A LIBERAL VIEW OF THINGS: An American icon shines brightly

Golf is in the top three of my major life interests, other than hearth and home and wife.

This year’s Masters golf tournament was great television and even greater entertainment for us sports geeks who enjoy watching grown men beat the daylights out of the ground while trying to advance a ball to a hole — whereupon they extract it and do it again 71 more times during the course of a tournament.

The person who uses the fewest attacks on the ball wins a huge amount of money and the prestige of the sporting world that few other events can match. Then there is this comment from a snarky, non-golfing friend: "If taking the fewest strokes wins, why do it at all?"

This year, the consummate family man won the thing in stellar fashion, dropping shots into or near the hole all weekend long. Phil Mickelson had plenty of company in doing so, he just did it in three fewer strokes than Lee Westwood and walked away with the trophy and about a million bucks.

His cancer-surviving wife and three beautiful children met him after the final hole to give the television audience a vicarious thrill about being a loving husband and father.

Even the most cynical among us had to wipe a tear. I’m certain that the committee of very good ol’ boys who run this shindig breathed a huge sigh of relief that Tiger Woods didn’t win it and pull all the klieg lights on himself.  After the tournament chairman, Billy Payne publicly chastised Woods for his recent misbehavior, it would have been more than a little unseemly to have him (Payne) attend the green jacket ceremony.  Instead, he got to perform the ceremony (in private, of course) for the all-American golfer.  Whew.

Thankfully, the Masters has become bigger than the founders who started it and the elitists who operate it and Georgia’s Augusta National Golf Club. The tournament has become an entity so vast and pervasive in the golfing world that even the bumbling elitism of its organizers and directors over the years failed to diminish its importance in sport.

Robert Tyre Jones, the effete child of Colonel Robert P. Jones of Atlanta decided to build a "special" golf course in a "special" part of his home state of Georgia.

He teamed with Clifford Roberts and Allister MacKenzie to build one of the most recognizable pieces of manicured property in the world. Since money seems to have been no object for Jones and friends, the course was started in 1930 and completed in 1932, during the darkest days of the Great Depression.

The first Masters tournament was won by Horton Smith in 1934.

Even though Jones gained enormous fame (and presumably added to his fortune) from this tournament, his great golfing success was as an amateur around the world and his philanthropic contributions, there remained vestiges of the old South in Augusta and the Augusta National Golf Club.

First, it wasn’t and still isn’t a "national" club or golf course.  A private citizen like you and I don’t understand the level of "privacy" attached to those hallowed grounds. This is where the elite of the elite in corporate and political America go to play, or do whatever they do to shape the history of the world.  You and I are NOT allowed in. Period.

For the decades leading up to a near revolt by the players to use their own caddies, the rules at Augusta were that all caddies were hired by the club, were all black and all had to wear the white jump suit that still mocks the stereotype of racial separation today. It took 50 years for the first person of color to be allowed to play in the great tournament. Charlie Sifford was followed by Lee Elder, Calvin Peete and Tiger Woods. Of course, Vijay Singh is very dark-skinned, but he is, after all, an Indian from Fiji.

Tiger Woods won his first Masters in 1997 when the course played at about 6,900 yards. He won for the second time with a record shattering score and by 12 shots over the rest of the field in 2001.

In 2001, Hootie Johnson, the tournament director announced the first major re-design of the golf course in 32 years.  It lengthened the course by over 500 yards.  No matter, Tiger won it in 2002 anyway.  So much for Tiger-proofing Augusta National.

For all the trouble the most famous athlete in the world has caused himself, his family and the sports world, the Masters rose above it all this weekend.  Crescendo after crescendo of roars bounced around the property like handballs in a court for 4 days.  We forgot about Tiger’s irresponsible and disgraceful behavior. We forgot about the antebellum attitudes pervasive at the end of Magnolia Lane. We forgot about the silly caddy uniforms.  We enjoyed and gloried in Phil and Fred and Tom and Lee and K.J. Shot after shot came raining down on the humpy linoleum known as putting greens there. They rained down at or in the hole so often as to approach another record for eagles in a tournament.

Well, the eagles of sporting excellence soared at Augusta this past weekend, and the enjoyment for all of us golf geeks was profound and satisfying.  I have to go now and dust off my clubs so I can start practicing and thinking about how to score my next eagle.

Turner is a retired industrial engineer and teacher who lives in the Marble Falls area.

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