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Masters Week

Some would equate this week to holy week since it is the week of the Masters. There is more reverence at the Masters than any tournament in golf. At least that is the assessment here after having been fortunate enough to have covered the four major golf tournaments many times over the years—completing my own Grand Slam several times. With the Masters, I go back to the heyday of Arnold Palmer in 1960.

The reverence for the game itself in Scotland, especially when the tournament takes place at St. Andrews, is unmatched, but no sporting event is more cathedral like than the Masters.

The golfers consider it a shrine with its overwhelming natural beauty and its unequaledatmosphere. Youcansenseits reverence and esteem when you enter the gates and walk the grounds. Some things never change.

All who come this way the first full week in April are imbued with the unmistakable sense that you are traversing hallowed ground. When the azaleas and dogwoods are at peak in April and the weather is without threat, there is no greater setting for golf competition. The Masters holds the highest bucket list priority for sports fans everywhere, including those with foreign addresses. I’m here for the week and I am full of thanksgiving.

Each day has a special significance. Tuesday is a practice round which includes the many touring pros and a few ole timers, many being former champions who want to get out on the course and relive memories and play a friendly game on one of the awe-inspiring courses in the world.

In years past, there were occasions when many players came in early to prepare for the tournament. Jack Nicklaus would arrive and practice for at least three days and then go back home to North Palm Beach, Florida, returning to Augusta in time to practice on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Seve Ballesteros had a similar routine, except he did not return to Spain. I remember him saying how much Augusta reminded him of his home in Santander. continued from page

“The birds sing at Augusta just like back home. The flowers here are so beautiful and make me feel so comfortable.” How sad that Seve is no longer with us. Selah!

Wednesday is always a fun day for players to play the par 3 tournament, which was the brainchild of the former Chairman, Clifford Roberts. Roberts contracted with George Cobb, a University of Georgia graduate, to design the pitch and putt layout.

Interestingly, no winner of the par 3 course has ever won the Masters tournament. Nicklaus, the sixtime winner of the Masters never played the par 3 tournament when he was active on the tour. He never admitted to being superstitious, but the fact is, he never played the abbreviated layout until he became eligible for the senior tour.

Ray Floyd in 1990 appeared to be the most likely par 3 champion to win the Masters title, but he bogeyed the 17th hole in Sunday’s final round, which brought about a playoff between Floyd and Nick

Faldo. Those who had followed Floyd on the tour considered him to be one of the toughest competitors ever to play the game. When he pulled a seven iron into the pond at No. 11, the second playoff hole to lose, it shocked everybody. You can expect the unexpected at the Masters.

When the first round of the 86th Masters begins on Thursday, it is easy to discern that the players are getting stronger off the tee and are making lower and lower scores. As the drivers are blasting prodigious distances and awing the spectators, the purses are getting bigger and bigger with first place prize money in the majors escalating to unbelievable heights. Hideki Matsuyama took home a check for $2 million and 70 thousand dollars last year. This means that he hosts the champions dinner on the eve of the Masters. Not sure what he will serve for dinner, but if the menu includes noodles and rice and a cup of soup which is typical for Japanese dinners, then the past champions probably will not turn up their nose. If he trends exotic, I am sure there will be some skeptical dinner partners since you can order raw roe in Japan, also raw chicken and raw horse meat. Perhaps, he will include Fuji apples on the menu. Japanese fruit is very good. And what about sake? Am sure that will be available.

When Scotland born Sandy Lyle hosted the dinner, heservedhaggis. My guess is that there was plenty haggis left over, and I doubt that anybody asked for a takeout container.

The weekend at the Masters has an uplifting atmosphere, especially when theweatherisgood. When it comes to the environment, the only sporting event to rival the Masters is the Kentucky Derby. Sunday’s final round at Augusta is often something to behold. It has become a Masters tradition for a close and thrilling finish. Ken Venturi, who came close on two occasions to win the Masters, once poignantly said, “The Masters begins on the back nine on Sunday.” Most years that is the way it is.

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