It's hard to believe, but Spring's almost here. What's hard to believe is it isn't here already-because the calendar says it's late March and the air should be warm by now. But the overnight low in this capital of the free world was 20 degrees. I walked outside this morning to bright sunshine and ice crystals on the front porch. I've had it. Enough already. If this deep freeze lasts much longer, I'll just conclude the Snow Miser won his battle with the Heat Miser-and pack up and move farther south.
There are several bright spots on the horizon, however. Be patient. Nothing lasts forever-and this winter weather too will pass. And with the turning of the calendar, arguably the best golf weekend of the year will spring upon us. For one week every April, the golf world turns its eye towards a small city in Northern Georgia, and to perhaps the most famous golf course outside of the old country-Augusta National.
CBS's Masters commercials claim 'A Tradition Like No Other.' For once, network advertising is not a overblown hyperbole dreamed up by some ad agency in downtown Hollywood. There really is no golf event with tradition like the Masters Tournament. The Open Championship in the British Isles may be older, but its tradition is spread out to seven different courses.
The Masters plays on the same storied links every year. Its list of champions reads from the 'who's who' of competitive golf history. There isn't a serious golf fan in the world who can't tell you the layout of virtually every hole-at least on the back nine. The course and the tournament are without peer.
That's no doubt the reason why every boy who's ever picked up a club dreams of playing the green carpeted fairways at Augusta. Forget winning the tournament-I'd die just for the chance to play at the place. It's the stuff that legends are made of. It's more than just grass, pine trees and azaleas. It's hallowed ground.
But for the touring pros, they're thinking about more than just visiting Augusta. The best players in the game earn that privilege every year. They're there to compete and win. They've all been measured for the Green Jacket-and the tournament organizers must have a large closet full-if they had one to fit Craig Stadler or Ian Woosnam when they won, you know there's more than just one size fits all!
The Masters folks better have a size to fit the frame of world top twenty pro Jim Furyk, because he recently talked about his preparation for the tournament, and says he's ready. He also talked about the type of player that matches well with the course layout at Augusta, and what it takes to win there. He's also not sure why he's played well there in the past-it must be intangibles-and that's exactly what you need to win this type of tournament.
"I'm not known as a right to left hitter, which is definitely needed to succeed at Augusta. And I'm not a real highball hitter, which again is needed to succeed at Augusta. I think, more than anything-that golf course and the Masters tournament demands patience.
"If you can be patient and kind of pick and choose your spots, and not get greedy, and not make some stupid mistakes, you can play well there. And really, that's what I try to do when I go there, is be patient. You know there are going to be some funny things that happen on the greens-there're going to be some times where you're really frustrated on that golf course. You just have to fight through the unfortunate breaks and keep plugging away."
Patience is what helped Furyk win the Mercedes Championship earlier this year in the typical howling windstorm that is Kapalua in Hawaii. Jim says the Mercedes' course also favored long hitters (and he considers himself 'average' at best on tour), but patience helped him battle the wind and the tricky bounces in order to come out on top.
Or maybe it was the Ultimate Orange cap he wore-to help promote the Strata Tour Ultimate golf ball he plays. If he wears that cap at Augusta and then wins the Green Jacket, it could mean trouble-the members probably will assume he's a punk rocker and won't allow him in the clubhouse. Needless to say, you won't need to hit the contrast button on your TV.
But it's unlikely that anything so unpredictable will happen. Furyk's too steady a player to leave anything but the right impression on people. And besides, he's been through it before, which is also a huge advantage in the Masters tournament.
"Any time you get experience or play a golf course a lot of times it's a benefit-but that's even more true at Augusta National. And one reason is-the golf course is never in tournament shape until Thursday. It gets a little quicker and a little faster every day we're there, but on Monday the golf course is nothing like it is on Thursday. Therefore, it's hard to prepare for the real thing. The course just transforms 'in midair' from Wednesday to Thursday morning. It helps to have seen it before."
That's also true for the incremental course changes made from year to year. The season after Tiger Woods' record-setting performance in the '97 Masters, the folks at Augusta National altered the course to address some of the modern players' new proficiencies-mainly the incredible increase in length off the tee. They reasoned the Masters tournament couldn't survive with a yearly winner at eighteen under par. But even when the course changes, the tradition remains.
According to Furyk, the more things change, the more things stay the same-because you can't tell from the looks of the course from year to year that anything's been radically altered. "The wonderful thing about Augusta National is that they can change the golf course and you'll never see it. You just kind of scratch you head and wonder if a tee box used to be a little to the left or right-but you can't see any seams in the grass or sod. I think they've made all the preparations they've needed to make the golf course longer, to make it more difficult. I don't see any issues there."
In other words, improvements in equipment, player conditioning and the golf course won't change the Masters Tournament. Some things man just can't touch. Maybe it's a lot like the weather-no matter how much we wish for the contrary, sometimes there are still ice crystals on the front porch in late March, and there's nothing we can do to change it.
Which brings us back to the concept of patience. All we need to do is wait a few weeks, and warmer weather will arrive. The same goes for those competing at the Masters-good things (and green jackets) often come to those willing to wait for them.
Dates: April 5th - 8th
TV Coverage: USA Sports/CBS Sports
TV Schedule and other important information can be found at: www.masters.org
Jim Furyk will be amongst the ninety-four-man Masters field. Furyk plays the Spalding Strata Tour Ultimate golf ball. Look for a review of the Strata Tour Ultimate in the weeks following the Masters.
March 30, 2001