Monday, April 13, 2009

Masters brings intimacy between golfers and gallery

I guess it began two years ago. I actually started to lose interest in the Masters. They say it’s a tradition like any other although I never quite figured out the meaning of that phrase—until last Friday.

In the coverage of the final holes of Gary Player and Fuzzy Zoeller in the Masters, it finally hit me. The answer came from both Zoeller and Player and the galleries. There was an intimacy between the golfers and the people on the other side of the ropes that you don’t find in any other tournament.

I recalled walking the course with another writer during my first trip to the Masters in 1983. As we looked at the massive early week galleries and my friend pointed out that, if we came back the next day, the next year, or the next decade that the same people will be sitting in the same place. It was just what people did.

You’d have to think that after 52 years in Player’s case, or 31 in Zoeller’s case that they would recognize this as well. Because these two players in particular have never had an aversion to chatting with the galleries anywhere that the recognition factor would only heighten. No, these people weren’t just a collective gallery, they were friends of longstanding.

By the way, other players who normally wouldn’t say mud on a golf course even if they had a mouth full tend to be a bit more open at the Masters. I can tell you that you won’t find this two-way relationship at the other three majors. It’s easy to dismiss this by thinking that the reason is the Masters is played at the same course every year. That might be a contributing factor, but it’s certainly not the only one.

There really is an aura at Augusta National that breeds an intimacy between golf, golfers and fans that hasn’t been found anywhere else and most likely never will although it seemed that the tournament committee tried to quell it for the past two years by turning the course into a survival program.

This year, they gave the golfers, the galleries and the people glued to their TVs at home, the real Masters back. All they had to do was set up the course that was fair and they did. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Saturday night rain softened the greens. Everyone caught a break on Sunday when Tiger and Phil were paired together and both brought their “A” games. Another ingredient was that both were so far back, they had to fire at every pin. You can do that on a fair setup at Augusta National.

Yes, this Masters brought back memories of some of the best of all time and that was before Angel Cabrera two-putted for par on the second playoff hole. For me, the memories that will last forever occurred on Friday afternoon. The South African golfers who had already finished came back to the 18th green to greet Player for one last time. Trust me; you wouldn’t see this anywhere else.

Another was the greeting Fuzzy got at the 18th hole. From tee to green it was a steady wave of applause and cheering. By the time he and his daughter Gretchen who caddied for her father reached the green, both were unsuccessfully fighting back tears. As the TV camera panned the gallery it showed that many were having the same problem.

It’s that shared emotion found only at the Masters that makes it a tradition unlike any other.

Bartender, please have a single malt scotch delivered to Mr. Player and vodka and tonic delivered to Mr. Zoeller. They’ll both be on the balcony outside the champions locker room where they can now be found during the weekend of the first full week in April resting comfortably while their friends on both sides of the ropes will be celebrating the tournament that they helped build in the minds and hearts of golfers everywhere.

See you on the first tee.


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