On Thursday, April 8, 2010 The Masters begins.
Originally known as the Augusta National Invitation Tournament when first conducted in 1934, The Masters has become
a virtual Rite of Spring, an unofficial beginning to the coming golf season.
I love this golf tournament. Each April comes and I look
forward with great anticipation to what surprises this year will bring at the Masters. Jack Nicklaus’
improbable victory in 1986. All of Greg Norman’s near misses. The domination of
Tiger Woods. The heartbreak of Roberto DiVincenzo. Larry Mize chipping in.
Nick Faldo’s cool steady play. Phil Mickelson’s breakthrough. Crenshaw’s
emotions spilling out for us all to see. Palmer, Player, Casper, Woosnam, and Couples.
The ceremonial starters. A champions list that is a Who’s Who of historical golfers with a few notable missing
names and some who don’t quite seem to belong.
But just what is
it that makes The Masters such a great tournament? The reasons are plentiful. The setting.
The time of year. The select field. The history. The triumphs
and the failures. Golf shots we have witnessed that are forever etched into our memory. The
traditions and ceremony.
The first real memory I have of The Masters was
from 1968. Roberto DiVicenzo makes a birdie 3 on the 17th and his playing partner, Tommy Aaron, records
him for a 4. DiVincenzo signs the incorrect scorecard and has to live with the mistake and finishes second rather than
continue to a playoff with the winner, Bob Goalby. It all seems a bit unfair, but that is the rule and
a piece of golf history was formed. DiVincenzo’s reaction? “What a stupid
I am.” (No typo here. Just a famous quote from an Argentinean struggling with
his English in a most stressful situation.)
Is there a more beautiful golf course than Augusta National in full bloom?
Certainly there is the raw beauty of nature at Pebble Beach, but all of the meticulous care taken to prepare the golf
course is on display the second weekend in April every year. The course itself is painstakingly manicured
to ensure the best possible playing conditions. The Azaleas warmed when it is too cool and cooled when
it is too warm to guarantee the flowers are in full bloom for all the world to see when the tournament commences.
Amen Corner. The ponds guarding the 11th and 16th.
Ray’s Creek meandering throughout the back nine, silently awaiting the errant shot that will spoil someone’s
chances. The tall Georgia Pines. The Dogwoods. Magnolia Lane.
It is a privilege
just to be invited to play in The Masters. Over the years the selection process has been the cause of some
controversy. Rules were made and changed to exclude certain players, giving the event a little bit of a
black eye, but always the field consisted of only players of the highest caliber. You play in The Masters
based on merit. You continue to play in The Masters once you have won the event with a lifetime exemption.
(Unfortunately in recent years the Tournament Committee has had to “encourage” some of older past champions
to not play. It is a shame that some of them just didn’t know it was time to become only a spectator,
and equally so a shame the Committee doesn’t allow them to continue if they wish.)
Robert Tyre Jones Jr.
The quintessential Southern Gentleman. An Amateur till his retirement, was the driving force that
was the creation of Augusta National. In 1934 he holds the inaugural event that we now know as The Masters.
He invites his closest golfing friends and the premier players of the time for this special occasion. It
isn’t long before the event becomes the crowning achievement for one’s golf career. Simply
to be invited by the great Bobby Jones to play at his tournament, is the plum for every serious golfer. Jones
was reluctant to call the event The Masters and held out until 1939 before giving in to the constant pressure to give the
tournament this name. He thought it somewhat pretentious. History has proven otherwise.
The greatest golfers of every era have come to Augusta each spring to renew and continue the traditions of this great
Tradition and Ceremony
most obvious tradition of all is the presenting of The Green Jacket. At the finish of the tournament all
the scores are added up and a winner is declared. The champion from the previous year then presents him
with his own Green Jacket symbolizing his victory and his now honorary membership to the Augusta National Golf Club.
He now has limited access to the clubhouse (he is not a full member). He can now enter the champions
Dining Room. Only past champions, the current chairman, the Club photographer and the wait staff are
Of all the traditions, the ceremony of the start of the tournament
is the most touching. Virtually all of the current players and past champions gather at the first tee to
witness the start of the golf tournament. Of all these ceremonies, the years of Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen
and Byron Nelson are what I remember with the most fondness. If only Ben Hogan would have joined them.
What a foursome that would have been.