Only three rookies have ever won the Masters, Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 being the last

AUGUSTA, Ga. — First-time participants in majors rarely make much of an impact.

They are expected to show up, perhaps make the 36-hole cut and go quietly about their business. To get into contention would be a bonus.

To actually win is virtually unheard of, Ben Curtis and Keegan Bradley being the exceptions. Their victories in the 2003 British Open and 2011 PGA, respectively, were their first starts in major championships.

Frank Urban Zoeller, affectionately known as Fuzzy by his peers, paid little attention to the conventional wisdom at the Masters.

The native of New Albany, Indiana, got into contention in 1979, hung around to the end and won a historic playoff in his first visit to Augusta National Golf Club.

Zoeller joined Horton Smith and Gene Sarazen as the only men to win the Masters in their first attempts. Smith won the inaugural event in 1934, and Sarazen, already one of the game’s established stars, won a year later with his famous double eagle on the 15th hole.

Ed Sneed, who was only slightly better known than Zoeller coming into the 1979 Masters, appeared to be on his way to his first major title. His first three rounds of 68, 67 and 69 put him five shots clear of the field heading into Sunday.

And for 15 holes, Sneed appeared to be a good bet to slip on a green jacket. Despite charges by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, Sneed still had a three-stroke lead with three holes to play.

A three-putt for bogey cost Sneed a shot at the 16th, then he missed a short par putt on the 17th. Suddenly, his lead was down to one.

Sneed hit the fairway on the 18th, but his approach finished next to the greenside bunker. He chipped to about eight feet below the hole, then watched in disbelief as his putt hung on the lip, refusing to drop for par and the win.

Zoeller, meanwhile, had finished with 70 to join Watson and Sneed in the Masters’ first sudden-death playoff.

Like Sarazen 44 years before, Zoeller took a risk on the 15th hole to help force the playoff. He went for the green in two, even though the shot was longer than the distance he normally hit his 3-wood.

“Now, I’ll tell you exactly how far I can hit a 3-wood. I can hit it 235 yards without any wind,” Zoeller later told reporters. “I don’t know how it got there.”

The playoff began on the 10th hole, and all three men made par to advance to the 11th.

Zoeller hit the biggest drive, then watched as Sneed’s approach flew into the back bunker and Watson’s came up wide right. The Masters rookie then calmly hit his iron shot to inside 10 feet.

“Two balls right and don’t leave it short,” was caddie Jariah Beard’s advice for Zoeller, according to Ward Clayton’s book Men on the Bag, which chronicles the stories of Augusta National caddies.

After watching Sneed and Watson play, Zoeller coolly rolled his birdie putt into the cup and earned his place in history. He flung his putter into the air and jumped for joy with outstretched arms.

“I’m on cloud nine, and I guess I’ll be up there for three or four weeks,” Zoeller said afterward.

He had extra motivation for making the birdie to end the playoff on the 11th hole.

“I said if I don’t make it, we have to play No. 12, which I don’t want to do,” Zoeller told the media corps. “I’m 3-over-par there this week.”

Zoeller, who retired from Masters competition in 2009, thinks someone will come along and join him, Smith and Sarazen as Masters winners in their Augusta debut. In 2014, Jordan Spieth almost joined the club after sharing the lead going into the final round.

“You never say never,” Zoeller said. “It is amazing when you think about all the talent that has walked through from that practice range to that first tee and it hasn’t happened.

“Can I explain why? No. Will it happen again? Somebody will do it.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek