Four days. 72 holes. An elite field of players. The Masters is the Superbowl or World Series of golf. Yes there are four other majors over the course of a golf season (US Open, British Open, PGA Championship)...but the Masters tournament takes the cake.
Rae's Creek. Amen Corner. The Green Jacket. To a golf fan, these words hold the same meaning and allure and mystique as baseball's Green Monster to baseball or hockey's Maple Leaf Gardens.
Part of it is the time of year...early April...it usually marks the end of another winter for those of us who live in northern climes, and signals the beginning of another season of playing the game. But more significantly, it's because they play it at the same course - Augusta National in Georgia. You've grown up seeing these same holes every year...you even know the slope and break of the greens, almost as if you've played there yourself. The other majors move around...and while Pebble Beach or Pinehurst or St. Andrews have hosted these majors enough times for you to remember some of the holes, it's just not ingrained in the same way.
They say the Masters doesn't begin until the final nine holes on Sunday. No truer words have been spoken. Here are some of my fav memories of the back nine at Augusta.
The first, as for most fans of the game, was in 1986 when Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman faltered while a 46 year-old Jack Nicklaus burned through the final holes on Sunday to win his 6th green jacket. I watched it with a best friend (and my main golfing partner-in-crime) in his family room - it was as good as television can get. And when Nicklaus almost holed out his tee shot on the par three 16th hole, my friend scrambled across the room yelling at the ball on the TV to... 'Get in! Get in! Get in!!!'
It didn't, but his putt for birdie did. As did his putt for birdie on 17. And his forty foot try on the last hole stopped inches short. But par was all he needed to win...you couldn't have scripted it any better.
Sadly, my friend passed away suddenly from a heart attack a few years ago. That Masters moment was my favourite memory of him and our time together.
Jump forward many years to 2003. Three of us were gathered together to watch on Sunday as Canadian Mike Weir was in contention. We were the remaining three of a foursome that used to play all the time when growing up....you know, before lives and wives and kids and work took priority. Weir is a small-statured lefty who doesn't hit it as far as a lot of today's bombers, but he's consistent and had a hot putter that week. He needed to sink a six footer on the 18th green to tie Len Mattice and get into a playoff. I couldn't watch. But he made it, and then won the tournament on the first extra hole. A Canuck won the Masters, and I teared up. I've never felt so proud or patriotic or whatever you want to call it as I did that day (probably have to go back the Henderson goal in the '72 Canada/Russia hockey series to find an equal).
"In your life...have you seen anything like that!"
The final memory is from the current phenom of the game, Tiger Woods. To watch Woods hit a golf ball is nothing short of miraculous. We see these guys smack it around on TV, but it doesn't do any justice to their skill and ability. Five years ago, I stood behind Woods and watched him hit practice balls on the range for an hour and was simply in awe. The height and distance of his ball flight...his remarkable accuracy...his touch and feel around the greens - it was something to behold.
Anyway, two years ago he was grinding it out against Chris DiMarco when they reached the 16th hole. And then he hit this shot:
The chip heard around the world, one that led to Tiger's fourth Masters title. For anyone else I would say he was just lucky or it was a fluke...but not Woods. He is that good. Nevertheless I still jumped up off the couch and yelled in amazement.
Live sports is one of the few entertainment choices left that can do that to me. If you've been working in TV/movies for a long time, it gets harder and harder to be surprised. You tend to watch with an analytical eye...figuring it out as it goes... guessing who did it or how the plot is going to turn or twist. But a live sporting event is being written as we watch. The outcome is not foretold. And as the story unfolds, we can hope or wish but we cannot know with absolute certainty how it will end...until it's over.
This uncertainty can create some very intense emotional responses. Tears. Screams. Gasps. Cheers. But at least these responses aren't via orchestrated manipulation. They're Honest. Real. Visceral. Pure.
The Masters can do it for me. What does it for you?