Since you have been gone, I have to admit, I don’t feel your presence in my day to day goings on nor do I think you are watching over me. I think, you are, simply gone but what I do have are memories and whenever I watch golf, especially the Majors, I think of you the entire time and miss you dearly. This year was the 81st Masters Tournament at Augusta National. It was a Masters of memories as this was the first year in over 60 years without Arnold Palmer in attendance; Masters Sunday would have been the 60th birthday of 2 time Masters Champion, Spaniard Seve Ballesteros and all the contenders had unique and interesting statistics that would add to the history of the Masters should they have won. And after taking this all in, I realized this 81st Masters, Dad, is our 9th Masters without you but still we watch (me at my house, Mom and Reina at theirs) and we cheer and remember the things you said and smile as we predict the comments you would have made today if you were watching with us.
You would have loved the tribute to Arnold Palmer, Dad. You would have been touched to see the ceremonial tee-shot and how much Jack Nicklaus misses his beloved friend and rival, tipping his hat to the heavens, teary-eyed. The many memories of us watching Arnie and Jack on our dining room wall when I was little, flooded into my mind and made me smile.
Arnold and Jack – rivals & friends.
It also made me chuckle, Pops, at the realization that I really am half a century old! We were watching the greats in sports from that monstrosity projector you would haul home from work because in our tiny Caribbean island back then, it was the only way people could witness such greatness, even if it was a week after history was made. Next to you taking me around to see the costumes and hear the steel bands in the pan yards at Carnival time, watching sports, especially boxing and golf, was my favourite time with you. Of course, later on when we were able to watch Wide World of Sports and numerous other televised sports as technology progressed, the four of us we were more comfortable in Mom’s and your room, crammed on the bed glued to the greatness we saw in colour on TV.
This Masters was beset with the obstacles of Mother nature. High winds and rain made practice difficult and players ventured out to take shots whenever she allowed, for as little time as she allowed. Fate had it’s hand in this year’s tournament too. World number 1, wearing socks while taking the stairs in his rental home slipped and fell injuring his back resulting in him withdrawing from the tournament just as he walked onto the first tee. A former world number 1, was just happy to play, relieved to know that his mother’s cancer surgery went well, though nowhere the top 10 in the competition, he gave his best performance nonetheless. Fred Couples showed that at 57, the love of the game could and sheer experience and maturity could put your name up on the leader board with the young guns right through to Sunday and Ernie held his head high as a 23rd attempt at trying to win this thing resulted in a last place finish.
In a tournament that belongs to a post Tiger dominance sport, it really is anybody’s to win today. Of those yet to wear the coveted Green jacket, spectators (armchair professionals) like to pass judgement on social media, using phrases like “not mentally tough”, “lacks maturity” or words like “inconsistent” and “choke” that really don’t apply to the game today. Their words don’t apply because everyone is that good today. Maybe it has to do a little bit with today’s clubs and balls, a little bit to do with advanced analysis of swings and stances with the use of high tech research equipment but mostly I attribute the calibre of golf I see with the passion for a game made sexy by Tiger Woods. His drive to win, his love of being at every course, at every tournament and his love of the challenge of the game and his love of winning encouraged kids in TV land and later, in cyberspace, to go out and become stars. Post Tiger, no one player has dominated each and every tournament the way he did because in their unique way they all dominate and it comes down to who can put the pieces together from Thursday to Friday and hold on to a lead or make a surge forward on Saturday and take it home on Sunday. It is hard to win golf; harder than it has ever been and it is fantastic to watch.
Young Sergio with Seve 1999.
Coming into the final day, the leaderboard had Garcia and Rose, Fowler and Spieth with names like Pieters, Kutcher, Casey, Scott, Hoffman (who at 40 held on to the lead and stayed in the running right through to Sunday as best as he could) Schwartzel and slow to climb, but there nonetheless, McIlroy. It was anybody’s to win and Dad, would you believe in a finish of the ages, in a playoff, Sergio Garcia won over Justin Rose to finally win a PGA Tour Major after 73 attempts.
