Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Drug of Choice: The Masters

In the back of my mind, I remember my grandfather watching a lot of golf on TV. Growing up I could not understand how or why he did. What could possibly be more boring than to watch individual men hit a tiny ball hundreds of yards. Today I stand before you as someone who spent nearly 3 days on my couch intravenously taking in the Masters. It’s as if Augusta National pumped some sedative through my television set, and fixed my attention to nothing more than 18 holes a day.I am more of a “type A” personality than I want to admit. I do not watch one regular television program. I haven’t in 4 years. And yet, I logged in 15 hours with this USGA tourney. So the question is obvious. What is so appealing about the Masters? Why is it my drug of choice?

My first response to this question is, ask anyone who feels the way I do. We are easy to find. On Monday, we were itching to talk to any and everyone at the water cooler about the rise and fall of Rory McIlroy, Tiger’s chase for the title and the beauty of 7 men battling for the title on Sunday. Give us an inch…or a slight scent of preoccupation with it, and we’ll give you a yard.

Bill Simmons of ESPN writes I love so many things about the Masters, but ultimately, what makes that tournament special is that we know the course so freaking well. There are laws with the Masters. You can't peak too early on Sunday. You can't miss momentum-swinging putts at Amen Corner. You can't lay up on 13; for whatever reason, it pisses off the Golf Gods. Your second shot on 18 has to land dead-even with the hole; it can't be too short or too long. It's the only course that feels like a living, breathing organism. The TV camera flies over each hole before a featured player tees off and captures the beauty of this organism. No wonder we care.

Second, I wonder how much of my fixation with the Masters is fueled by the fact I will probably never attend. It is exclusive as they come. Just this year however, for the first time in 47 years, a very limited supply of daily tournament tickets will be made available to the general public. After a 20-minute recap, my co-worker & friend--Tom and I decided to research the specifics about the drawing. We looked up the 2012 dates on-line and paused. Wait. No….could it be? I pulled up our 2012 school year calendar. When we realized it coincides with our spring break, we immediately gave one another a high 5. Our enthusiasm for “what could be” rivaled the enthusiasm of a player who just sank a great putt. Had we been standing up, I think there would have been a chest bump in the faculty workroom. This tourney does that to people; The Masters gods are crazy.

I love the Masters because it signifies that summer is right around the corner. The beauty of the course—the azalea in full bloom, the pure green that even the Irish could envy, it demonstrates that spring is making way for a season of warmer days and longer nights. This year, I added Augusta to the cities on my iPhone weather app (is that weird or what?) My jealousy towards those fans that walk the grounds turned to envy when I saw each day was in the mid 80s. Even the nights were warm. Sigh.
And yet, the greatest lure of the Masters is that it is crawling with tradition: the green jacket, the Champions Dinner Tuesday night where last year’s winner gets to set the menu..even the uniform white jumpsuits for caddies. And if there’s one thing that Catholics know, it’s tradition. From time to time, it seems that tradition is all we’ve got.

Catholic Theologian, Richard McBrien teaches that Tradition refers to the whole process by which the Church “hands on” (literal meaning of the word tradition) its faith to each new generation--both the process of “handing on” the faith and that which has been handed on. Tradition (upper-case) includes Scripture, the essential doctrines of the Church, the Eucharist and other sacraments, and so forth. Tradition (lower case “t”) includes changeable customs, institutions, teachings and practices.

In a small way, I think the Masters offers both upper and lower case “t” for the sport of golf. Some true gentlemen and some great athletes have “handed on” the game to who we see playing now—young players, so many of who are fit and conditioned. Many of the customs, teachings and practices have changed as needed and many haven’t. Even Augusta National, an institution in its own right was slow to make a change for the better when it allowed its first African American member in 1990.

Tradition should not be preserved for the sake of keeping tradition. It has to have value and integrity. It binds people to those before and sets a place for those to come. That binding can be both positive and negative. It’s an interesting way to start thinking about what might just be a wonderful way to spend a weekend, no?

In a small way, I love that what I am watching my Grandfather watched. I am sure he looked at it with the same wide eyes of appreciation. I even think of those friends and family members who I have shared couch space with over the years to view my favorite of the Majors. Thanks for the memories! For 361 days of the year, I am proud to say that I am drug free. For that fateful weekend in April, the tradition that is the Masters however is —my drug of choice. I hope this tradition is “handed on” for generations to come.

Photo Credits
Philly & Charl, Rory & Lone Tiger
The great Arnold Palmer

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