Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Masters (Repost)

Masters week is here. The golfing world’s attention is focused on the lush fairways, rolling hills, lightening fast greens and historic layout of Augusta National Golf Course, located in Augusta Georgia, just south of the South Carolina 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 in golf.
Augusta National 13th Hole
The Masters is about renewal and rebirth.  It is played in a setting adorned by flowering spring bulbs, blooming azaleas and dogwoods, stately magnolias growing along both sides of the clubhouse lane and towering pines paralleling the fairways. By virtue of its early season position the Masters first creates and then 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 -- it's the youngest of the majors and the same time is most revered. 

For the old of it, two time Masters champion, Ben Crenshaw, is playing in his final tournament. Fred Couples always seem to find the elixir of youth at Augusta. Fifty-seven year old Bernhard Langer finished top ten last year, and is playing some of the best golf of his life.  

On the young end, twenty-five year old Rory McIlroy, ranked world number one, and twenty-one year old Jordan Spieth, currently the hottest player, are the betting favorites. McIlroy is looking for his third straight major victory and to complete his career Grand Slam. Spieth will be looking to impress his buddies, who will be graduating from UT Austin in a few weeks, with his first major victory. And watch for Patrick Reid.

Victor Dubuisson (France), Martin Kaymer (Germany), Sergio Garcia (Spain) and Justin Rose (England) are strong contenders all.

Suddenly, it seems in a blink of an eye, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, are on the downside of their careers. They are in Augusta too, hoping to catch lightening in a bottle.

Don't forget about Dustin Johnson.

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 again 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 syrupy 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 and retired club pro at Glen View Club. I caddied for him from time to time when I was teenager. Looking the octogenarian up and down, 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.” Such is the ignorance of youth. But thanks to Jock I can say today that I caddied for a World Golf Hall of Famer, 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 last year's champions dinner at the Masters.

Newsreel on Jock Hutchison's 1921 Open Championship.

Good luck to all.

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