It’s Master’s Weekend, four days in April when the Chosen Few (Thousand) make their annual pilgrimage to Augusta National, the Cathedral of Golf, in Georgia. There they pay homage to the icons of the game while we mere mortals cluster before 55-inch screens in family rooms, clubhouses and bars to watch grim-faced young men chase a dimpled white ball over fairways, roughs and greens greener than any lawn we know except that at Fenway Park.
Do I hear an Amen (Corner), brothers and sisters, for Saints Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods? Okay, scratch Tiger Woods. On second thought, he has repented for his transgressions of a decade ago, so let’s include him among the anointed.
I play golf every other year. I should say I tee the ball up, swing and watch the ball sail 300 yards: 150 yards straight and then after a sharp right turn another 150 yards into trees, leaves, scrub brush, or an adjacent fairway. On a dogleg right, my stroke is brilliant. Otherwise, it’s a slice. A bad slice.
Years ago my wife and I played a few holes with friends on a beautiful Friday evening. On the first hole my friend hit his drive straight down the fairway. Nice. I stepped up to the tee, ran through my check list of 87 items from stance to grip to takeaway to exhaling on the downswing and then swung. I caught the ball with the toe of my 3 wood. The ball rocketed on a line perpendicular to the tee box and caromed off the cart in which my wife was seated. Not so nice. My wife no longer plays golf.
I last played golf in 2017 with my dentist and good friend, Michael Gooding, at Warwick Country Club. Friends Joel Stark and Skip Carlin completed our foursome. It was brutal. My game, that is. One shot stands out, though. On the 15th hole, a 1,760-yard par 5 – it’s actually about 545 yards but feels much longer -- I managed to get within sight of the green in four. Pretty good, I thought, a perfect setup for a triple bogey because my ball was nestled in rough just beyond a menacing trap about 40 feet from the pin. I grabbed an iron – not sure which one – wiggled my feet into the grass, checked off the 87 items on my pre-shot list, and chipped cleanly out of the rough. The ball landed on the green and rolled. Fast. Way too fast. It’s destined for the rough on the other side, I thought.
But the gods of golf took pity on me. The ball rolled in a straight line, hit the pin and made one of the most satisfying sounds in sport, that kerplunk when a golf ball drops into a cup. My friends couldn’t believe it. I shrugged as if I sank difficult shots like that all the time. Par 5. Who would have thought?
Back to the Masters. I have been to Augusta. Augusta, Maine, that is, where the landscape is not so rich as Augusta National in April, not even in June. So, like most of you, I watch on television. It’s like watching a religious service at one of those mega-churches in the south. The congregants lining the fairways and circling the greens are reverent, all but bowing down as their gods march by.
Do I hear Amen (Corner), brothers and sisters?
The setting at Augusta National is beautiful. Lush fairways and greens. Stunning azaleas. Every blade, leaf and blossom perfect on television.
And the announcers. Oh, the announcers. Jim Nantz, less than a week removed from calling the exciting NCAA men’s basketball championship with high voltage partners Grant Hill and Bill Raftery before 72,000 screaming fans in Minneapolis, lowers the volume this weekend to speak in such hushed tones that one would think he is describing a sunrise service on Easter Sunday.
What is it about golf that spectators who have paid big bucks to sit greenside have to shut up and Nantz and his sidekicks have to whisper when Rory McIroy is lining up a putt? Can you imagine ushers at Fenway Park holding up Quiet Please signs and Dennis Eckersley murmuring when the Red Sox closer du jour is trying to strike out Aaron Judge of the Yankees with two on and two out in the top of the 9th of a 3-2 game? I don’t think so.
But this is my year to play golf, so on Sunday to get in the spirit of the game I’ll don my 10-year-old golf shirt, which still looks new, and watch the last few holes of the Masters.
The best thing about the final round? Minutes after Nantz signs off from the ceremonial Green Jacket presentation and post-match interview in the basement of Butler Cabin, one of 10 on the grounds that club members and guests may use, the most famous stop watch in television history will appear for another edition of “60 Minutes.”