35 Masters Ago
I’ve been practicing all weekend for the Masters.
Getting comfortable in my chair in the family room. Getting just the right position for the pillows on my bed, in case I need to be watching upstairs, if one of my wife’s friends or her mother comes over. Putting the remote control close at hand, so I can either change the channel or hit mute when I have to watch the same Canadian commercials over and over and over and over again. Having a razor blade handy so I can end my life if the repetitive commercials are either Trivago or the Robaxecet dancing puppets.
Debating whether to just move the bar fridge right beside my chair, or concede that getting up and walking to the kitchen fridge is good exercise. Ditto the bags of (Hawkins) Cheezies – chair-side or kitchen? (I’ve opted for chair-side on this one.) Unplug the phone. Record new voice response saying I’m out of town till Sunday night at 8:00. Have extension cords set up for iPhone and laptop, for texting pals and checking the remaining pages of the leaderboard.
Yep, I’d say I’m all set. As I have been every year, since watching my first Masters in, I believe, 1958. I’ve watched every Masters since then, including the two years I was living in England. It was pretty weird staying up till 1:00 a.m. on a Monday in a graduate student’s residence in London to watch a golf tournament, but so I did.
I’ve had the good fortune to go to the Masters once, which is several times fewer than many people I know, but one time more than many others. That was in 1982, in the years when Colin Brown, Sr., an insurance executive from London, Ontario, used to charter an Air Canada 707, and fly about 140 golf nuts to Augusta for the Saturday round.
It was quite a thrill to do that “Colin Brown trip”, as it was widely called, no matter how many times you did it – and there were many repeaters. We all congregated at Pearson Airport around 6:00 a.m., took off around 7:15, arrived in Augusta around 9:00, took charter buses to Augusta National, and walked onto the course around 9:30, just as the first groups were teeing off.
My plan was simple that day… check out the clubhouse, Butler Cabin, practice tee, then walk the entire course, hole-by-hole. When finished, go and follow a few players’ groups for a hole or two, then park myself behind the green at my favourite hole in all of golf, the 16th.
I remember walking up the 14th fairway watching Lee Trevino. Lee had made the cut, but by 14 on Saturday, was clearly not into the round at all, nor anywhere near the top of the leaderboard. He was making it quite clear to anyone who’d listen that he did not like Augusta at all. I always think Lee had a chip on his shoulder about the place, like he didn’t belong because he felt like a low-class Mexican. I can understand that.
I remember watching Jim Simons play up number 8, the uphill sweeping dogleg. Simons, whose name most of you won’t recognize today, was an interesting guy… a college standout who led the US Open at Merion after three rounds in 1971, as an amateur, but never found the success he and others expected, and died of substance abuse in 2005.
I remember watching the ultimate winner of that Masters, Craig Stadler, on the 11th hole. Stadler missed his second shot to the right of the green, like most people do, slammed his club into the ground and let out an F-bomb. I couldn’t stand Stadler for many years, until I got to meet him a few times, and discovered him to be one of the nicest, funniest, most laid back and most intelligent golfers I’ve ever met.
But thirty-five years later, four things stand out for me above all others from visiting the Masters. First, the stunning beauty of the place, which, I hate to tell ya, but television just never does it justice… it’s just magnificent in first-person panorama, and there’s not a pine needle out of place. Second, the elevation changes and slopes on the greens… again, television just can’t show this to you in two dimensions… but I guarantee if you or I ever had to hit a putt from the back of the 18th green, every one of us would be chipping back up from the fairway for our next shot. Third, the good manners of the patrons… it’s like being at a garden party in Rosedale, and that ain’t all bad.
And fourth, the honour I had of chatting for a good 90 minutes at the back of 16, with Bill Campbell, the former US Amateur Champion, and a Gentleman’s Gentleman, who, as an Augusta member, was marshaling there that afternoon. Bill Campbell won’t be with me in my family room this weekend, but anytime I watch the Masters, Bill’s always on my mind.
And my faithful Cheezies are there by my side.