Is it the tragedy of Greg Norman’s near-misses, the familiarity of Augusta National or simply the wonder of golf’s magical kingdom? Contributor Scott Warren considers why The Masters will always have that certain something that golf’s other majors can’t match.
by Scott Warren
Why is Masters week so special?
Plenty of golf fans in the US say it’s because it signals the start of golf season, the snow has melted and it’s time to tee it up for the first time in the year. But here in Australia, the depths of our winter resemble a Scottish summer, so there’s no such relief. We’ve been playing golf for three months when the Masters arrives and we’ll play for nine more once it has concluded.
And it’s certainly not, for Aussie golf fans, because of the memories of favourite golfers’ triumphs.
We would love to see the annual photo of the Champions Dinner with Greg Norman flashing his million-dollar smile (and on recent form, his bare chest under the obligatory green jacket!) alongside legends of the modern day and yesteryear, but alas it was not to be. Not in 1986 or 1987, certainly not in 1996 and – for one cruel, final time – not in 1999 either.
Some would say it’s because of, not despite, those near misses that Australian golf fans care just that little bit more about The Masters, of all the majors.
And not just Norman’s tragedies: Jim Ferrier blowing a final-round lead as early as 1950, Bruce Crampton and Jack Newton’s runner-up finishes in 1972 and 1980, Craig Parry playing in the final group in 1992 and posting seven heartbreaking bogeys in a Sunday 78 that saw him finish tied for 13th. And that’s just some of them.
Even in the modern era, there have been near-misses: Adam Scott and Jason Day seemingly duelling to become the first Aussie to don a green jacket in 2011 before South African Charl Schwartzel blew past them with four closing birdies. At least there was no shortage of company for a Sunday night commiseration: Geoff Ogilvy also finished fourth that year.
But then in 2013, Adam Scott made it all okay – two heroic birdie putts on the 72nd hole and then the second hole of a sudden-death playoff and the torture was over. I screamed so loud when it was clinched that a neighbour thought I had been attacked and I lead a reaction piece by saying “I have been waiting my entire life for Adam Scott to make that putt”. And it was true.
Such had The Masters been an outlier on Australia’s place in the story of golfing glory, with just that one green jacket to our tally, Australia boasts the most Post-WW2 major champions of any country other than the United States.
South Africa and England both have golfers who’ve achieved more individual glory than any Australian, and South Africa’s 22 majors since 1946 bests Australia’s 16 (England has 12), but Australia has produced 10 golfers who’ve ascended professional golf’s summit in that time, to just six South Africans and Englishmen.
I half-expected that The Masters wouldn’t be so special after Adam Scott’s triumph, but each year since has proven me wrong, even the Bubba Watson and Danny Willett letdowns. Because the wonder of the tournament was never tied to the outcomes, though some Masters results make for better memories than others.
Ultimately, I think The Masters – for me at least – is an annual opportunity to thumb through a dusty scrapbook of memories that are neatly gathered around something that never really changes. You remember the champions and their heroics, but also snapshots of who and where you were as you watched it live.
The lifetime exemption for champions and limited field ensures that even now, Freddie Couples and Bernhard Langer walk the stage alongside Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau as though time has somehow stood still at Augusta National Golf Club.
I recall the first Masters I watched in 1997, aged 14, as the Foxtel technician connected my house to 24/7 sport while I watched on a terrible regional analogue TV connection. His work was mercifully complete in time for me to watch Tiger ascend the final fairway in crisp digital flowing through the brand new satellite dish on our roof. I spent the day at school recalling every shot over and over with the small handful of friends who didn’t think golf was lame.
I recall my most recent, crestfallen as Jordan Spieth’s final drive struck a Georgia pine just off the tee and I began to accept that Patrick F**king Reed was going to win it (his chip at 17 hitting the flagstick when it otherwise would have raced off the green confirming for all-time that the golf gods can be perverse). I got dressed and went to work in a mood.
From the piano intro fading to a “hello friends” from Jim Nantz, through the 18 holes we all know so well to the calm outro of the green jacket presentation, The Masters is one thing we can count on not to change.
I’ve got my schedule cleared for the weekend and a leave day booked for Monday, my four-year-old has expressed some interest in watching it with me and I can’t wait to put a new page in the scrapbook.