950-ODD MILES FROM AUGUSTA - Why do we golfers look so forward to The Masters? Is it because those green jackets are so stylish? No. It is because, for four days, we geta glimpse inside the world of the very, very rich. And not just any old rich folks. We'retalking rich folks who play golf any flipping time they want on perhaps the most exclusive golfcourse in America. This is golf voyeurism, plain and simple. A bit like the 72-hole equivalent ofthe Paris Hilton video.
The following are my observations during the first two rounds of the 2004 Masters. I commit themto print for those of you who have real jobs and could not watch it in person, and by way ofrealizing one of my life-long dreams: to get paid for watching TV.
4:30: I click on the television to see meatball-sized raindrops pelting JohnDaly who is plus-6 and looking like a man who's wife has been sentenced to six months housearrest. And I don't mean the fun kind of house arrest, with fur-lined handcuffs and hot-oilstrip-searches. I mean real house arrest. Big John got the news of his wife's plea bargainMonday.
5 p.m.: Peter Kostis and Jim Nantz try to kill time during an interminable rain delay. Kostis nearly brings me to tears as he mourns the loss of Tom Watson's long-time caddie Bruce Edwards. Edwards died just this morning of ALS. Kostis then, almost as an afterthought, adds that his own father died of the same horrific disease, thus succeeding in making me weep. To quote Tom Watson: "Damn this disease." The ashes of my own brother-in-law are scattered along several holes at Augusta National. He died suddenly in 1998 of cardioarrhythmia. Damn that, too. If Augusta National is the Garden of Eden for golfers, we are now all officially reminded of original sin - and it's much worse than an incurable slice.
6 p.m.: They keep saying that play is about to restart. It's time to begin grilling the steaks for dinner though. And now, quite frankly, I can't tell if I'm watching the 2003 or 2004 event. Oh well, as Scarlett O'Hara would say: Tomorrow is another day. Maybe I'll throw on that frock I made from the drapes. It would match those god-awful green jackets.
3:55: Vodka tonic in hand, I settle in for day two. Earlier, I checked thescores online and discovered that Tiger appears lost in the woods. Is it his estrangement fromButch Harmon, or has that Swedish bikini-model Delilah has sapped Nike's Sampson of hisvitality? Poor guy.
4:17: Palmer just plunked one in Rae's Creek. Who cares? When I'mhis age, I hope I'll still be able to walk 18 holes, much less break 85 at Augusta National.I'd pay a lot of money to see him kick Ken Venturi's bitter ass, too.
4:22: Phil's gone back to his old flanged blade putter. Wise choice on these sadistic greens. There's no one I'd like more to see win. You won't find a nicer guy on the tour, yet for some reason the media beat him like a rented mule. The predatory mentality of the press sickens meand I'm one of 'em. Jack's saying he's "just about done." Nantz and Wadkins are falling all over themselves saying they hope he doesn't call it quits, but gosh, when you're the best ever and cannot compete anymore, what fun is it? Jack's got a life, guys. Maybe you should get one, too.
4:36: Sewing a TrimSpa logo on John Daly's shirt is like putting a Trojan logo on Rosie Jones's visor.
5:08: How would you like to see Daly and Phil in a heads-up game of Texas hold'em?
5:30: Phil just hit a loose drive on the 15th, and I know why: His swing was way too long, like last season. He just has too much hand and wrist action getting the club to square when he gets long like that.
5:38: Look how Arnie waits to play his next shot: wandering over toward the ropes to exchange pleasantries with the patrons. Can you imagine Tiger doing that in, oh, 41 years? Palmer has made pro golf what it is today. Let's hope the robots with the cookie-cutter swings dominating the game today don't screw it up.
5:50: Oh for pity's sake, let Arnie play through! That or maybe show another player or two hit a shot somewhere else. OK - driver off the deck just short of the front left bunker on 18. Not bad. Now the final walk up 18. If you can't appreciate this without the soft-focus retrospectives, you probably shouldn't be watching the tournament at all.
6:13: Wet eyes and honest answers from Arnie in Butler Cabin. Tiger, et al.,take notes. This is how you earn people's love, not just their grudging respect.
6:30: Zhang, the first Chinese player ever in the field has fought back toplus-5 with one hole to go. He might even make the cut. I bet all the women, children, and convictsin the Chinese sweatshops that produce so much of the big-logo golf wear are ever-so-proud.
5:23: After his three bogeys on the front, I thought Phil was done. Who couldhave predicted five birdies on the back? Not Els! DiMarco couldn't have given him a betterread, even with two tries. Oh, he did get two tries - left his first shot in the bunker. Surewish Phil's ball had spun back more, though. Again, very wise to put away the Futura brandingiron for the trusty heel-shafted flanged blade. Cripes. I'm bouncing around in front of theTV like a monkey with ADD.
5:31: What a putt! I just hollered so loudly, my son started to cry. Eighteenfeet, and it just caught enough of the left edge to spin in, rather than out, as I wassure it would. The 14th and 16th were key. Phil nearly holed his approach on 14 for a tap-inbirdie. The long birdie putt on 16, where double-bogeys have haunted him. Note the smile throughoutthe back nine. The man was enjoying himself more than in any major I recall. And it's notjust because he was winning - he wasn't most of the day. The man loves the game, loveswhat it does for him and what he does for it. Dare I say, he looked a bit like Arnie out there,smiling at folks, making eye contact, and showing off his stuff.
Let's hope Lefty hangs around for about 50 more of these little shin-digs, too.
April 12, 2004