As far as major golf tournaments are concerned, the Masters is a mere baby. Yet the Masters generates more sentiment than the others put together. It isn't hard to comprehend for it is a truly unique event in which even the worlds top players feel privileged to compete. Not surprising, for in any other week of the year, none of them would be allowed past the great gates that keeps the real world at bay from the hallowed turf of the Augusta National Golf Club.
The Masters is as much an American institution as mom's home cookin' and apple pie. In TV rating terms nothing can match it. Last year 44 million Americans watched it and every Joe in every downtown bar is glued to it. The Masters epitomises the American dream more than any other sporting event for it is at once exclusive yet accessible, pretentious and wonderfully sentimental.
The Masters is also five star from start to finish. Indeed, it is more than that: Hollywood could not put together a performance like the Masters and, if it did, drama critics would rate it over-the-top. But the members at the national are accustomed to the best, expect the best and the best is invariably delivered. The course is presented in absolute perfection; the organisation is impeccable from colour co-ordination of the amenities (including toilet tissues) to the presentation of the green jacket which, needless to say invariably fits perfectly.
From the onset in 1934, the Augusta National was the best. It was designed and built by Dr Mackenzie and Bobby Jones to be the best and to test the best, and it has done so ever since. Together they transformed a retired garden nursery into something extraordinary in golf and the perfection that they achieved has simply challenged a succession of committees to improve upon.
But it is the scriptwriters for this annual event that Hollywood could never afford. Shakespeare could not have written the dramas that have unfolded here and DH Lawrence could not compete with the passion of the place. The Masters unfolds with the understatement of Jane Austin against a background that Walt Disney could not have designed with the help of Claude Monet.
The special nature of the Masters begins even before the first ball has been struck. A mini-tournament on the members little par-three course introduces he festive element. The eve-of-tournament past champions dinner contributes tradition and continuity as well as dignity. Vulgarity is unknown at Augusta. When players are announced on the fist tee it is simply a matter of one of the members stating the players name. Quaintly, the invited UK and American amateur champions are given the title Mr. to distinguish them from the poor sods that who make their living at the game; this, despite the fact that not one of their number has made less than a million from it.
Hitherto there has never been a year without the Masters producing extraordinary drama. In the past we have witnessed some of the triumphant wins and spectacular collapses. Reputations have been made around Amen Corner only to be lost again on the closing holes. One finds it hard to believe that Mackenzie and Jones did not have the gift of foresight when they designed the course for it must have been made with TV in mind.
By past standards this year's Masters was a dull affair. Despite the fact that the members in their wisdom had 'Tiger-proofing' in mind when they extended the course to 7,300 yards they would appear in retrospect to have lengthened it to accommodate him. But the members of the National demand the best with perfection and Tiger Woods duly delivered for them. There were moments when it seemed that there might be a competition being played but these were mostly on the first day's play. The rain delays on the second day were nearly entertaining but when the Tiger started to attack on the third day it became clear that what competition there had been was over. Capitulation seemed to have been arrived at by common consent and the scorer's box became a records office for mass surrender. The Tiger virtually had a walkover, although he did mount an exhibition of superb golf and left the drama to the supporting cast.
The 2002 Masters will merely be another statistic in Tigers record book. It is for sentiment that it will be recorded historically. Few aficionados over the age of 50 would have had a dry eye when Sam Snead hit the first ball off the first tee. Other parts may have been inappropriately wetted when they heard that Sam's drive had clobbered a spectator between the eyes for he rarely, if ever, missed a fairway.
This year's Masters also saw the standing down of Arnie's army. Arnold Palmer played his last Masters to a standing ovation from start to finish. Many would have been applauding a myth but not a few would have seen him play all of his 48 Masters tournaments, winning not only four times but also having 12 top-10 finishes. He and the Masters and popular golf grew up together. Arnie never did anything ordinary and certainly brought more excitement to the game than anyone before or since. Now, with gurus for everything in the game, orthodoxy prevails. We will never see his like again.
I doubt, too, if we will ever see anyone with the talent, temperament and confidence of Tiger Woods. But that too is sentiment.
|| 15 - APRIL 2002