Chattanooga Times Free Press
Grider reunites with Wilson at Coahulla Creek
My friend is taking a couple of vacation days this week. Three, to be exact. Asked what he intended to do those three days, he replied, “Lie down on my couch and watch the Masters. What could be better than that?”
There aren’t many things in life that are perfect just the way they are. Maybe Mona Lisa’s smile. Maybe “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Most Beatles songs. Hellman’s Mayonnaise. A church choir singing “Silent Night” by candlelight on any Christmas Eve.
Then there’s Augusta National, the most perfect 345 acres of real estate on God’s green earth.
Like my friend, I haven’t missed watching the Masters on television, at the very least, since 1966. That’s the year the Golden Bear himself, Jack Nicklaus, won his second straight green jacket in a Monday playoff with Tommy Jacobs and Gay Brewer.
At that time, my family’s television a black-and-white number, I had no idea the breathtaking beauty of the flora and fauna throughout the course. The green jacket was dark gray on my TV. Not until years later — when my parents broke down and got a color set in the mid-1970s — did I begin to fully appreciate that spectacular golf was no more than half of the allure of the place.
Then came 1985. My former boss at the Chattanooga NewsFree Press, Roy Exum, called me into his office one April morning and told me, “You’re going to the Masters for two days. Take a sketch book. Try to come up with something for the Sunday paper.”
A few days after that, back on my own couch, I watched the methodical — some would say agonizingly slow — German, Bernhard Langer, claim that ‘85 title on a rain-soaked course.
But regardless of the winner, the Masters never lays an egg. It’s sometimes quaint (the Iowa native and Prairie Golf Tour alum Zach Johnson in 2007) and often spectacular (Nicklaus’ 17-under 271 in 1965, Tiger Woods’ 18-under 270 in 1997). It can be eerily quiet on the front nine and deafeningly loud on the back.
It’s both crushing (Greg Norman’s 1996 collapse and Argentina’s Roberto De Vicenzo signing a scorecard in 1968 that had him charged with a 4 on No. 17 instead of the birdie 3 he made, thus costing him the championship by a stroke) and cathartic (an older, more humble, less overwhelming Tiger winning in 2019).
It’s also the club occasionally shoveling ice around the azaleas to keep them from blooming too soon if spring comes early. It’s dying the water in the ponds and creeks a deep, smoky blue. It’s wrapping all the sandwiches, including egg salad and pimento cheese — which top out at $3, by the way, never a penny more — in deep green paper so that should uncouth soul drop the wrapper on the ground, it
will blend in until one of the 3,000 workers on Masters week sweeps in to remove it a minute or two later.
It’s not allowing electronics on the course, which means that when the crowds gather around Amen Corner, the majestic and menacing 16th or the 18th green, they’re actually glued to the golfers instead of Tweets from LeBron James and Patrick Mahomes.
It’s enjoying the best cheeseburger and clam chowder imaginable in the clubhouse grille, the tables and waiters both dressed in heavily starched white cotton as real silverware and china make their distinctive ringing sounds, almost like a handbell choir.
It is, first and foremost, a yearly nod to a more civilized, cultured, mannerly time, political correctness be darned.
This is not to say the Masters is not without social awareness. Lee Elder, the first Black to play the Masters in 1975, will join Nicklaus and Gary Player as this year’s honorary starters.
Yet there’s also something to be said, whether you agree with it or not, for the private club not being blackmailed into moves it prefers not to make, such as when Martha Burke tried to force a Masters boycott in 2003 because of its all-male membership.
Said chairman Hootie Johnson of that attempt: “There may well come a day when women will be invited to join our membership, but that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet.”
Touche! And true to his word, Johnson nominated Darla Moore in 2012 to become one of the first of the private club’s six current female members.
This year’s tourney begins at Thursday’s dawn. Can defending champ Dustin Johnson win his second Masters in five months, having captured the fan-less, COVID-19, 2020 version back in November? Can Jordan Spieth follow last weekend’s drought-ending win in San Antonio with another green jacket performance to match his 2015 title? Can the expected limited crowds of 12,000 sound as loud as the preCOVID crowds of 40,000 or more come Sunday’s back nine?
For those of us of a certain age (BT, as in Before Tiger), there may never be a greater Masters moment than Nicklaus winning the 1986 tourney at the age of 46, his son Jackie on his bag, the two of them exiting the 18th green that Sunday, arms around each other, both men in tears.
The final key moment in that sixth and final Masters triumph for the Golden Bear occurred on the 17th green, Nicklaus eyeing a 12-footer for birdie. Jackie thought the tricky putt would break right, Jack argued that Rae’s Creek would pull it left. Jack’s judgement earned him the birdie.
Decades later, Jackie told Golf Digest: “In the years after that, Dad and I stuck tees in the ground at the spot where the hole was, trying to make that putt again. We haven’t made it—not once.”
That’s the Masters. Golfing magic you’ve never seen before and may never see again. And if you’re not glued to your couch this week, you just might miss another moment in golf history never to be repeated.