was on the women's golf team and she plays occasionally now, though hardly seriously with Elisa and Erica, 2, tugging at her.
"If I had to hit the first shot today," she said, gasping, "I'd bloop it nowhere."
Sadly, Ed Sneed took to blooping shots. Of the tour's personalities, Sneed ranks low in public celebrity. More a bridge and chess buff than a barfly, Sneed is a Jim Palmer look-alike with a golf swing classic in its smoothness. He would be a champion worthy of the Masters' glorious heritage.
The wind beat him.
The wind beat him badly. After rounds of 68, 67 and 69, he shot 76 today. Under the heaviest of presures, athletes lose control when they allow outside influences to break their concentration. While wind is a factor in any round of golf, it must be dealt with firmly. Sneed was bewildered by the wind. He became exasperated by its devilish swirlings. No matter where he looked, the wind came from a different location.
The fourth hole today played at 180 yards. The cup was cut into the green near the front edge, not more than 20 feet from a sand trap awaiting timid missiles. The wind blew in Sneed's face. He took a club. He moved to the ball. He waited. And waited.
"He's frozen," a man in the gallery said. "Get some Liquid Wrench and put a quart in him or he'll never move again."
When Sneed struck the shot, it was a sickly sight, a hump-backed line drive that was knocked down by the wind nearly 30 yards short of the green. A duffer would not claim the result.
There Sneed made a bogey, only his second in 58 holes of this tournament. It soon became apparent that the game was on. Sneed's five-shot lead soon was four, then three-and here came Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, moving within two shots, within one.
Sneed had made 13 birdies in his first three rounds. His first today came at the par-5 13th when he chipped to within three feet. That moved him two shots ahead of everybody, and now he seemed in control, particularly when he saved par with a six-foot putt at the 14th.
Now, he was three shots ahead with only four holes to play.
"I'll probably cry at the end of the day," Nancy Sneed had said at 2 o'clock. "Either from being so happy, or, if Ed loses, from knowing how much it means to him to win."
At the par-5 15th, Sneed played intelligently. He laid a shot on the safe side of a pond and wedged it to within three feet for a certain-if anything is certain-birdie.
A man turned to Nancy Sneed, watching from a hundred yards away, and said, "Nancy, do they give the wives a green coat, too?"
"You're kidding," she said. She has been around.
"Look at the fans," the man said, "they've giving Ed a standing ovation."
"Good show," Nancy said. She touched a finger to her right eye, wiping away a tear, and then, very softly, she said, "Get this round over. Get in the clubhouse."