The Masters: All that is good and bad about golf
Golf should be a welcoming game
There is something reassuring about watching the Masters on a day like Thursday.
While it’s dumping snow on April 11, April 11 for crying out loud, you do know that spring is around the corner — eventually. (For the record, Gypsum Creek and Eagle Ranch are already open.)
On your screen, everything is so green and idyllic. The flowers are blooming. You see Amen Corner again — most golf fans know the back nine at Augusta National by heart. And there’s Tiger, Phil, Rory, Jordan, and the whole gang.
All seems right with the world, except that the Masters, while epitomizing everything that is right with the great game of golf, also embodies everything that is wrong with it.
• Pimento cheese sandwiches for a maximum of $3, and beers for a $4 or $5, according to the Augusta Chronicle. That should be self-explanatory.
• It’s golf’s only major that is played on the same course every year. Of course, The Powers that Be have lengthened it and tweaked it over the years, but it’s instant recognition for viewers.
You see the short par-3, and you instantly recognize it as No. 12. There are the Sunday pins, say left center on No. 16, so you know how the golfers are going to attack them.
And that makes the moments. Tiger Woods’ chip on 16. (Poor Chris DiMarco. The chip gave Tiger a two-stroke lead with two holes to go. Woods bogeyed those last two, and DiMarco still lost in a playoff.)
Phil Mickelson doing crazy things on either end of the spectrum. Yes, there’s brilliant craziness like his shot on 13 in 2010. There was also much crashing and burning before he won in 2004 (gosh, he looks young), 2006 and 2010.
• Within the vein of history, even presidents can’t mess with Augusta. President Dwight Eisenhower, while in office, in 1956 wanted what would become his eponymous tree to be moved off the 17th hole. Augusta National shot him down. Only an ice storm did in the tree in 2014.
There are many trees I would like removed from local courses, but like Ike, it’s not happening.
• Schadenfreude: Even the best golfers in the world have big uglies. It’s somewhat reassuring to me to see Sergio Garcia get a 13 on the par-5
Then there was Jordan Spieth at No. 12 in 2016. It’s all of 155 yards. It’s a golf shot that even double-digit handicappers can execute. Spieth famously put two in the drink while losing his chance to repeat as Masters champion.
It happens to the best.
• It is the world’s most pretentious golf tournament. The Powers that Be at Augusta have had CBS on a one-year contract since 1956, thus ensuring a milk-toast broadcast. As such, you have the second cut, not rough, the patrons, not the crowd, and pine straw, not dirt … OK, pine straw exists.
Having played in the south, I have surprisingly hit several errant shots, and there is actually such a thing as pine straw, but it just sounds so pompous.
The iron grip of The Powers that Be dictates coverage. When Patrick Reed won last year, there was no mention of his estrangement from his family because the Masters is a family event and that would be uncouth.
Were Tiger Woods to win in the future, Jim Nantz and company would obviously note the amount of time its been since his last major, his injuries, but would not mention his ex-wife and other not-so prim and proper aspects of his life.
Sports mirrors American life and life just isn’t as neat and clean as the Powers that Be would like it.
• The privilege of Augusta is just bad for golf. Yes, I probably would trade vital organs for the chance to play there. The Powers that Be would take one look at me and my golf swing and file a restraining order.
I begrudge no one the right to have a private golf club. America is about choice. Within limits — like not being allowed to shout, “Fire” in a crowded theater — one has the write to speak, worship and associate as one wants. If that’s being in the most elite of golf clubs, fine.
But the Masters at Augusta National does golf a disservice. Golf can be an inclusive game, where women and minorities are welcome. (Yes, Augusta admitted an African American in 1990 and two women in 2012, but that’s not exactly a sterling record.)
During this era when the rounds played is in decline and we need more people to feel welcome to the sport we love. Augusta and the Masters don’t make for a good look.
Golf is the ultimate mixer at the time when we, as a society, need some mixing. Whether you play as a single or have your weekly round with your golfing buddy, you’re going to meet other people, be it on your home course or on a golf trip.
I take golf vacations and I’ve played with everyone from Scottsdale, Arizona, to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The last seven years at the latter has been fun … and interesting as I’m a card-carrying Democrat. After everyone realizes I’m not automatically high on marijuana, being from Colorado, they also realize that I am a lefty politically.
Perhaps, it’s all the San Francisco Giants gear. In truth, Giants’ orange doesn’t exist in South Carolina. All orange is Clemson, which can get you in trouble if you’re grouped with University of South Carolina fans. Either way, I have played with rock-ribbed righties and people more liberal than myself in South Carolina and surprisingly, we all lived to tell the tale and have a good time.
Back home, I play every Sunday at Eagle-Vail with Austin Richardson. As we all know, Eagle County is a colony of Texas, particularly in the summer. Over the years, A-Train and I kept getting paired with another two-some, Larry and Mike, from Dallas. (We still don’t know their last names after all these years.)
Larry and Mike are Republicans and Dallas Cowboys fans. As San Franciscan, I think the Cowboy thing is worse, yet it’s always a fun afternoon
Of course, Augusta and the Masters are never going to change, but we can dream of it, just as we do of playing golf on a snowy day.