Masters streak dies with Augusta patron

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The visitation room was filled Wednesday night with people who knew pieces of Thomas Edward Bailey Sr.

Thomas Edward Bailey (center), who attended every Masters Tournament from 1934 to 2009, died Monday. The Augusta pediatrician most enjoyed watching golfers on the practice range in recent years.  File/Staff
File/Staff
Thomas Edward Bailey (center), who attended every Masters Tournament from 1934 to 2009, died Monday. The Augusta pediatrician most enjoyed watching golfers on the practice range in recent years.

Many of them knew him as Dr. Bailey, the Augusta pediatrician who cared for them and their children and their children's children.

Others knew him as Steady Eddie, the World War II veteran who loved to tell stories so much that the Rev. Gerald Ragan is certain "he'll talk his way into heaven."

Some knew him as proud member and former Grand Marshal of the Irish American Heritage Society whose favorite occasion was St. Patrick's Day, when he often would belt out Danny Boy in his sweet Irish tenor.

His family knew him as the loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

Most recently, Dr. Bailey was known as the faithful patron who attended every Masters Tournament from 1934 through 2009, a remarkable streak that ended with his death Monday.

His rare Masters feat doesn't begin to define a man who was such a big part of the Augusta community for 94 years. It is Dr. Bailey's giving spirit that his youngest daughter, Georgia Bailey Usry, will remember in her eulogy when she reads a letter she wrote him on his 94th birthday in October.

"All of us have wonderful personal connections with Dr. Bailey and how he touched us," said the Rev. Ragan to those gathered for the vigil service Wednesday night at Thomas Poteet & Son Funeral Directors.

Glimpses of the greats

Dr. Bailey graduated from Augusta College and earned his doctorate from the Medical College of Georgia in 1939 at age 23. He served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in the Pacific theater during World War II before returning to his practice in Augusta.

From a sports perspective, Dr. Bailey's connection to the Masters left an indelible impression. As an 18-year-old medical student, he followed Augusta National Golf Club and tournament founder Bobby Jones every step of the way during the inaugural Augusta National Invitation Tournament after receiving tickets that were passed out downtown.

He heard Gene Sarazen's "shot heard 'round the world" in 1935 from the adjacent 17th fairway, looking over to see the Squire retrieve his double-eagle golf ball from the cup on the 15th hole.

He walked the full 18 holes of the classic 1954 playoff between Sam Snead and Ben Hogan, the year he was pictured prominently leaning over the ropes on the 11th hole in the original issue of Sports Illustrated , published Aug. 16, 1954.

He saw fellow Augusta native Larry Mize chip in to defeat Greg Norman in the 1987 sudden-death playoff on the 11th hole.

But most of the time -- and exclusively on Fridays in recent years -- Dr. Bailey could be found in the bleachers overlooking the practice range watching the golfers hit balls toward the towering net along Washington Road.

It was a passion that grew from watching Hogan hit balls precisely to his caddie, who would shag the shots on one bounce.

"I talked to him once," Dr. Bailey said of the enigmatic Hogan. "He was perfectly nice to me. He told me the thing that really mattered was practice, practice, practice."

A feat like no other

So for 73 years Dr. Bailey watched them all from Sarazen to Tiger Woods, honing their games on Augusta's range. After the story of his rare feat of attending every Masters was published in The Augusta Chronicle in 2007, he was featured in the New York Times , Sports Illustrated , Kansas City Star and on ESPN.

His family said he was "walking on air" from all the attention.

Dr. Bailey died before he had the chance to see the sparkling new practice facility the players will christen at this year's Masters. His family, however, said it's fitting that his last Masters in 2009 was the way he would always remember it and that he died without ever skipping a tournament.

"It would have been almost impossible for him to attend the 2010 Masters," said Mrs. Usry, whose father suffered the first of several strokes shortly after his 94th birthday. "Therefore it was only appropriate he meet his maker before April."

Dr. Bailey's death is another loss of a precious link to the origins of the Masters. As much as he will be missed by the patients he served and the friends and family whose lives he enriched through the years, he will be dearly missed in April.

But for those who knew him, his presence will be felt every time they walk past the old range outside the clubhouse.

The funeral service for Dr. Bailey will be held at 11 a.m. today at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church. He will be interred at Westover Memorial Park.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.


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