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Augusta through eyes anew

Are you one of those people who’ve lived in your house for many years without doing anything too spectacular in the way of exploring the area? Then, suddenly, friends or relatives from far away come to visit? You wonder what to do with them. Do you show them the sites? If you are a Londoner, it’s the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Horse Guards Parade, the Changing of the Guard, Harrods, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square. The list goes on.

Well, that sort of thing happened to me recently at the Masters. I took two of my sons, Henry and Simon, and I was fortunate in being able to get them access to almost everywhere they wished to see. For me, who had my first invitation to play the course in 1959, it was a revelation to see Augusta and its surroundings through new eyes. The weather was mostly delightful, although one night we had a mini-typhoon which brought about an inch and a half of rain and knocked down a number of trees. This being Augusta, they had magically been removed by daybreak the following day.

I’m afraid to say one tends to get rather blasé when you’ve visited the same course for more than 50 years. It’s rather like going to see Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap four nights a week and then dining across the road at the Ivy, where the menu has hardly changed since time began.

Of course, my sons spent too much money on souvenirs, even though these are relatively sensibly priced – well, except for some of the shirts, which I am sure are made in faraway places and cost, even with all the duties and taxes paid, no more than $12 each to produce but when placed in front of the public they knock a sizeable hole in a $100 bill. But what the hell, it could well be the only time they visit Augusta.

They had plenty to remember: exciting play right up to the end and a number of home players very much in contention but, in the end, it again wasn’t to be. They started off with good scores and in fine spirit only for the weekend to find them out. Lee Westwood had 21 putts more than Phil Mickleson and they finished on the same score, but that’s primarily because Westwood hits far more greens than Mickelson, or indeed 98% of everyone else playing professional golf.

The playoff was exciting, full of drama. Both Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen had chances to win at the first extra hole. Then Bubba hit one of his massive drives miles off line at the 10th, their second playoff hole, but found an opening through the trees and played a wonder shot to the middle of the green. That – and two putts – proved to be enough.

It wasn’t the first time Watson had hit wayward drives but, as there is no real deep ground cover at Augusta, if you are fortunate enough to be able to swing you can, most of the time at least, scuttle the ball back on to the fairway, but it was extraordinary how often he seemed to go off line only to find himself in a position where he could at least make a swing and hit the ball towards the green. So it was on that second extra hole.

The cameras were not in the perfect position to show us exactly the problems he faced. We saw him swing, make good contact, the ball disappeared, then suddenly the camera behind the green picked it up as it landed and spun towards the hole. What wonderful control. On reflection, perhaps Bubba would not have won the Masters had he been a right-handed golfer. It’s very easy to hook with a lofted club but not a slice. In fact, the only person in my life in golf who could properly slice a 9-iron or a wedge was the late Max Faulkner. But no matter. Oosthuizen took three from the front of the green and it was all over.

The contrasting styles were remarkable. Watson does very little that you could say is conventional whereas Oosthuizen’s swing and tempo are superb. Over the past 30 years or so, a standard form of swing has been introduced and we’ve had very few good players with eccentric styles or grips. The only two in my time who were eccentric were Eamonn Darcy and Lee Trevino. Darcy was good, Trevino a genius. Now there are a number of players from the Far East with very strange actions but good tempo.

Perhaps that’s because they haven’t had access to teachers who are immersed in today’s modern styles. But thank goodness for them, along with Tommy ‘Two Gloves’ Gainey, Boo Weekley and the South African, Jbe Kruger, who on the appearance of his swing looks no better than an 8-handicapper but he plays the game wonderfully well.

So Bubba blubbed, received the green jacket and the magnificent trophy. He’s proof of the words of John Jacobs many years ago. “The game of golf can be played successfully so many different ways.” So the opening major has come and gone and I’d like to think the next three are going to be just as exciting. As for my sons, I’d like to thank my BBC colleagues who looked after me and them so well over those glorious days. I am indeed blessed to be involved in such a wonderful game and with so many friends.

June 2012

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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