Masters Moments

People of my vintage will talk about ‘where they were’ when they heard of John Lennon’s shooting… or the tragic death of Princess Diana…or the assassination of JFK.

And every Australian was glued to a TV set somewhere or other — if they weren’t lucky enough to be in the stadium — when Cathy Freeman won gold in the 2000 Olympics. I was only 500 metres away–watching the Australian basketball team–and, hearing the roar literally metres down the road, everyone rushed outside at half time to see a replay on the television monitors (Yes, I had the wrong ticket that night, but that’s another story.)

I also remember golf tournaments. The 1982 US Open at Pebble, when Tom Watson chipped in at 17 before making another birdie at the last – I can still see that 20-footer, downhill, left-to-right going in – to beat Jack Nicklaus. If you saw it, you couldn’t forget.

Another for me was the Jean Van De Velde meltdown at the British Open in 1999. Paul Lawrie was the Steve Bradbury of golf, the last man standing when all those around him crumbled under the pressure.

Most of the other memorable golfing moments for me, however, had to do with the US Masters. It was the tournament which attracted generations of young golfers to the game through those early morning telecasts, with the winners elevated to ‘Legend’ status as a result of their play around Amen Corner and on those treacherous greens.

The first one I remember like yesterday was the Masters of 1986. The day Jack Nicklaus, at age 46, beat off the challenge of Greg Norman to win his fifth green jacket.

Having just completed a practice round for a college tournament while playing for the University of Nevada, I sat back in the bar of Stanford Golf Club in California to watch the concluding holes.

I was cheering for Greg Norman, the other 234 people who had seemingly crowded into the room and around a small television screen, being Americans, were understandably in the Nicklaus camp. To and fro the back nine went, with Norman looking like claiming his first Masters crown and only Nicklaus standing in his way.

The bar at Stanford erupted when the ‘Golden Bear’ made that putt on the 17th green, a putt immortalised by the photo of Jack, his putter in the air and a big grin on his face.

They cheered a second time when The Shark pushed his approach into 18, leaving Nicklaus the winner.  I will never forget the day and can envisage my surroundings as if it were just last week.

And just for good measure, I went through it again the next year when watching the final round in the common room at my dormitory while still UNR. The Americans thought it was terrific that Larry Mize would hole that improbable chip shot in the playoff. I wasn’t so thrilled and neither was Norman who had again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Another ‘where were you’ event for me came in 1996 and again it was all to do with Norman and with the US Masters. This time he entered the last day at Augusta with an insurmountable lead over Nick Faldo. With my feet up on the recliner in my lounge room I was ready to share in his glory.

It all started to go horribly wrong for Norman, who appeared uncomfortable and nervous. Despite his early struggles I thought it was still going to be his day, surely he was too far in front to be beaten.

As his lead diminished, I felt his helplessness and headed for the shower. Stayed in there long enough for him to hopefully right the sinking ship, maybe make a birdie in my absence, then all would be well and we could march to victory together.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. The Shark was drowning and there was nobody there to save him. The chip shot on 15 was the one. Slip that in and he was still a chance, however the golfing gods weren’t smiling down on him and Norman famously fell to his knees a deflated figure as the ball lipped out. Faldo marched to the par three 16th tee with an arrogance that showed he knew he was going to win and Norman with a look that indicated he knew it as well.

The tee shot off 16 was the last straw, the fatal blow. Shocked and shattered by what had gone before, Norman pull-hooked a mid iron into the middle of the lake – I reckon I’ve watched the Masters every year for 30 years and I can’t recall anyone else ever hitting it in the lake left of 16.

I switched off the television screen and walked out the door. I couldn’t take it anymore. From there I remember hearing of the final result on the radio driving to the New Brighton Golf Club for a bit of my own practice. The news came as if someone had died after a long illness. I knew it was coming but hearing it was difficult.

The next ‘where were you when’ moment I hope is on its way this year and unlike years gone by, maybe this time there will be a happy ending. In 2011 a handful of Aussies will be teeing it up in search of that elusive first Masters title and while none are expected to win, you never know. The next ‘where were you when’ golfing moment could be coming, we just don’t realise it.

Aaron Baddeley has the short game to contend and his swing is back on track after a couple of years in the wilderness. With a win at the Northern Trust Open, and a top-10 at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, things are looking brighter for Badds. Robert Allenby is world-class from tee to green when at his best, although his claw-grip putting stroke carries major question marks. His best finish this year has been T4 at the Northern Trust, and he currently has 3 top-25s (and two missed cuts). And then there is Adam Scott. Scott is a bit of an enigma. This year his best is T6 at the WGC, but a missed cut at the Honda Classic (with a +19 over the first two days) shows his inconsistency. He can play with anyone on his day, but we are getting impatient waiting for that day to arrive.

(Editor’s note: We’ve got a good feeling about Adam Scott at Augusta. Could this be his year?)

Stuart Appleby has contended before, led in 2007 going into the final round before being run down by eventual winner Zach Johnson, with possibly his best chance if the wind blows, probably the harder the better. Those who played the 2009 Australian Open at NSW Golf Club said his display in gale force wind on the opening two days was unbelievable.

Then there is Geoff Ogilvy. He occasionally steps up in the big events, on the toughest golf courses. Winner of the 2006 US Open and  a couple of WGC Match Play Championships, Ogilvy is no doubt the real deal when in the mood, unfortunately Augusta doesn’t seem to light his fire. In five appearances since his Masters debut he has a best finish of 15th. Ogilvy plays with the required high ball flight, he is a dependable putter, has all the characteristics for success at the Masters, but so far the Victorian has failed to deliver.

As for Masters rookie Jason Day, if he shows the same nerve he did in beating Paul Casey at the Accenture Match Play–where he did it with a dose of gamesmanship–maybe he is one to break the duck. Day made it obvious against Casey he isn’t out to make friends, only to be in position to win golf tournaments.

I hope one of them can make it a Masters to remember. Twenty years on, with the grandkids on the knee, I’d love to be able to tell them where I was the day an Aussie beat the world and became a Masters champion.

 

 

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