Being an avid, although not so skilled, golf enthusiast, the season doesn’t really begin for me until the first or second week in April when the most skilled players in the world descend on Augusta, Georgia to try and take on the course and themselves and win that coveted “Green Jacket”. More on that in a bit.
Besides the caliber of play and the idyllic setting, The Masters is about one thing and one thing only. Well, make that two things. The first is tradition.
"The Masters, a tradition unlike any other"
That's how CBS and its opening lines of coverage describe the tournament.
Yesterday’s opening round began with three legends of the game, Arnold Palmer age 83, Gary Player age 77, and Jack Nicklaus age 73 lumber up to the first tee box to hit the ceremonial first ball to begin the tournament . Between them, over their careers they’ve accounted for a total of 34 “major victories” with the Golden Bear having won an astounding 18 all by himself. On a personal note, I’d of cut off my little toe just be in the gallery amongst the other patrons (At Augusta, they are not called “fans”.) to watch that spectacle.
There’s also the tradition that if you’re ever lucky enough or skilled enough to win the tournament, you get what’s known as a “lifetime exemption”. That means you don’t have to qualify at other tournaments or be somewhere on the money list in order to play. That was changed a few years back to state that they have to play at least 36 holes in order to retain their exempt status.
Besides the cash, the winner of the tournament is awarded a “Green Jacket” in a ceremony right after its conclusion. That’s been going since on Sam Snead won the first one back in 1949. They must return the jacket to the club the next year where it is put on display and made available to the winner if they want. If the player becomes a “member” of Augusta, only then will they be allowed to keep it.
The second thing about The Masters is what I would call “respect for the game” and it’s really sorta intangible. There are no electronic scoreboards or advertisements on the course. The patrons themselves are not allowed to hold up any signs endorsing their favorite player and while the wearing of shorts is allowed, there will be no jeans or cut off t-shirts within sight. If you plan on bringing your cell phone or camera to the course, don’t get caught using it. You’ll quickly be escorted off the grounds with the likelihood that you’ll also never be allowed to return.
That respect is not limited to fans or sponsors though. If you're in the booth and broadcasting the event you have to be careful of what you say. The powers that be at The Masters also have a pretty long and unforgiving memory if you get on their wrong side. Take for instance, the following.
Back in 1994 a broadcaster by the name of Gary McCord was announcing the tournament for CBS. When the players got to the 17th hole he commented that the greens were so fast that they must have been "bikini waxed" and that if players missed their approach shots to the green, there were "body bags" waiting for them on their way to the 18th tee. While he continues to broadcast golf, he hasn't been seen at Augusta since. Prior to that, back in 1966, famed broadcaster Jack Whitaker had the audacity to refer to the patrons as a "mob" on national television. He might as well have started singing the Ray Charles version of the song "Hit the Road Jack" because that's just what he was asked to do.
I was reading Rick Reilly’s column over at ESPN the other day and he related an interesting anecdote regarding what goes on during The Masters. Apparently, it’s become a tradition for the members of Augusta to play gin at night after the round is over. The stakes are only a penny a point. Let’s put this in perspective, members of the club have more money to burn than most of us will ever see in our lifetimes. I guess they just don’t like to show it off to the rest of the world.
Well, it seems that a well heeled guest was attending the ritual games and began spouting off about them being so rich and why they were playing for such small stakes. After awhile, one of the members had had enough of his antics and asked :
”All right, sir. What is your net worth?”
The guest told him and all the member did was plunk down a deck of cards in the middle of the table and stated the following :
”Fine, I’ll cut you for it.”
I guess that shut him up.
See, to them the stakes don’t really matter. It’s more about the honor, tradition, dignity and respect for the game that counts. (Kindly take note all chest thumping trash-talking players and owners from all other sports.)
This year, like most other years at The Masters, there was another history making event. A fourteen-year-old kid from China named Guan Tianlang actually qualified to play in the tournament. That made him the youngest person ever to play at The Masters. He shot a one over 73 yesterday and birdied the eighteenth hole in front of a huge gallery. I don’t know about you but I’ve had my fair share of dreams as a kid growing up related to sports. I was always the one scoring the game winner, be it buzzer beater, home run or touchdown. If you had put me on the actual field of competition at that age, I’d have had my ass handed to me. Hats off to Guan Tianlang for being able to hang in there with the big boys, even if only for one day.
For the next three or four days, I’ll be glued to the television either in my living room or at my local watering hole absorbing all of the shots, missed shots and stories that The Masters has to offer.
Since it’s still cold, gray and damp here in Columbus, Ohio in early April, I can’t think of a better way to spend them.