Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Masters (Repost)

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 them from infancy to become the most renowned course and revered tournament in golf.
Augusta National 13th Hole
The Masters is about renewal and rebirth.  It is adorned by flowering spring bulbs, blooming azaleas and dogwoods, stately magnolias framing the the clubhouse lane and towering pines along the fairways. By virtue of its early season position the Masters both creates and limits 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.

The Masters is link between young and old. The Masters is the youngest of the majors but the most revered. For the old of it, Fred Couples looks strong and is hoping for a miracle at age fifty four. Ernie Els is back. And Phil Mickelson shows signs of rounding into form. Zach Johnson is playing well. For the first time this year a father son team, Craig Stadler from the Champions Tour and son Kevin from the PGA tour, are teeing it up. Two time major champion Rory McElroy leads the young contingent and will be joined by other under age twenty five tour winners, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reid. Many are looking this week to a breakthrough victory by Dustin Johnson. Look for the tournament to be a typical Masters classic not decided until the back nine on Sunday afternoon.

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 almost 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 intersect 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. I did not believe a word the old guy 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.

Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer walk across Hogan's bridge on the 12th hole at Augusta National before this year's champions dinner at the Masters.

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