At 37, he is no longer the best player without a Major title under his belt. I remember you agreeing with the broadcasters that he was great but had something missing, some demons to conquer and no one understood why he was always the bridesmaid, so close to grabbing a Major title yet not able to close. Today, on what would have been Seve Ballesterros’ 60th birthday, Sergio Garcia joined him and other 2 time Master’s Champion, Jose Maria Olazabal in being one of three Spaniards to win the tournament. It was beautiful to see and even more beautiful to see the photo taken at the 1999 Masters of a young Sergio as the Low Amateur Champion beside the champion, Seve wearing the Green Jacket.
While I was happy for Sergio finally getting the win, I was disappointed my favourite, Rickie Fowler had his worst day on the last. Rickie turned pro in 2009, the year after you died, so I don’t think you would have known of him but you would not have liked his flashy, colourful clothes and at the time, longish hair. You would have said he was young and silly and dressed like a clown and I would have countered your point by drawing your attention to Payne Stewart, whom you loved and we would have agreed to disagree. You would have fallen in love with Fowler’s game at the 2015 Players Championship where he was the victor. You would have quietly admired the his stats in tournaments especially his top 5 finishes in Major tournaments . You would have admired him, but quietly so I wouldn’t call you out on it.
Rickie is quiet on the course in spite of his boldly coloured threads. He doesn’t have loud outbursts, does not throw tantrums or curse and is more of an observer – a thinker. He was not a country club kid, but a driving range kid who did what needed to be done to become a pro golfer. Young and willing to define himself when he became a professional on tour, he grew up before judgemental eyes of television broadcasters, viewers and on social media which reaches people more than television and radio have ever and will ever reach. In spite of the scrutiny, he continues to be himself, continues to redefine himself as he gets older. He is blessed with a gift for golf – he has a long drive for his small stature and has a hell of a short game. Rickie is the Bobby Jones of our era when it comes to the putter, Dad. He sees the green, the grass, and reads it all like a book and can visualize that ball dropping into the hole. It’s like he can play a recording of what he wants to have happen in his mind. He is also blessed with articulation and he is a smart and good looking kid – the two latter qualities also can be considered a curse especially when it comes to the haters on social media who generally are a bunch of jealous twits. He emulates the greats, especially Palmer and is well liked on tour and by fans. His time can be now but he is human and though he has won on tour, with Sergio’s victory, he is now the best player yet to win a major and whenever he does, it will be great; it will be historic, epic and truly deserved. He reminds me a bit of our Logan (though Logan will disagree because he is a teenager and God forbid he agrees with his mother). He is talented at his sport because he is a hard worker. He is decent and is a good man and we see that unfolding in our Logan as he grows up . He is generous and has an appreciation for his family and fans and people in general and shows great sportsmanship and is a good role model. In the hands of these young gentlemen, Dad, I believe golf’s greatness will continue to shine for generations. The sport has lowered the walls that once made the game elitist and stodgy. The game is everyman’s game more than it has ever been and it is nice to see that the networks have figured out how to balance their cameras on skin tones darker than white.
It was a Masters of memories for the organizers, the players, the broadcasters, the fans, viewers and for me. I remember you most fondly during the Masters and I know one day I’ll get to be there and see it in person. I’ll see it for both of us because I remember how you so loved this game. The grand boys have chosen different sports to excel in, Dad. It makes me a bit sad that golf is recreational for them but they have made their choice and that is what matters. We will get out more now that they are older but my guys’ hearts are on the ice and Luciano’s is in extreme sports. I wish we got more rounds in, you and I, but I won’t forget the ones we had. I am flattered to this day that you admired my “natural swing” as you called it and I remember all the tips you gave me and I still have that hand written list of clubs that you said were my strongest weapons in my golf bag…which Dad, was your bag. I still putt left and right handed and on a good day, I can drive the ball long …sometimes longer than the occasional guy and I think you would have enjoyed playing with me. I’ve made a promise to myself to get out and play more often this year and I will remember you when I tee up; remember you when I putt and remember you when I put that bag on my shoulder. There is no game more challenging, unpredictable, unforgiving yet fabulously rewarding than golf. There is no game more scenic, more strategic or more refined and I am glad you made it part of your world and mine. Till next Sunday, my dear Dad, when I tune in again and remember you and your love affair with the greatest gentleman’s game.