Sports Columns

April 11, 2013

Loran Smith: Memories a big part of the Masters

AUGUSTA — No sporting event elicits more nostalgia from fans than the Masters. The traditions of the tournament are without peer, the legacy forever enriching and enduring. The Masters is like an ancient and treasured relic — what happened in the past is as prominent in our sentiments as the remarkable genius of today’s players. These same players, who boast remarkable skills and playing expertise, work with both technology and science which brings about endless questions.

Could they excel with hickory shafts? Could they dance their shots around the pin with two-irons instead of the short clubs that distance off the tee allows them to play with? Could they reach maximum performance without swing gurus, physical fitness coaches, dietitians and sports psychologists?

What we come to recognize is that the story of each tournament and each era is about the competition. It’s about who can score the best over four rounds of competition at a storied golf course that has as much allure to the past as it does for the next generation of superstars.

Who among us is not intrigued by the prospects of a Tiger Woods rebirth? Who is not charmed by the competency of the new faces on tour — McIlroy, Bubba and the recent favorites, which include Russell Henley, the University of Georgia graduate who has already won more than $1.3 million and stands No. 11 on the PGA Tour’s money list?

It is not always the newsmakers who captivate us at Masters time. It is also the old-timers and those from the past who enrapture us.

Is there anything about Bobby Jones that we have not already heard? Well, did you know that his father, Robert Tyre Jones, was an outfielder for the University of Georgia? When Georgia’s most ardent Bulldog, the indomitable Dan Magill, went to interview the great champion Bobby Jones, he asked a simple question. “Why did you not come to Georgia like your daddy?”

Jones, a graduate of Georgia Tech, politely explained, “I just couldn’t leave the East Lake Golf Club.”

Cliff Roberts, the crusty long-time chairman — autocratic, dogmatic, even charismatic in his own way — what do we appreciate about him?

He was the guy who ran the tournament with remarkable efficiency. He was the one, along with Jones, who had the sense that what were originally the first nine holes should become the last nine. He had an influence on the scorekeeping that endures to this day. Red for scores under par and green for those over par.

Simple yet overpowering in its impact is an accommodation to the fans — whose relevancy remains a staple of Masters function — right on down to the pimento cheese sandwiches that cost $1.50. The Masters is the only big-time sporting event that refuses to gouge its patrons.

Roberts was a New York investment banker, a fact which many are familiar with. But did you know his hometown was Morning Sun, Iowa, population 836?

The fact that the Masters is one of golf’s four majors but has remained at the same venue for the ages gives it something extraordinary for the uniting of history and tradition. If you take a seat in the stands at No. 15, you can watch the competitors walk across the Gene Sarazen Bridge as they approach the green. Hard to install a bridge at the U.S. Open or the British Open or the PGA Championship, which all move around year to year.

We can’t talk to Sarazen, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson anymore, but their history and legacy remain. We revere their memories and most of all their artistry.

They didn’t bomb the ball from the tee to make many courses a pitch-and-putt layout. They had to develop skills to achieve greatness. That, however, is no fault of the younger generation. They, like those before them, must play the hands they are dealt.

As it was in the beginning, the changes be damned, it is the skill that separates the winners from the losers at Augusta.

 But isn’t it nice that they can make their mark on the most hallowed grounds that golf has to offer?

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@sports.uga.edu.

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