The Masters Playing at the Masters
Thoughts about the Generations Playing Together
It was James Agee who wrote the text to “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” and although he was researching a poor cross-section of the American population, and how they toiled in a difficult existence, the phrase works for many situations, even professional golf. As most golf fans do, I paid close attention to the first round of the Masters, and on the surface, I saw what I’ve always seen. Yes, Justin Rose and Charley Hoffman are in the lead for the moment, with Ernie Els and a large group close behind – yes, that’s normal. Yes, Bubba Watson, defending champion, is one under – good, good, and Rory is not far off, either. Yes, that also was to be expected. Everything’s going according to plan. We’ll see unexpected faces in the first day of the Masters, and then we’ll see it all change during the next four
There’s another story going on, though, underneath the surface. It was signaled by Jack Nicklaus scoring an ace on the par 3 preparatory round. If I’m not mistaken, Jack is 75, and I doubt he dribbled it in like a lucky shot from some geriatric hacker who’s never had a hole-in-one before. No, Jack plays golf with the same artistic intention that he’s always demonstrated. But that’s not even the story at the Masters this year.
As a qualifier, I’ll say up front that I’m not talking about Bubba Watson – I’m talking about Tom Watson, who is still shooting sub-par rounds in tournament play on some of the world’s most difficult courses, in some of the world’s most high-pressure events. Tom is currently one under, tied with the other Watson. And, not too far back is Welshman Ian Woosnam. Remember “Woosie?” He won the Masters when I was almost young! You’ll need a calculator for that one.
Continuing on the subject of Masters lore, anyone remember Tiger Woods? He’s not setting the course on fire, but heading into his late thirties, he is still lurking at one over, a condition that could change in either direction at a moment’s notice. So, at least for the first round’s sake, we don’t just need to “Praise Famous Men” as if they are historical figures. They’re still here, and still playing competitively. Let’s recap – the two Bubbas, separated by a generation, are tied. Woosie and Tiger, twenty years apart, are lurking, and in the middle, former champion Phil Mickelson is doing just fine, presently at two under – all in one Masters.
Ok, men who are over fifty, what’s going on? I’m not saying that Tom, Ian, or even Tiger will win the Masters this year, but if they can do what they’re doing, shouldn’t we be following their example in our less lucrative, week-ending ways? The Masters leaderboard isn’t shaping up according to age, and neither should ours. Maybe the older stars get tired quicker now, that’s understandable. It’s hard to come back the next day, and do it all over again when you’re not in your twenties, but most of us don’t have to. Get rested, and play some of the best golf of your life, by using the assets of your age, with all of its accumulated experience and bygone neuroses. Don’t push to outdrive, push to drive straight. Out-calm your younger opponent, out-strategize him, out green-read him, out-philosophize him. Remind yourself that he couldn’t beat Tom, Ian or Tiger, at the Masters or anywhere else. There, you’ve got him. Somewhere in the depths of his ego, he actually thinks that he could. You, on the other hand, don’t feel the need to.
In my lifetime’s annual viewing of the Masters, I have always been the most delighted by the presence of former greats, those who sometimes still are. They’ve got some thrills left in them that the young stars can’t provide in quite the same way, even at the Masters. They also have a lot to teach those of us who errantly believe that our game has gone away with our youth.