Masters More Than Just a Major

By Associated PressApril 9, 2008, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Ann Curtis came in the back gates of Augusta National expecting little more than a nice day with her husband. She is not a golfer, has never been here before, but what she saw gave her a start.
Im not one thats easily awed, she said. Its just breathtaking.
Before her was a cathedral of spring'home to the Masters golf tournament, yes, but also something more. An annual rite, an emergence from the gray of winter into a blaze of color from the green grass to the pink and fuchsia azaleas to the white dogwoods.
Its a mystique that doesnt wear off, even for the likes of Arnold Palmer and Butch Harmon after more than half a century. Harmon was a toddler when his father, Claude, won the Masters 60 years ago. Palmer, perhaps the most beloved figure at Augusta, won the first of his four green jackets exactly 50 years ago.
There are so many stories here, Harmon said on the green-carpet porch of the white clubhouse.
Thats what is so great about this place, Palmer quietly replied.
Todays stars understand that, too.
This major is so important to all of us, Tiger Woods said. Its such a special event.
Woods appreciates the beauty of Augusta National, but hes here for the golf. The worlds No. 1 player sent expectations higher than a Georgia pine when he said earlier this year that the Grand Slam'winning all four majors in the same year'was easily within reason. He has won eight out of his last 10 tournaments and is an even-money favorite to win his fifth Masters, odds never before seen in golf.
He played 18 holes on Sunday and Monday, nine holes on Tuesday and spent the final day of practice on the driving range and the putting green, skipping the Par 3 tournament because he wanted no distractions.
For so many others, Augusta National is all about distractions.
The Masters is the only major held on the same golf course every year, and it has been televised every year since 1956. Fans and players alike grow up watching the tournament on the second weekend of April. They know the holes. They remember the shots. They can recite the history. But they cant recreate the beauty.
Tom Kolvek of Vero Beach, Fla., brought his wife here for her 60th birthday. He purchased a book on the history of the club and took notes before passing through the gates Wednesday, studying the contours of the land and the flowers named for every hole'Tea Olive, Golden Bell, Redbud, Holly'all of them found on this former nursery.
Its like going to church, Kolvek said.
He took a picture on every hole, even if there were no world-class golfers in the background. It is not unusual to see fans stooped over an azalea bush, the camera inches away from the blooms.
Christine Hancock moved to Maryland from Augusta, but she returns each year for the Masters. For her, it is the definition of spring. For others, it signals the start of the golf season.
A month before it happens, you get this draw to be here and nothing stands in your way, she said. Everything that symbolizes and speaks to spring is here. Its just gorgeous.
It is a powerful draw for those who dont have a ticket. Even in a slumping economy, the market for a Masters badge remains high.
One New York broker said a four-day pass was going for $3,500, and if that sounds like a steal, consider the face value'$175, by far the cheapest for a major sporting event. A ticket to the Super Bowl, which lasts four hours, was $700.
Inside the gates, the value only gets better.
Concession prices resemble those at a high school football game, with a pimiento cheese sandwich going for $1.50, candy bars for $1 and a cup of beer for $2. Its not gourmet, but no one comes to the Masters for a good meal.
They are here for the views, stunning changes in elevation down to Amen Corner, where Raes Creek cuts behind the 11th green, in front of the 12th green and winds along the 13th hole, where the club estimates there are 1,600 azaleas.
And they are here for the golf.
For all the flowers, there are just as many footprints left by history.
Each hole contains a Masters moment, from Ben Crenshaw making a 60-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole in 1984, to Sandy Lyle hitting out of the cavernous bunker on the 18th to 10 feet for a birdie to win by a single stroke 20 years ago.
The Masters is the youngest of the four majors, created in 1934 by the great Bobby Jones. Even so, perhaps no other golf tournament celebrates its history quite like Augusta National, and Wednesday was a perfect example.
Playing the 18th hole by himself was Larry Mize, who turns 50 later this year. Hes remembered as the local kid who chipped in for birdie on the 11th hole in 1987 to beat Greg Norman in a playoff, still one of the most celebrated shots at the Masters.
Mize has never even practiced that shot over the last 21 years.
Its a pure memory, he said. I dont want to ruin it.
Want memories?
Two groups back was Jack Nicklaus, who stopped playing the Masters in 2005 but decided to play the back nine for practice with his 18-year-old grandson on the bag, just so the kid could see the course for himself. Nicklaus played with Gary Player, who will set the record this week by taking part in his 51st Masters.
The Golden Bear is now 68, and he had to hit a fairway metal into almost all the par 4s, but he was greeted by a standing ovation as he walked off the 18th tee.
He then played the Par 3 tournament and headed home.
Im going to leave this to a lot of young folks, he said.
Still, he was here, and he undoubtedly will be back next year. The aura of Amen Corner in the spring is too alluring.
What gives the course its mystique? Nicklaus left that for others to ponder, but his answer was simple:
Its obviously a pretty place.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - The Masters
  • Video: The Masters Tournament
  • Getty Images

    McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

    By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

    One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

    McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

    It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

    McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

    Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

    Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

    Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

    The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

    The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

    Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

    The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

    A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

    Getty Images

    Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

    Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

    Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

    South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

    Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

    The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



    Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

    By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

    It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

    Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

    Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

    "We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

    Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

    Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

    Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.