Warm Up Roars

By Rex HoggardApril 8, 2009, 4:00 pm
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AUGUSTA , Ga. ' Last we saw Jacob Immelman he was rushing into dads arms, a snapshot moment a year of Sundays ago.
 
On Wednesday on Augusta Nationals par-3 course he was hoisted high atop pops shoulders coming down the ninth hole, bookend moments regardless of the gravity of the situation or the outcome.
 
Whether the roars return to the back nine on Sunday at this years Masters is up to Mother Nature, but on the little nine perched just the other side of Augusta Nationals signature cabins, the volume was turned up plenty loud on Wednesday.
 
The Masters Tournament
A scene from the beautiful Par 3 course at Augusta National. (Getty Images)
Wednesday at the WGC-Match Play Championship may be the best competitive hump day on Tour, but the Par 3 Contest has staked higher sentimental territory in the golf psyche, if not all of sports.
 
Nowhere else in sporting nation is the calm before the storm so enjoyable.
 
Opposing teams dont roll up for a fun game of two-hand touch before the Super Bowl and there are no friendly pick-up games on the court the day before the NBA Finals.
 
They dont play a Little League game on the diamond before a World Series, said Buddy Alexander, adding to the theme with his 14 years of Par 3 participation.
 
Alexander, the men's golf coach at the University of Florida, is among a select group of honorary invitees, mostly U.S. Golf Association championship winners, who are allowed to compete in the Par 3 and play practice rounds each year. It is just another subtle layer of intrigue to an already richly textured product.
 
In 1960 officials introduced the Par 3 Contest and each year the little course that could delivers entertainment and, on occasion, drama.
 
I remember one year it was me and Mike Donald and Freddie (Couples) and we were playing for a lot of money to me, Alexander said. I hit it to about (1 foot) at No. 1 and to about (1 foot) on No. 2. Before I hit my tee shot on No. 3 there had already been two holes-in-one at 1 and 2. I was thinking, cool I can win closest to the pin. Then I hear the roars and just knew it.
 
Jerry Pate has not missed a Par 3 since 1976, but still covets another chance to win golf's most light-hearted title. He can, with little prompting, however, recount his closest brush with victory as clearly as any tournament he has played.
 
I was 5 under going into the ninth hole and pulled a wedge into the water, Pate recalled. Ben (Crenshaw) told me not to worry about it I was leading, so I dropped a ball and holed out for par. I called the shot but I still lost.
 
Playing his final Masters, Gary Player spun a similarly unlikely par into the hole at the ninth Wednesday after dunking his first attempt. By any other name, practice rounds shouldnt be this much fun.
 
Larry Mize has been a Par 3 participant since 1984 who counts a green jacket among his four Tour titles, but not a Par 3 crown.
 
Ive been shutout over there but Im working on it, smiled Mize. Theres nothing like this in sports. It is very unique.
 
The longevity of the Par 3 seemed summed up in the face of Jack Newman, a Masters first-timer.
 
Late Wednesday Newman was in the lead until he rinsed his tee shot at the eighth hole. Maybe not surprisingly, he was running a tad hot after the gaffe.
 
Someone told me right after I hit in the water that I was leading, said Newman, the U.S. Amateur Public Links champion. I really wanted that. A trophy is a trophy.
 
The pain was eased a hole later when Fuzzy Zoeller pulled a young girl from the crowd and had her hole his 7-footer for birdie. Its this middle ground between competition and clowning that makes the Par 3 more than a simple diversion.
 
Tiger Woods doesnt play the Par 3. Some speculate its because of the jinx, no Par 3 winner has ever gone on to win that weeks Masters, but its more likely that the festivities dont fit into his regimented pre-major routine. And truth be told the Par 3 may be the only event in golf that doesnt suffer without the world No. 1 in the field.
 
Besides, Tour types might be a superstitious lot but anything associated with Masters green is worth winning.
 
(Oliver Wilson) said this morning, I want to win the Par 3. That tradition can be broken, said Rocky Hambric, Wilsons manager with Hambric Sports.
 
Wilson came up short in his bid, finishing well behind champion Tim Clark who aced the ninth hole ' one of three holes-in-one, including Greg Normans pine-rattling hole out at the sixth ' for a 5 under total, and the South African will gladly put the Par 3 jinx to the test starting on Thursday on the serious side of the golf course.
 
As for Immelman, Jacob helped the old man finish up his round, both missing the 5 footer at the last for birdie. Thankfully, dad will handle the putting duties solo the rest of the week and Jacob will gladly wait for another hug at the 18th on Sunday.
 

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    Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

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