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 And Another Thing

The first time ever I saw its face...

Thirty years ago I attended my first Masters Tournament.

I made the trip excited about seeing Augusta National, having previously only being able to marvel at its beauty on television. I wasn’t disappointed. To cite just one outstanding example, the view down the hill into the ‘cathedral of pines’ on the 10th hole was, and is, unforgettable.

It seemed almost inconceivable that anyone could reach the green in two shots. Nowadays, per Bubba Watson, they can do so with a wedge in their hands.

Like pretty much every European golf fan of the time, I was also excited about watching the great Seve Ballesteros defend his title. That excitement lasted two days after the build-up. He missed the cut.

Seve was to come close again in 1985 and 1989, and excruciatingly so in 1986 and 1987. It seemed plain wrong that he never won a third green jacket. In 1986, which will forever be remembered for Jack Nicklaus’s astonishing charge to victory, it looked likely, when Seve eagled the 15th hole on Friday to assume the lead, that he would win again. The six he took on the same hole on Sunday sunk that hope as surely as the pond in front of the green drowned his ball. The following year he was downed in a playoff.

One evening at the 1994 tournament, I saw George O’Grady, then No. 2 at the European Tour, and Jimmy Patino, the owner of Valderrama, in conversation over dinner. This was shocking: Patino was a multi-millionaire and we were in TGI Friday’s. However, I therefore wasn’t shocked the following month when Valderrama was confirmed as the host venue for the 1997 Ryder Cup in Spain.

In the old days (reaches for reading glasses), Augusta National Golf Club held a cocktail party on the Saturday evening for members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the British press.

In the even older days, apparently, going so far back it’s possible to imagine that dinosaurs were roaming around Georgia, the club used to pay towards the travel expenses of the British media, so eager were they to get them to attend. The party is no more. Some felt it began to go downhill once members of the European Tour were invited as well…

Prior to the 1996 hosting, the late British golf writer, Peter Dobereiner, was freshening himself up in the washrooms which were also used by competitors – at least, those competitors who were not past champions. Among their number was Greg Norman. With one round to play, he led Nick Faldo by six shots. Peter and he bumped into each other. “Well, Greg,” said Peter, “I don’t think even you can f-it up from here.” Oh yes he could, although admittedly it did require some wonderful golf from Faldo to trigger Norman’s collapse.

Greg never did make it into the champions’ locker room.

Tiger Woods, on the other hand, has won the thing four times. The first occasion was his first major championship, in 1997. He led by nine shots going into the last round. Colin Montgomerie, not renowned for his subtlety, had just been blown away as Tiger’s third-round playing partner when he said, referencing the previous year and regarding the prospect that Woods might not win: “This is very different. Faldo’s not lying second, for a start. [Costantino Rocca was.] And Greg Norman’s not Tiger Woods.” And with that went his chances of ever getting a ride in Greg’s plane. But, essentially, which is not always the case, Monty was right. Woods won by 12.

It was at Augusta that I first met Herbert Warren Wind, the great American golf writer. (In the pantheon of the ‘profession’, he might be said to have been the American equivalent of Bernard Darwin. The Story of American Golf and The Lure of Golf anthology both make for glorious reading.) It was a privilege to have the opportunity to watch golf with him and appreciate his insights into the game.

No one would be surprised to know that Augusta can be a stickler for implementing its rules. At the Masters, what Augusta National says goes, and it’s best not to forget that.

For example, one of the jobs of the Pinkerton guards, who police the affair, is to prevent anyone from running. A brisk walk is as fast as you are permitted to proceed.

I was discussing this one day with a colleague. “I got done today by one of them for doing the opposite,” he said. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, I’d had one or two drinks at lunch,” he explained. “One of them woke me up. I was asleep by the 12th tee.” And the moral of this story? At Augusta it’s forbidden to drink and skive.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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