Masters Eras Roll By

I read in the news this week that golfer Esteban Toledo, who has won on the tour, is going to this year’s Masters. He’s not going as a player, but as a caddie for another pro. My first thought was, “Where did it all go? It all ran by so fast that I barely saw it. One day, I was sitting watching golf on a black and white television, and suddenly, everyone who made the game great, including me as a spectator – is old.” And there’s that poor guy who has experienced success, and this week, he’s going to carry the clubs of a much younger man, one who actually gets to play in the Masters.

Then it hit. Toldo is caddying for none other than Sandy Lyle, who won the Masters in 1988. Wait a minute – Toledo is caddying for a fellow old guy who hasn’t seen the top of the big-time leaderboard for over two decades (I say that with a salute to Lyle and anyone else who wins one of the big ones…ever). Well, that didn’t make me feel any younger.

By the way, how many of us have actually watched golf on a black and white TV? Not easy, is it? The green landscape and blue sky on a color set gives us at least a fighting chance to follow the ball. But, we did it. We developed the skill. I started my golf-watching life in front of the old Motorola with the cool Sam Snead, Chi Chi Rodriguez and the magic hat, and Lee Trevino, who somehow reached out through the TV and made me feel welcome in attending the tournament vicariously,

mastersI followed the historical aspects of the game, through what I call the era of the “smoothies,” men with graceful, perfectly architected swings, from Bobby Jones to Nelson, Snead, and Hogan. Then came the big three, the boomers. Arnie with his follow-through twitch, Jack, with his leg power, and even Player. He wasn’t a long ball hitter, but certainly no cupcake, either – gave it everything. Now, what do I see at the Masters? Two of the three hitting ceremonial shots, with Arnie not in attendance. For one like me, the Masters without Arnie is not the Masters.

Everything that speaks to me about the modern Masters is making me feel older and older this week. And, in casting about for some gem of reprieve, it only got worse. I open an article that reads something like, “Tiger the Relic of a Bygone Era?” What? Did I fall asleep in a time capsule somewhere, and everyone forgot to wake me up? Tiger just got started – what are you talking about? Now, I read that almost three quarters of professional male golfers believe that Tiger will never win another major. That puts him in a class with me! Well, almost. Well alright – technically. The senior peers of the new greats were terrified of Tiger in the Masters, and there was a time when we had betting pools to predict who would come in second. Tiger being a relic is not something my crumbling body and brain are going to absorb easily.

I should have stopped reading – but I didn’t. The coup de grace hit me this morning, rendering me instantly cataract-laden, with a cane by my bedside. Another Masters article that went something like this – “Spieth Relying on Experience.” Now, Spieth is phenomenal, I grant you, but nobody in his early 20s is experienced, even if he’s won the fool thing already – which he has, a reality that still escapes me. “Nobody pays dues anymore,” I thought. “I paid them, and I want a refund for my early 20s if Spieth gets experience there that he can rely on.”

It all serves to remind us that we are all members of a flowing tradition. It comes to us out of a mystical past, often in childhood, passes by like a parade, and leaves us looking down the road to see where it has gone. Nothing we do can make it stay. We immortalize our Arnies, Garys, Jacks, and Spieths as best we can, but our best bet is to keep a fresh memory and a bent toward gratitude that it happened in our lifetimes. So, I’ll watch the Masters as a decrepit although still avid spectator, but I won’t run out and play a quick 36 afterward. I used to do that every Masters weekend – what memories those were.

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