I was seven when Tiger Woods won in 1997. That’s when I learned who he was and how he was changing the game. Around that time, my grandfather started teaching me the game of golf during summer break. I grew up golfing the parks courses in Cleveland and from then on became hooked on playing. While, I’ve never reached any major tournaments on the professional or even amateur level, I carry a 7 handicap and enjoy the four hours or so 18 holes takes.
The Masters has always been one of those tournaments that have controlled my life. From that Thursday through Sunday I’m in front of a TV watching from 2 until 7. (or whatever the TV slot is that day) Heck, I even watch Golf Channel coverage, something I rarely can stand with its redundancy and Holly Sonders adds nothing to the show other than something for men to stare at.
Entering this years tournament there are a lot of unknowns. I’ve seen every Masters since Tiger’s victory. Players like Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson have donned the Green Jacket.
I would say my most memorable Masters was when Mike Weir beat out Len Mattiace in a playoff back in 2003. Why do I remember that? Because a 65 on Sunday nearly immortalized a guy who hasn’t played in a major since 2005. Who two years ago, played in a Monday qualifier for The Greenbrier Classic. There he carried his own clubs in a Wilson stand bag. He wore no sponsors logos and played behind a foursome including local college golf coaches from Bluefield, West Virginia. He was playing a golf course I had been crushing Budweiser’s on with a few friends a month prior. Except he had money and his career at stake. I had an afternoon off from work.
What makes tournaments like The Masters great is someone like Len Mattiace could have earned a lifetime exemption to the hallowed grounds of Augusta National. Others have been close and others have reached the zenith of the golf world winning majors. Some names come to mind are Todd Hamilton at The Open Championship along with Paul Lawrie who took advantage of Jean van de Velde’s misfortune back in the 1999 Open. Rich Beem or Bob May are all other names that immediately jump to the forefront.
When golfers hit the tee this Thursday, everyone in the field will look to add to a legacy or make one of their own. Someone like Bae Sang-moon who’s back in the field this year after finishing 37th back in 2012. He won the Byron Nelson last year and at the 2012 Greenbrier Classic I rode the shuttle with his caddy at the time who told me all he wanted to do was play the game. Not for any chips or marbles but fthe sake of playing golf professionally.
Tiger Woods will not be there this week. Some say it hurts TV ratings or hurts the game. You can say it does to the casual fan. But the golf community knows he hasn’t been healthy in years. He did win a lot last year and I’m not the golf critic who has ever doubted Tiger. However, it is factual that he’s struggled to put together four complete rounds in a tournament since his infidelity scandal back in 2009. He’s also still carried a cocky attitude and really has not rebuilt his image.
The one time I truly saw eye-to-eye with the 14-time major champion was after he won the 2006 British Open. The embrace he gave then caddy, Steve Williams, the emotion he showed humanized what many thought was a product of a 21st century industrial revolution.
I’m not here to knock Tiger or criticize him in any way, however, not having him in the field this week draws attention to other quality players that deserve recognition. A first-time major winner will get all the props he deserves with a win rather than a Tiger loss. I look at someone like Mattiace and what his career could have amounted to. But, I’m sure he’s not regretting not winning in 2003. I’m sure he wishes he had but surely isn’t keeping him up at night.
Now as the tide turns toward a new season and the unofficial start of spring coming this weekend, it’s time for a new name to open the door at Augusta National. Someone who’s won tournaments but isn’t a name who care to recognize. A Matt Kuchar, who has consistently won golf tournaments at the highest level but hasn’t closed the door in a major. Or Lee Westwood who has had brushes with greatness but has always been the guy who’s told “maybe next year.” The appreciation people have when the results finally equal the effort they’ve put forth their entire lives is what makes events like The Masters, appointment viewing.