Sunday at the Masters – A nostalgic journey

I love sport. Always have. Like any true sports fan, inevitably I am asked which sporting event I would attend if I had the choice. For me, the answer has always been Sunday at the US Masters. After Adam Scott’s emotion charged victory on Sunday, I fear, as an Australia, I may have missed the chance for perhaps my greatest sporting moment. With fellow countrymen Scott, Jason Day and Marc Leishman all in contention on the back nine of the final round, I sat clued to the TV with thoughts of ‘what if’.

The Masters dream began for me as a child. An avid golfer, I grew up in a house where my late father played twice weekly most of his life. He was also a prolific watcher of the sport too, as many golfers are. From as early as I can remember, dad would wake me up on a Monday at 6am to watch the final round of the major golf tournaments; but my favourite was always the Masters. I marvelled at how green Augusta always looked and the way the galleries behaved, seemingly cheering on any player, regardless of nation. The place just oozed energy and I wanted to be a part of it. Year after year, we sat on the couch together and hoped this might be the day when an Aussie could wear the green jacket.

My father was a self taught, single figured handicap golfer, the same as me. He played the game into his eighties, before cancer got hold of him and he no longer had the strength to play. His first and only hole in one was at age 72 and two years later he achieved the rare feat of playing a round in fewer strokes than his age. He hated golf carts and was a stickler for etiquette on the course. In the last months of his life, he emotionally related to me one day that now he could no longer walk the fairways with his mates, he saw no reason to live. That conversation still chokes me up when I remember what the game meant to him. As a World War II veteran, golf represented freedom. Get out amongst the green pastures, whack a few balls, talk some rubbish with your friends, have a few beers and go home satisfied.

Through dad’s club connections he worked as a marshal at every tournament held in Melbourne for the best part of twenty years. The impressive collection of colored shirts in his old wardrobe pays homage to Opens, Masters, PGA’s, Classics, Match Plays and President’s Cups past. Of course these connections meant I attended each one of these tournaments for free and enjoyed seeing up close most champions the game has produced.  One such sunny, weekday afternoon, I followed a group in the 2004 Heineken Classic at Royal Melbourne that included Ernie Els and a young Australian on the rise – Adam Scott. Els famously shot 60 around the great course that day, but Scott was right behind him with an impressive 66.

Although Els shot the lights out, my man crush for Scott had begun. His swing, oh, his swing. It was divine; years later it was hailed as possibly the best on tour. He carried himself with such grace for one so young and the cleanness of his ball striking was impressive. There weren’t many in the gallery that day and I would guess perhaps less than 20 people followed this group from start to finish. I was one. Afterwards I eagerly waited beside the 18th green for a chance autograph from my new hero. There were three of us there and he got to me last. I thrust out a Royal Melbourne card which he signed instantly. I noticed he used a black pen from his back pocket, which was a cross between a texta and a biro. Years later, I discovered this was security against memorabilia forgers – impressive stuff from an obviously well managed youngster. I nervously started a brief conversation.

“Well played today Adam.”

“Thanks very much.”

“If a few more putts went your way, you could have been close to 60 as well.”

“Maybe…you might be right.”

“Thanks for the autograph.”

Lightly touching my shoulder and looking me directly in the eye, he said, “Thanks for your support mate.”

I was gone. He was perfect. All class. Except for the putting……..

Dad was less impressed though.  After a few more summers of watching him up close and on TV he remarked to me one day that Scott had one of the best swings he had seen, but that when it counted, under pressure, he couldn’t putt. Unfortunately, I had to agree.

Together we shared some terrible Monday morning TV golfing moments on our couch over the years, mostly involving Greg Norman. Dad was always ahead of the game – his predictions eerily coming true. In the 1986 Masters, after four straight birdies to charge back into contention, Norman was faced with an iron into the 18th. As he set up for the shot, dad said “his stance is too open – if he is not careful he will block this into the crowd.” Five seconds later and one of the most famous golf commentary lines of all time was uttered – “look out right side.” For the previous two hours we had both marvelled as a 45 year old Jack Nicklaus shot 30 on the back nine to take the club house lead. It was stirring stuff. The yank commentators were cheering him on with lines like “the bear is out of hibernation” and “maybe…maybe…yes sir”, as Nicklaus rolled in his birdie putt on the 17th to take the outright lead.

One year later, Norman found himself in a playoff at the Masters with a relatively unknown American called Larry Mize. It was almost 9.30am local time by then and dad had decided I wasn’t getting driven to school until the tournament had finished. We sat in utter silence as Mize chipped in from off the green to again deny Norman the victory. I protested to dad that after such a let down there was no way I was going to school that day, but he waved away my complaints and told me to walk instead. He was drained and just slumped on the couch like Norman was his own son.

