Now on the Tee… Masters Reflection
What a long, strange trip it’s been. For us, for golf, for Sergio.
For some, the hardest week of the year is this week, the mourning of another Masters come and gone. We leave the confines of Augusta National with more memories, inspiration, heartaches, and lessons.
Where to start?
Maybe with the heartaches. A very early on one, for me, was the seemingly inevitable fading away of Charley Hoffman.
Hoffman has been a mainstay on the PGA Tour for more than 15 years, collecting 4 wins along the way. In the majors, success hasn’t been as free flowing as his blond hair once was. His best finish at a major came at the Masters in 2015, tied for 9th. This year, he jumped out to a commanding lead in the first round of The Masters, a 7-under 65 that included four birdies in a row on the backside.
But like we have seen so many times and as I somewhat predicted to my dad following Thursday, Hoffman struggled for the rest of the week. The winning score ended up being 9-under. It’s easy to say, “All he had to do was keep it together and shoot 3-under over the next three rounds!”
But Augusta, while beautiful, can be a cruel and unforgiving mistress.
I actually met Charley Hoffman while working for the company that managed the courtesy vehicles for players at the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay. I was meeting the players at baggage claim, helping them with their bags, and getting them to their car and on their way. The very first player I was enlisted to help was Hoffman. He showed up alone at first, but soon was followed by his wife and his two daughters. Obviously tired from the flight and wrangling two very energetic kids, Charley was grateful for what help I did provide with his bags and car-seats that he had to tow along.
It was a unique look into life of a professional golfer, the less glamorous part. I was a big fan of him before that day, but getting to see that he not only had to be a dad but a world class player on the biggest stage gave me even more respect for the guy. He referenced it in his post-round interview after Thursday, that even though he was so excited about playing well he “had to get back to my two girls at the house, that will bring me back down to Earth”. We all have different ways of being humbled.
I would be remiss to not talk about another heartache, for Justin Rose.
Lots of kids growing up playing golf have been there on the practice green: Thomas Huddleston, to win the Masters…Then we make the putt and we hear the roar of the crowd in our head. But only a few of those kids grow up to actually have that putt.
Justin Rose had that opportunity on Sunday and just like any putt on the practice green back home, he knew the read. However, it seemed that God or fate or some other force had a different plan. Rose’s putt somehow stayed above the cup and never took the slightest turn to the left. It sniffed the right edge of the hole and maybe thought no, not yet. Although Rose grew up in England, he had a deep love for The Masters as a kid. He begged his dad to let him stay up at night to watch the tournament.
It’s not fair to toy with someone’s childhood dream like that. I wish they could give out two Green Jackets sometimes. Justin Rose’s time will come at Augusta, it wasn’t this year, but he is too determined and has too much love for The Masters not to one day don his own Green Jacket. I am confident about this, because if this year’s Masters taught me anything, it’s that determination and commitment will be rewarded. However long it may take.
There was a big rush of emotion that went through me when that putt curled around the back of the cup and fell in. Sergio Garcia had been waiting for that putt to fall for a long time.
The beautiful thing about sports is that no matter how cool, calm and collected an athlete portrays themselves to be, the moment when they win what they have devoted their life to, the facade crumbles. The kid inside them who made the putt on the practice green a hundred times before comes out. Decades of stress, head and heartache, anger, and doubt finally were lifted from Sergio Garcia. The suffix of “greatest player to never win a major” that had been dragged by Garcia for so long was dropped in that moment.
The journey Garcia took to finally achieve a major victory was Homeric. He battled inner demons, what he saw as “demons” in the media, and then Garcia had to battle the game of golf. Going into this year’s Masters, it seemed he was finally at peace. A much more humble and grateful man in than years past.
It is easy to identify with him, in terms of his struggles with golf. The Unbeatable Game has and will defeat us every time we step to the tee. It was when Sergio Garcia was finally at peace with himself that he was able to stagger and momentarily handle the beast that is a Major championship.
He almost didn’t though. After Justin Rose’s putt somehow didn’t fall for him on the 72nd hole, Sergio had his first attempt to put the doubters and nay-sayers to bed. A 5-footer for birdie to win the Green Jacket. To our horror, it seemed Garcia had let another chance slip away, as he pushed? misread? mishit? his putt right of the cup. It took one playoff hole to redeem himself, as it seemed that Justin Rose was at the end of his rope. Garcia had two putts to win, but he figured he’d just get it out of the way already. He had waited long enough — 18 years, 74 major championship bids, and 73 holes.
It will go down in the annals of Masters history, El Niño’s long journey finally coming to an end, where he found the green garment; the prize he had so longed for to have.