Once again, Augusta National splashes its spring color palette for all of golf to enjoy, reminding us of a proper sequence of seasons
Let’s get one thing perfectly straight from the start: This is as it should be. This is the second week in April, temperatures are warming, dogwoods are out, eggs are painted … and the Masters Tournament is back.
That thing they played last November? That wasn’t the Masters. Oh, sure, it looked like it, served a purpose… no one is putting it down. Frozen pizza is better than no pizza at all. But that November edition was something else: a knockoff, a generic, a placebo. The real article doesn’t change seasons, doesn’t conform.
The Masters is a spring thing, like daylight saving, cleaning and Opening Day. And current events or political narratives notwithstanding, the Masters is at Augusta National, not somewhere else. It’s not a political statement or a cultural correction. It’s not open to interpretation.
The Masters is championship golf, as habitual, reliable and enchanting as it gets. The fact it didn’t occur last spring is testament to how uncommon our COVID-19 world became. The fact that it is back on schedule is a reassuring nod that commonality is just around the corner, that renewal is upon us.
No one is suggesting we are there. This Masters is not that Masters; not entirely.
The Par 3 Contest was missing, and that’s a significant loss. We weren’t able to witness something such as Jack Nicklaus’ “best day,” the day in 2016 when his 15-year-old grandson/caddie aced the ninth hole on the short course. We won’t see awkward moments such as Tony Finau rolling his ankle, tabloid moments such as Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn or totes adorbs moments such as toddlers in white overalls.
We won’t have the hole-in-one highlights or the Par 3 winner to kick around, mindful that Wednesday’s winner never has been Sunday’s champion.
The galleries will be a fraction of what they otherwise would be, scattered rather than swollen. The people-watching component will be neutralized by masks and social distances. The COVID culture is still with us, increasingly vaccinated but not yet vanquished.
But on Thursday morning, when the dew still soaks the toes and the daylight still finds its footing, legends will gather on the first tee. Nicklaus and Gary Player will be there, as they have for the past decade. They will be joined by Lee Elder, the first Black to play in the Masters, in 1975, to be an honorary starter, nearly a half-century later. The moment will have symmetry, authenticity and emotion. The moment will be purely Masters.
With attendance limited, the volume will be turned down. Birdie putts at Amen Corner won’t explode like depth charges, not quite. The back nine on Sunday won’t begin the championship, not in the bombastic manner in which we are accustomed. The pressure gauge of dreams is intrinsically connected to the size of galleries. The readings won’t be quite as high, and magnitude will be missing, but the romance will be unmistakable.
All the botanics will be right. Magnolias, azaleas and jasmine will strike the right colors: resplendent, not rustic. Fairway grass will be as it is meant to be: firm, not fast-tracked. The piano-music tone will seem more appropriate.
There is even a threat of rain in the forecast for Friday and Saturday. Isn’t there always during Masters week?
In November, this championship was a pandemic protest, a lifeline to normalcy. In the spring, the Masters is poetic justice. The pageantry is a religion that even the most casual sports fan worships. The major-championship drama and excitement are the first to stir each year, table setting the summer, promising much more.
We’re not all the way back, not yet. But this is April, and this is the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.
This feels right. This is as it should be … as it always should be.
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