Monday, April 8, 2013

The Masters

Masters week is here.  The golfing world’s attention will be focused on the lush fairways, rolling hills, lightening fast greens and historic layout of Augusta National Golf Course, located just south of the South Carolina, Georgia border.  For those not in the know, The Masters is the first of golf’s four majors – the others being the United States Open, The (British) Open Championship and the PGA Championship.  The course and tournament are progeny of golf legend Bobby Jones, who nursed each from infancy to become the most renowned course and revered tournament in golf.
Augusta National 13th Hole
Each year The Masters itself is about renewal and rebirth.  It is presented by flowering spring bulbs, blooming azaleas and dogwoods, flowering magnolias framing the the clubhouse lane and towering pines along the fairways.  By virtue of its position the Masters both creates and limits the potential of infinite possibility.  Only the winner of The Masters can achieve the most coveted (and never accomplished in modern times) feat in golf – coming home victorious in each of the season’s four majors, the Grand Slam of golf.

The Masters is link between young and old.  It is haven for tradition and pioneer as well.   The Masters is the youngest of the majors but the most revered.  For the old of it this year, Phil Mickelson has been popping in and out of top form, including a decisive early season victory in Phoenix.  For the the established of it, Tiger Woods has come roaring back with three impressive early season victories to return to world number one.  And for the younger of it, at world number two, sweet swinging Rory McElroy, is knocking at victory's door, finishing a surging second at last week's Texas Open.  This could be an all-time classic.

Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player
The Big Three in their Masters Green Jackets
The Masters bestows uniquely among the majors the honor of first teeing off Thursday morning to living legends.  This year the honorees are Jack Nicklaus (6 time Masters champion), Arnold Palmer (4 time champion) and Gary Player (3 time Masters champion).  They once dominated professional golf as the Big Three.  Decades later they are being honored for lifetime achievement and lasting contributions.  They have earned the privilege of driving the first  tee shots into the morning dew.   

Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead
For the better part of two decades the honorary threesome had been Sam Snead (3 time Masters champion), Byron Nelson (2 time Masters champion) and Gene Sarazen (1935 Masters champion), gentlemen who legitimized professional golf in the post Bobby Jones era.   Sadly, they are no longer with us, but we still have memories of Snead’s slamming swing, Nelson’s ruthlessly efficient stroke and Sarazen’s elan.  Ken Venturi had the honors once.

Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod
First Honorary Starters
The remaining two members of the exclusive honorary starters club are Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod, who paired up from 1963 through 1973, which happens to interesect with the nine years I caddied at Glen View Club in Golf, IL.  Why those two?  Neither man won The Masters. But each did win another important tournament at Augusta. Bobby Jones was an organizer of the PGA championship for senior golfers, what today is called the Senior PGA Champrionship. And the first two Senior PGAs were played at Augusta National Golf Club. Hutchison won the first one in 1937, and McCleod won the second one in 1938.  Jock Hutchison was a member at Glen View.  I caddied for him and unfortunately did not believe a word the old fellow said when he pointed to a club in his bag and said “I won the Open Championship with this mashie niblick laddie.”  But thanks to Jock I can say today that I caddied for a successful pro, a one-time honorary starter at the Masters and a British Open and PGA champion.   I can say that with confidence because now we have the Internet.

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