I like golf. The game and I have always had a friendly, if not romantic, relationship. We’ve known a little bit about each other for a while now. When I was ten, I’d pull my grandfather’s faded canvas bag with the rusted zippers out of the garage, ask for a ride downtown, and sneak on to the backside of a municipal course to look for lost balls in the ill-tended rough and play the same three holes until the sun set. There isn’t a lot of passion involved; we don’t see one other regularly; but, we’re very forgiving of each other and always happy to get reaquainted. These days, besides a couple of annual reunion weekends, maybe I dust off the clubs one or two other times a year. And like most casual players, because I have some slight appreciation for the difficulty of the game, I watch a little on TV now and then. I’ll keep an eye on the leaderboard during the major championships, and if some famous names are in the hunt, I’ll grab the remote at five on a Friday afternoon to see what’s doing. I did just that for the 2012 Masters.
This year’s tournament at Augusta had everything a sports fan could want. The oldest 36-hole leader ever, former champion Fred Couples, a smiling 52 years of age, is tied for the lead at -5 with up-and-comer Jason Dufner from Cleveland, Ohio after Friday’s round. Dufner is yet to win any PGA Tour event and is perhaps best known for having the least flattering PGA player photo in history. The sport’s fallen icon, Tiger Woods, throws a petulant fit, tossing and kicking his club after he mishits a fade deep into the bunker on the par 3 sixteenth. Sympathetic (though not to Tiger) Phil Mickelson looks to win his fourth green jacket and goes six under on Saturday to claim second position. He trails only the Swede, Peter Hanson, who shot seven under; no Swede has ever won a major. And then there’s Sunday. The final round featured not one but two hole-in-ones on Tiger’s ill-fated sixteenth hole. Then South African Louis Oosthuizen makes the first double eagle, or albatross, at the second hole in Masters history to suddenly take the lead. He proceeds to make one clutch putt after another to hold or share the top position for not just sixteen but eighteen more nailbiting holes yet ultimately loses. Moments later at number three, we see unflappable lefty veteran Mickelson hit two consecutive shots righthanded with an upside down club face out of a bamboo thicket, the second of which comes out at a 90 degree angle for an eventual triple bogey six. Mickelson fights back but can never quite overcome the damage. England’s bodybuilding Lee Westwood and Georgia Tech’s potbellied Matt Kuchar make late charges that fall just short. All of this excitement, and 2012 champion’s name hasn’t even been mentioned. The shotmaking of a Georgia Bulldog named Bubba overcomes his lack of a short game and leads to four straight birdies on the back nine to catch the leader. Then, on the second sudden death playoff hole, Bubba Watson’s skill, creativity, and cowboy courage are on full display. His hooked wedge from deep in the woods around a magnolia tree hits the green and takes a right turn towards the hole, winning him the Masters. The shot is so unbelievable that my wife, waiting for the remote, remarks, “Maybe God had something to do with that.” Fittingly, I suppose, for a tournament with an Amen Corner. What a great game, golf. I’m so happy to know you.