The Masters Most Magical of the Majors
I wonder how much nostalgia I could tolerate in one day, because today has pushed it to the limit. We are almost ready to start the third round of the 2017 tournament at Augusta, and as always, things are interesting. Fowler is minus 4, which is not surprising. A guy with game has stepped up his game the past two years, and it makes sense that he’d look good at the Masters. Sergio Garcia is tied with Fowler, which makes for interesting copy. This might be his time. We just didn’t know that it would come this late. I’ve seen enough of Charley Hoffman to see why he’s a contender. As for Thomas Pieters and William McGirt, also tied for the lead, I’m learning about two more tour players. I thought that I was starved for the sort of nostalgia I used to feel over this tournament and the luminaries that made it great, but received one last shot of it when I saw the name of Fred Couples. Couples is now 57 years of age, and no matter what happens oveer the weekend, I am so, so impressed. Winning the tournament, from this fan’s point of view, isn’t what it’s all about. It’s a thank you to Fred Couples for coming out as an ‘almost’ old guy, and looking so good. It’s making a lot of the old guys feel better.
In a moment of gratitude for my last dose of Masters reminisicence, I tirned on the TV to see the pre-round show. In that moment, the rest of the nostalgia came in a tsunami First of all, an empty chair with Arnold Palmer’s green jacket is enough to do a fan in, and reinundates us with memories of the the Big Three era. However, I was reminded that there has almost always been a “big three” lending the Masters its present-day magic. Apparently, the era of Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, and Walter Hagen were nothing short of insane once Augusta was built and up-and-running. And it wasn’t just high-level competitive golf. Consider the “shot heard ’round the world” of Gene Sarazen when he double-eagled a par 5 with a 4 wood, changing everything. The fans who aged from that era on were not starved for golfing nostalgia.
Then came the next big three, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, and Byron Nelson. Hogan came back from a horrible auto accident, and still won a bunch of majors from his late 30s. They said he wouldn’t live, adjusted it to ‘wouldn’t walk,’ and settled for ‘wouldn’t play golf.’ They should have known who they were betting against. Sam Snead, described by today’s announcer as Daniel Boone with a driver, was one of my early heroes, and Byron Nelson carved uo the record book like a Thanksgiving turkey.
Then came the Big Three of my generation. I always thought that we were the only lucky ones, and didn’t realize that the past two generations also had what we were getting. One difference, however, was that Arnold Palmer and television emerged at the same time. It was perfect for such a charismatic player and personality. With him came ‘the beast,’ a hard-hitting and masterful Nicklaus from the Midwest. To complement that, Gary Player became the first non-American to win the Masters, and in a stretch of a decade, one of the three took the trophy seven or eight times. It’s a shame that when Tiger Woods showed up, it was so difficult to find two colleagues to push him the way former trios did.
That was my era of nostalgia, but Fred Couples is giving me a good, last look at the great ones I remember. He won it in 1992, a quarter of a century ago, and is still one of the best out there, at least for a couple of days. Like my heroes of yesteryear, he plays his own way, and sees things his own way, declining to be directed by committee. His nickname is still “Boom Boom,” and he has overcome all manner of pain and suffering, not only to get here, but to stay here. So, as the third round begins in a short while, I still have enough nostalgia to sit down and watch, in addition to taking stock of a whole new generation of greats who will be fondly remembered by younger fans of this era.