The Par 3 contest day, always on the Wednesday preceding the main event on Thursday, is a festive “family” day when the children/families of players, all dressed in formal white caddy wear, play with them joyfully to help release all the tension of the build-up to the battle for the 2018 Green Jacket, and engage at close range with patrons who cherish the opportunity to be virtually within the ropes. The contestants steal occasional glances at the now quiet battlefield that sweeps down majestically from the hill of the first tee into the bowl that constitutes the first nine of Augusta National to the distant rim of the fifth hole a couple of thousand yards away. The tenth, the first of the play-off holes, lurks innocently nearby as the lead in hole to the fabled monster three holes of Amen Corner, appropriately named as many a requiem has been sung here. Remember Faldo’s two play-off victories on the eleventh and, also on the eleventh, arguably the most famous play off shot ever, Larry Mize’s famous chip in to defeat Greg Norman at the 1987 Masters.
Within the no hustle and no bustle orderliness of the Masters crowds, the thick plastic glasses, suitably branded Masters of course, become collectables. Several groups of mates from college or the workplace enjoy expansive drags on expensive cigars and, as the aroma laden blue-grey smoke wafts and disperses away from them, the evident contentment at being here seems to claim this moment as theirs alone.
This year, despite severe snowstorms up and down the East Coast, the warmer weather has teased the azaleas to be in full bloom just as the Masters week begins.
All the flowering trees and bushes for which the championship holes are named are resplendent and of course the patrons in their holiday colours, form and reform unique kaleidoscopic patterns as they flit from one player group to another.
While everyone has their favourite, there is one name that every player and patron surely mentions dozens of times a day, and that is Tiger. It’s oddly reminiscent of our childhood when the maids would frighten us with “sher aa raha (Tiger is coming)” to persuade us to drink our pint of milk, eat our food, go to sleep or whatever our parents wanted us to do. The twenty to thirty year old present day greats have never faced Tiger in his peak form; if he peaks out this week, that the “Tiger is coming” will not be the fake news we had to suffer as children. Tiger’s presence is remarkably everywhere even when he is not present. It is jokingly said that when he arrives for practice, the sudden shift of thousands of spectators from others to him could even shift the axis of the earth. And thus are myths created!
Tuesday night preceding the championship is always the Masters Club Dinner in honour of the reigning champion, this year Sergio Garcia from Spain, and the champion gets to set the menu. This dinner was held upstairs in the main club building while in the Founders Room of the same building Jacko Maree, a South African member of Augusta National, and his wife Sandy, hosted Rob Taylor, Peter Hird and this writer, along with our spouses to a splendid dinner. As it happens, the four of us are members of the River Club in Johannesburg and the Royal and Ancient in Scotland.
After dinner we were treated to a tour of Augusta National’s multi-million dollar wine cellar and then proceeded upstairs where the Champions Dinner had just ended. The stewards passed around a glass of the wonderful 2014 Pinea Tempernillo, Ribera de Duero that was served at the Champions Dinner and was paired with traditional Spanish lobster rice. It is said that each type of wine has its own story but the one told under the Pinea tree is epic, encapsulating centuries of history, years of aging, minutes of pleasure and moments that last forever. Such, it is predicted will be the denouement of the 2018 Masters.
Tom Watson, playing along with the living legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, handily won the Par 3 contest and became, at 68 years, the oldest player to win the Par 3 contest. Since he is not a contestant, the curse of the Par 3 which ordains that he who wins the Par 3 contest will not win the Masters that year will be unused this year and will probably gather greater strength for next year. Advice to Shubhankar will be not to play in it next year!
After almost winning the British Open at the age of 60, Tom Watson, at 68, becomes the oldest to win the Par 3 contest.
At a convivial braai (barbecue) this evening, Gary Player, who was obviously present at the Champions Dinner, said that he had never seen so many players, including past champions, peak in form at just about the same time and therefore he anticipates a fantastic and fearsome contest which will be great for the patrons, the players, the sponsors, the golf clubs, the media and of course for golf in general. There will surely be another resurgence of this great sport.
That’s some good news in an otherwise troubled world.