Unlike most spectator sporting events, golf is known more for its polite applause than end zone antics. Even at the height of Arnie’s Army or Tiger’s legions, fans would quiet down when a shot was about to be executed. And I’ve been watching early episodes of Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf in the 50s and early 60s where fans were conscious of a player’s need for courtesy and respect. Of course in the past few years, things have started to change with shouts of Bababooee and Mashed Potatoes and Get in the Hole even on tee shots on par 4s and par 5s. Ridiculous. At the Phoenix Open, widespread drinking has been fueling those shouts during swings, interfering with concentration, one of the basics golfers draw upon to play the game with skill, confidence, and passion. Fellow players and knowledgeable fans know to quiet their voices and still their movements, which has been part of the game since its inception.
Now this week arrives, by most estimations, the premier golf event of the year, on one of the most revered courses in the world: The Masters on Augusta National in Georgia. Some consider the leaders of the club stodgy and old fashioned with their tight rules and required etiquette around the behavior of “patrons” and even TV broadcasters (unruly fans have been tossed out and TV commentators have been banned for misspeaking). But I welcome the return to a style reminiscent of a bygone day. It restores, if only for a week, a certain consciousness that golf is losing. It reminds us of certain values that golf represents, values that include:
- respect and consideration for others
- honesty, like the tradition of calling penalties on oneself
- generosity (as in Nice Shot, Well Played, Good Contact, Great Putt, That’s Your Best Round Ever, Perfect Drive…)
- courage (like hitting a five iron to a green fronted by a lake)
- patience (like taking your medicine, and an extra stroke, when you’re stymied)
- And generally, applying the Golden Rule (“That’s good,” for a three-footer during a recreational round).
So enjoy the show, the flowers, the trees, the caddies in their white frocks, the former winners, the almost winners, the older winners who can still play (like Langer) the highlights of meltdowns (like Norman and Rory) and miracle shots (like Tiger’s pitch and Bubba’s hook wedge from the trees) from Masters past, the records broken, the records not yet broken (like Rory’s career Grand Slam), the minimalist TV advertising, the Butler Cabin, Jim Nance, the low score amateur, the anointed Green Jacket presentation, Amen Corner, Gene Sarazen’s shot heard round the world, Hogan Bridge, deafening crowd roars on back nine Sunday drama, Yes Sir!, Better than Most!, Phil’s limited Leap for the ages, Jordan in the drink, Larry Mize shocker, Bobby Jones legend, Bubba twice!, Sergio, finally!, the par-3 tournament that no one wants to win since no one who’s ever won has gone on to win the Masters.
Now place your bets. For me, a large lemon water ice is up for grabs in Philly in my annual bet with my older brother Hank. Spieth? Rory? Day? Rahm? DJ? JT? Bubba? Poults, after his 20 foot bomb on 18 at Houston that got him the last Masters slot? Or will it be Tiger, for the ages? Tough pick this year, as it is every year. Who else might contend? A long shot? Berger? Zach? Kooch? Hoffman? Kiz? Striks? Ricky? or…Phil? Don’t count out Phil.
We just don’t know, do we? If he gets hot that week, any player in the field could win. The PGA is like that. They’re all good enough to win if enough of a perfect storm comes together. The potential is there. That’s why professional golf is, and will always be, the fascinating sport that it is. Tiger is particularly good for the game at this time because he no longer stands out as the perennial predicted winner. At 42, he’s still has the skills to be a contender but he no longer dominates, and the media sees in that a great potential story, as do the fans.
So no bababooees here. Roars and cheers, yes, but no mashed potatoes. No shirts and ties either. Golf has changed and will continue to change, but the Masters is a welcome reminder of how special a game this is, adding a bit of consciousness and decorum to a time when those values seem to be fading from sight and sound.