Privately, I think we both thought that might be it for Norman at Augusta. Perhaps he was too broken to be fixed, but some 10 years later in 1996, he entered the final round six shots in front and even his harshest critics believed this was the year. Running second was Englishman, Nick Faldo, a player neither of us liked. I had witnessed Faldo up close six years earlier at the Australian Masters at Huntingdale and was not impressed by his arrogance and disdain for the galleries. Ironically Norman triumphed over him that year on home soil.

I remember feeling nervous as dad woke me a little earlier than normal on the Monday in ’96 and I could hear the dejection in his voice as he told me Faldo had already cut the lead to three shots.  What followed was probably golf’s most famous meltdown with Faldo winning by an amazing five strokes. We were shell shocked as Norman hit poor shot after poor shot. Again, eerily, dad called most of them before they took place. I think I lost my mojo for watching golf that day and it took a few years to return. Moving out of home later that year, I didn’t return to the couch until the 2002 Masters – Adam Scott’s first tilt at Augusta, where he finished a credible ninth. However, I now agreed with dad about my hero. He was an amazing ball striker, but I couldn’t see him winning a major with his putting.

Therefore a strong sense of nostalgia washed over me as I sat on my couch watching the final round of the Masters unfold this year. Now living on the Gold Coast, about ten minutes drive from Adam Scott’s home club of Sanctuary Cove; I couldn’t help but think he was slowly becoming our modern day Greg Norman. Scott too had surrendered a large final round lead to lose the 2012 Open Championship. ‘Please don’t let this happen again.’ With my infant daughters happily playing on the ground in front of the TV and my wife reading a book, I sat on the edge of my seat and provided special comments on every shot, all of which were met with silence. My wife asked me a few times why the TV volume had to be so loud and I answered the same each time – “I need to hear the gallery.”

When Scott sank the birdie putt on the 18th, I screamed and jumped in the air, pumping my fist, “C’mon Aussie…..” My smallest daughter began crying from the noise, as my wife shot me an understanding smile, the kind you get from a woman who has long endured living with a sports nut. My eldest daughter starting laughing at me, before joining in the dancing as we celebrated what all thought would be victory. As Angel Cabrera stood over his approach to the same hole minutes later, I channelled my father and pronounced – “bet you he bloody sticks this to a foot or something.” He did. Play Off. Not again. Not Adam. My four year old noticed the blood had drained from my face and asked “what’s wrong daddy?” I couldn’t answer.

I still don’t know how Cabrera’s chip didn’t go in at the first playoff hole and repeat the Larry Mize, Bob Tway, Nick Faldo etc. nightmare, but it was a profound moment because it represented a shift in fortunes for our great nation at this Mecca of tournaments. After Cabrera missed his birdie on the second playoff hole, Scott had his chance. “He misses this and it will shatter him forever,” I proclaimed. Again I was ignored. As Scott’s putt rolled in to win the Masters there was no dancing. No screaming. I simply pumped my fist over and over, nodding my head as a tear formed in my eye. “Yes.”

Great sporting moments like this don’t come along too often. They live in your memory. You don’t forget them. Ever. Scott said he thought some of the victory belonged to Norman. I think some of the victory belonged to all Australian golf fans. Dad too. There is a great photo taken of Adam Scott in the green jacket after the presentation where he is looking to the heavens as if to say thanks. When I saw it, I instantly thought of my father. “Hey dad – he CAN putt.”

Comments

  1. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Wonderful article Rob. I enjoyed re-living that final. Sensational victory by Scott. He was really made to earn it that’s for sure. Like you I couldn’t help but think of how much my father would have loved to have been alive to see this inspiring performance and the marvellous sportsmanship between Scott and Cabrera.

  2. Great story mate, I can see a clear image in my head of your old man sitting on a couch somewhere with a big grin on his face having a drink to celebrate!

  3. I can picture that photo on the wall in Frank’s bar with the mounted “hole in one ball” beneath it and two frosty 7 oz glasses on the bar. Don’t give up on being at Augusta just yet.

  4. mickey randall says:

    Lovely read. Connecting family, memory and aspiration works beautifully. I enjoyed it immensely.

  5. Derek Mitchell says:

    Lovely stuff. There was more than just a little tear in my eye. But wasn’t Cabrera wonderful in defeat?
    And Faldo as a commentator? Never thought I’d say this, but he brought an extra dimension to it all. There’s a great but probably defamatory story about Faldo at the World Matchplay one year which I will relate on request…… It was, in truth, embellished, but it stands the test of time.

  6. Great read Rob. A great account. Maybe you need a son to share the same passion.

  7. It was a great day for Australian sport and golf in particular. I am sure Frank would have loved it, as well as the humility shown by Adam Scott with his win. Your own story of some great times with your Dad is a wonderful read.

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