It seems like only 60 years ago, the year I covered the Masters for the first time.
It was 1955. Cary Middlecoff, a reformed dentist who was allergic to grass, won it by seven strokes. The skinny journalist from the Charlotte News wrote his first column from Augusta National that week. It was about Ben Hogan, the thinking being that if Hogan is on the property, no matter how he’s playing, why would you write about somebody else?
Over the ensuing years, I’ve chased after the great, the near great and the supporting cast around Augusta’s Edenic acres and here I am, back again, only now I don’t chase. I stroll, wearing the look of a man intent on diagnosing the intricacies of Rory McIlroy’s swing but in fact, a man whose knees are yelling at him to get the heck back to the clubhouse, sit down and act his age. Maybe with something medicinal from the bar.
Sixty years. Know how long ago that was? Jack Fleck won the U.S. Open that year, beating Hogan in a playoff. Fleck. Jack Fleck. I’m still waiting for confirmation. No way a guy who had won a total of $7,500 in his career beats Hogan for the national championship.
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Way back there, 60 years ago, driver heads were about the size of a file clerk’s fist and made of persimmon, and putters were as plain as a biscuit.
Today, drivers are as big as crock pots and made of metal, and putters come in all shapes and sizes, including some that are really ugly.
The game has changed along with the equipment, and Augusta National has changed to accommodate – no, to answer as best it can – the changes wrought primarily by manufacturers trying to peddle equipment to us bystanders. Tees have been pushed back, trees added, some light rough introduced, bunkers moved. It’s called progress, and a lot of it is necessary, but I thought it was pretty good the way it was.
One thing that hasn’t been changed, one thing that continues to fend off the invaders, is the name – the Masters. It’s a beautiful thing, but it’s scary, sitting there wrapped in all that history, offering lasting glory if you can win, melancholy memories if you don’t. It’s hard enough to win a Milwaukee Open, to hold it together for four days. But try it with a little voice whispering “Masters” in your ear.
Sixty years. Just for the record, I was not the first ever to write about golf for publication. Somebody beat me to it in 1566.
It’s about time for my nap now, but before I go allow me to repeat something I wrote a while back, to show you that while I might carp about this or that, the Masters still is my Rembrandt:
“It is my belief that anyone who loves golf should, by some heavenly intervention, be allowed to go at least once, to see Phil Mickelson play the 12th hole, to see a healthy Tiger Woods play the 13th, to see old greats standing under the trees at the clubhouse like living statues, to hear the wind whisper in the pines and see the azaleas dance, to hear the echoes, to see it all and let it embrace them, as it has me for all these years.”
Ron Green Sr. is a retired Observer sports columnist.