I wasn’t going to mention the Masters this week but that proved a ridiculous notion, given that I’m writing this with the radio on (European football chat at the moment) and the telly turned to face the writing table while I screech, “Relax Rory, relax….” Then he holes a putt to go 1 under (after being 2 over) and I roar as though Spurs have won the European Cup (or Champions League as it’s misnamed now) – and it’s only the first round. Relax Rory, relax. Keep calm, dear, it’s only the Masters.
In my heart I fear that Rory will never win the Masters (think Sam Snead or Phil Mickelson with the US Open, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson with the PGA and any number of other examples of players who could’ve, probably should’ve won the championship dearest to their heart). I hope I’m wrong – my predictions usually are – but Augusta National is a very swirly place, with movement everywhere, in the trees, on the greens and in the crowd and it’s hard to keep the mind still.
The spectators (or patrons), controlled though they are, may not run but they’re always moving and there’s always a buzz; it’s not an arena for the faint-hearted or the rabbit-eared. Colin Montgomerie, who could hear a pimento cheese sandwich (which clogs the teeth) being chomped at 1,000 paces, never quite adapted. One year, when in his pomp, he was playing behind Arnie, who had left his playing pomp far behind but still commanded a fair number of troops who followed his every move, oblivious to anyone else.
At the 5th, Monty was surveying his third shot, from the right-hand side of the green, maybe pin high but awkward, as most chips are at Augusta, when he stepped back, hands on hips and glared towards the (distant) 6th tee. Arnie’s group had hit their tee shots and the Army had set off down the hill towards the green. They were at least 50 yards, probably more, from where Monty was standing, affronted, glowering at the unsuspecting retreating backs. Whatever the opposite of Zen is (Apoplectic?), that was Monty.
That might have been the year that the Scot, Europe’s perennial No 1, came off the 18th, signed his card and was escorted to talk to the watch-checking, deadline-dreading scribes clutching their notebooks and tape recorders in an area penned off (behind one strand of rope) for the purpose of a quick quote or two. Monty had finished over par, been a bit unlucky here and there (he thought) and generally suffered the frustrations that are a speciality of the course. He was happy to speak, as he usually was (even when he shouldn’t have opened his mouth, thank goodness) and eventually he said, with the familiar echo, “What more can I do? What more can I do?”
There was silence but reckoning that the interview was more or less over, I made sure that it was well and truly terminated by answering, “Deep breathing?”
I was a few yards away, safely out of reach and had the sense to keep my head buried in my notebook as Monty stomped off. Just as well. Apparently I wouldn’t have survived the murderous look he gave me. (And some of my colleagues, who hadn’t quite finished their questioning, weren’t too happy either.)
In my defence, the question wasn’t really facetious, it was more or less serious. Because that’s what Augusta requires: a lot of deep breathing.
To win at Augusta, your game has to be in good shape, you have to hole more than your fair share of heart-stopping putts in the three to six foot range and, crucially, your head has to be in the right place. There’s no let up. It tests every last ounce of your skill and nerve. Every shot. Every putt. Every hole. Every round. No wonder green jacket almost rhymes with plum knackered.One person who’s probably still wondering what all the fuss is about is Jennifer Kupcho, of Colorado and Wake Forest (Arnold Palmer’s alma mater), who won the first Augusta National Women’s Amateur by playing the last six holes in five under par for a round of 67. The world’s No 1 amateur started her winning charge with a stunning eagle three at the 13th and the golf she and Maria Fassi, of Mexico and the University of Arkansas, played lit up an event that is a bit of a misnomer but should get better. Only the last of the three rounds was played at Augusta National and it clashed with the women’s ANA Inspiration, the first major championship of the season, at Mission Hills in California.
That event was won by Jin Young Ko, of South Korea, who’s now world No 1 in the Rolex Rankings. It was her first major title but Dave Brooker, her caddie, an Englishman who can now be called a veteran, was celebrating his third victory in this particular desert. He won the title with Grace Park in 2004 and Lorena Ochoa in 2008. Many congrats Dave.
Congrats also to Ireland’s Leona Maguire, who had her first win as a professional and to Daan Huizing of the Netherlands, who registered another first when he won the inaugural Jordan Mixed Open presented by Ayla (featuring players from the Challenge Tour, the Ladies European Tour and the Staysure Seniors Tour). He finished two shots ahead of Englishwoman Meghan McLaren, who led by five shots at one stage but was pegged back and ended up disappointed. “It was still an honour to be here and represent women’s golf,” she said. “It was pretty tight coming down the last few holes, so I think it was great entertainment for everybody watching.”
Congrats to everyone involved in an event that shows golf really is for all.