Slice of Life column
I have another confession to make. I often combat bouts of insomnia by playing Augusta National in my mind. My best score so far is a 74 and that's with a three-putt on 18. Such sleep-inducing gambits are just one more indication of 1) The severity of the overwrought golf psyche; and 2) How much caffeine I imbibe during the day.
No tournament penetrates the mind of the average golfer as much as the Masters does. The unparalleled beauty of spring combined with the incredible sense of tradition allows the Masters an unshakable hold on us all. For me, some of my earliest memories of golf are watching the Masters on television. Indeed, the Masters has a way of luring and seducing the young for its charms are many. Foremost is the course itself. It's the only major championship played each and every year at the same venue. As such, the sense of place and collective memory is powerful.
That's why when I was fortunate to visit the Masters for the first time in 1978, I had in many ways already been there before, well at least for the back side (darn TV hardly ever showed the front side.) Augusta National was an eye-opener. Television just doesn't reveal the undulating character of the golf course, how it bobs and weaves, dips and swerves through the flowering dogwoods and scented pines. And one is never ready for the impeccable beauty. Everything is neatly and majestically in its place. Litter is nowhere to be found, thanks to the manners of the patrons and the efficacy of the Masters' staff. On this note, still another confession is in order. Back in 1984 I went to the Masters again with my brother and a group of friends. For most, it was their first time at the tournament. Well, one guy thought long and hard about buying a memento for all of us. By Saturday, he announced he had a special Masters hat for us. In a wonderful display of chutzpah, this guy had managed to buy four yellow caps, worn by certain grounds staff members, marked with a single word in Masters green stitching: LITTER. Appropriately, for the obligatory group photo, we were dubbed "The Littermen." Individually, we were "Gene Litter" (who by the way never won the Masters.) Knowing the thoroughness of the Masters officials, this little stunt will never again be duplicated. I imagine nowadays all uniforms, hats, and even those litter harpoons are all daily inventoried and accounted for. Don't even think about it.
But that's the kind of grip the Masters has on its minions. And it doesn't seem to recede with age. We're all as excited now about watching the Masters, about getting collectively nervous and tense on Sunday afternoon, as we did when we were kids. One of my favorite memories of the Masters took place in 1988 during the final round. I was standing on this little knoll behind the fourth tee with my binoculars watching the action. I happened to be standing next to the famed golf writer Herbert Warren Wind who I had long admired for his meticulous and elegant articles in The New Yorker. I had introduced myself to Wind several years before, told him how much I admired his work, and a nice modest friendship had developed. In truth, he was a consummate gentleman who patiently listened and kindly responded to the many queries posed by this upstart golf scribe. Anyway, Wind was out on the course following the leaders, getting a feel for the drama that inevitably builds throughout the day. Being in his 80s, his eyesight wasn't the best. In fact, he politely asked me what was happening up on the green. I considered it an honor to be this legendary writer's eyes for this hole. With my binoculars, I provided a play-by-play for Wind as Sandy Lyle lined up a two-tier long birdie putt on the par-three No. 4. "Lyle is over his putt, he strokes it, it's heading toward the hole, still rolling, still rolling, My God it went into the hole! (gallery exploding in applause.)" I dropped my binoculars, turned to Wind, and there he was smiling and excited as a schoolboy ready to run out for recess, immediately years younger by the moment. "Terry, isn't that magnificent?"
That's the Masters.
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