The Masters, April 11, 2013

The Masters week is here! The Masters golf tournament is always held each year during the first week in April at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, USA. It is the first of the four major professional golf championships in the world. The others are the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship, in that order. These other three tournaments are held at a different venue each year. But not The Masters.

The Augusta National Golf Club is absolutely beautiful in that spring time of the year. The dogwood trees are in full bloom with their creamy-white colored petals. And the tall, stately-looking pine trees rooted throughout the layout show off their glistening, green, pine needles in the bright sunlight. But the best of all are the multitude of large azalea shrubs that dot the landscape. They grow abundantly throughout the southeastern U.S., and no more splendidly than in gorgeous Geogia. The fragrant flowers of each plant can be pure white, bright red, hot pink, light pink, and even lavendar or purple. (I used to grow azaleas at my home. But mine were so scrawny looking I dug ’em up.)

A unique feature of Augusta National is that many of its freshly-cut, green fairways have never known neighboring, tall, and gnarly rough that hides golf balls in many of the other major championship golf courses as if they are Easter eggs. Instead, if the golfer’s shot strays from the straight and narrow at Augusta National, it often lands on a bed of dry, brown, pine needles fallen from above. Then things really can get interesting in those dark shadows. The golfer can take a clean swipe at the ball all right, but he often has to put some hellacious spin on it in order to negotiate those pine trees and return to the light of day and safety.

And what a layout it is that the great Bobbly Jones oversaw and directed in its making. The greens are undulating and very fast during Masters week. The 4-6 prime hole locations on each green were designed so strategically. If you play to the safe side of a green, the birdies are few and the three-putt bogies make you stew! To go for the pin in those tight spots–it’s feast or famine. And if you do, and the greens are sunbaked firm, you’d better hit your iron shot sky high so it drops down on that green like a wet tee shirt. Then there’s Rae’s Creek at Amen Corner, where you’d better not enter without first uttering a prayer. That meandering brook and its pools have swallowed many a ball that only inches this way or that would have resulted in a Masters victory.

I played in The Masters six times. It was always a delight. But Augusta National wasn’t built for my game. I think the best I ever finished was about 16th. It took me a while on the PGA Tour to get used to fast greens that present big-breaking putts. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and then lived in Houston when I played the Tour, and both of those places are known for having flat, slow greens.

Well, I’ll probably blog this weekend about this Masters Tournament. At the beginning of the week, I picked Dustin Johnson to win. He’s looking pretty good so far after the first round, with a 67 and only one shot behind the two leaders. Then there’s the interesting story about the 14-year old boy player from China who only weighs 125 pounds–Guan Tianlang. It reminds me of when the great, humorous, PGA Tour pro Tommy (Thunderbolt) Bolt, then retired, came out to play a tournament on the Tour after not playing for a few years. He stood on the practice range, stared at all the players hitting balls, and then declared loudly, “Where did all these children come from?”

Next Monday is Golf Day on this blog. If you are a Christian, you won’t want to miss it. I’m going to tell a funny, yet profound, story about the first time I played in The Masters. Yet, the story isn’t exactly about me; it’s about Evangelist Billy Graham. And the next Monday after that, all you golfers and Christians won’t want to miss that blog post either. I’m going to tell another funny story, this one about Lee Trevino. I played with the Super Mex the last round at The Masters when he afterwards announced to the media that that was his last Masters, that he’d never be back. (He kept his word for the next four years.) I hope it wasn’t because of what I said to him when we were playing that last round. I’ll report; you be the judge.

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