My favorite Masters memories
Along with nearly every other sporting event, the Masters Tournament has fallen prey to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although work commitments for years have prevented me from enjoying all but its final round, even that annual Sunday afternoon ritual will be sorely missed this week.
For those of us who grew up in northern climes, television images of Augusta National’s pristine beauty helped lift spirits after dreadfully long winters. Even when the cold lingered into April, and the conditions outside our windows were in direct contrast to those in eastern Georgia, the Masters simply being on was our annual cue that relief wasn’t far behind.
Not only did the Masters serve as an annual rite of spring, but in our household it was the one weekend every year where everything else was off the table. Saturday and Sunday afternoon would be time for my dad to devote to the nearly commercial-free CBS coverage from start to finish.
It’s been a decades-long source of humor (to me anyway) that not much is allowed to pry my dad away from his appointed viewing. Even celebrating my mother’s birthday, which falls around tournament time, must be worked around the golf coverage. To the irritation of my sister, any celebratory dinner or get-together will have to be done Saturday night or must wait until after the green jacket is on the back of its latest recipient.
Although I didn’t embrace this tradition until I was around 11 or 12, it was natural to fall in love with the Masters and get the itch to pick up a set of clubs. Dad worked at several country clubs for the last 25 years of his working life, so opportunities existed to play frequently during the summer. Unfortunately, golf proved too humbling and expensive an exercise to continue after I moved away.
Nonetheless, the Masters remains a compelling event set amidst the most beautiful of backdrops. While I’ve enjoyed a lot of them over the years, especially those won by personal favorites, like Angel Cabrera and Jose Maria Olazabal, here are three Masters moments that stand out for me.
A day after he served as a pallbearer at the funeral of his longtime mentor Harvey Penick, an emotional Ben Crenshaw teed off in the first round at Augusta. Playing inspired golf over four days, the Texan putted out a one-stroke winner over Davis Love III.
Far from it being a celebratory moment winning his second green jacket, Crenshaw, head in hands, slumped over the 72nd hole and grieved the loss of his friend before the world.
"I had a 15th club in my bag," said Crenshaw in reference to Penick.
Tiger Woods was already a three-time Masters champion and an eight-time major tournament titlist by the time his much-loved rival, 33-year-old Phil Mickelson, arrived at the 18th green on Sunday.
In a tie with Ernie Els and with an 18-foot putt ahead of him, "Lefty" sunk it to one of the most tremendous crowd roars in tournament history, not to mention sighs of relief from his countless fans watching worldwide. Getting a monkey off one’s back never looked and felt so good.
I can’t recall if it was a case of beginner’s luck, or if I had lightly partaken in the past, but I do know this was one of the first times I placed futures bets on the Masters.
If memory serves, I invested in about three players, including Adam Scott and Jason Day. Those two were in contention throughout Sunday afternoon, but it was Scott who wound up in a sudden-death playoff with Angel Cabrera, a favorite of mine, but one I had been hesitant to back at the age of 43.
Luckily for me, Scott sank a birdie on the second playoff hole to beat "El Pato" for the green jacket. It remains one of the sweetest 25-1 scores of my life.