Memories at the Masters.

It’s been twenty years since I attended my first Masters and I have so many great memories associated with this major.

I’d like to mention a few of these, including the walks I had with my great pal and mentor Trent Frayne — a fellow contributor to Fifty-Plus magazine. Many mornings when Trent and I would walk the Augusta National Golf Club, when only the grounds crew were there. We walked the entire course in the fragrant early morning, watched as officials came out to test pin positions — they didn’t want them too easy or on ridiculous slopes either.

The course came alive while Trent and I wandered all eighteen holes, talking golf and other matters. There couldn’t have been a better way to get in the mood for the day’s play. It was also a wonderful way to get to know Trent.

Years later, in fact, I found a book that he wrote on the Queen’s Plate horse race. I asked if he would sign it to me. He did, as follows: “Dear Lorne. You’ll read anything.” That’s Trent, self-deprecating but long one of the finest chroniclers of all things sport. And his wife June Callwood isn’t too bad a writer either; her recent book on the accident that caused the exclent CFL player Terry Evanshen irreversible brain damage broke my heart. Trent calls his wife the real writer in the family. Both are real writers. Thanks for the writing Trent. Thanks for the memories, especially those first Masters memories.

Learning from the best

I made a point of seeking out writers at the Masters. Early on I sat on the vast lawn in front of the clubhouse, under the spreading branches of the old oak tree there, where I enjoyed a long chat with Herbert Warren Wind. Herb also became a mentor. I used to soak up his fine essays in The New Yorker about the Masters, and wherever else I could find his work. Herb and I also took some enjoyable walks around Augusta’s parkland wonder of a course.

Then there was the evening I encountered Gene Sarazen on the clubhouse balcony. Sarazen, of course, hit the most famous shot in golf — even more famous than the six-iron that Tiger Woods hit out of the fairway bunker last September across water to the last green to win the Bell Canadian Open. Sarazen’s shot was a four-wood from the top of the hill on the fifteenth hole, the last day of the 1935 Masters. It carried the lake in front of the green and rolled into the hole for a double-eagle. Sarazen had made up in one shot the three-shot lead that Craig Wood, who had finished, held on him. Sarazen beat Wood the next day in their 36-hole playoff, and won the Masters.

The evening I met Sarazen, he was having a quiet moment alone before the annual dinner for Masters champions. I stood near him for a minute or two until we caught each other’s eyes. He seemed willing to chat and so we did. Sarazen looked out over the broad expanse of the course, the landscape tumbling down toward the fifteenth fairway. He spoke of his famous shot and said it hardly seemed like it happened so many years ago. Of course it was fresh in his mind because writers like me kept bringing it up. But Sarazen didn’t mind talking about it. I also reminded him of something he had once said when asked what he does when he gets too many swing thoughts.

“I just think of riding through the ball,” Sarazen said. How’s that for a sensory image of the swing?

The greatest memories

So much has happened at Augusta, even in the twenty years I’ve attended the Masters. I was there when Seve Ballesteros dropped out of a playoff for the 1987 Masters when he bogied the 10th hole, the first of the sudden-death playoff. He walked back up the hill to the clubhouse, his shoulders slumped. He was all alone when the Masters wrapped up on the 11th hole, where Larry Mize chipped in from 110′ to defeat poor Greg Norman.

I can’t forget Jack Nicklaus, of course. Augusta National was abuzz as Nicklaus made a charge the last ten holes of the 1986 Masters. He went seven-under par those last ten holes, shooting 30 on the back nine. Greg Norman had a chance to tie Nicklaus but missed the green to the right on the last hole. I’ll never forget the cheers that seemed to fill the entire property as Nicklaus came up to the final green with his son and caddie Jackie Nicklaus. Masters’ memories.

And, then, in 1997, came Tiger Woods. I was in the pressroom when Colin Montgomerie, who was going to play the third round with Woods, said that he felt he had more experience in majors than the young man. The implication was that Woods could have a rough time of it. But Tiger went out the third day and shot 65. Montgomerie shot 74, then said in the pressroom he could hardly believe the amazing performance he had seen. Woods won that Masters by 12 shots. He hasn’t won the Masters since but has won four more major championships. He’s now won every major — the Masters, U.S. and British Opens and two PGA Championship.

This year Woods will be the overwhelming favourite at the Masters, again. He’s prepared for this tournament carefully, and recently won the Bay Hill Invitational in Orlando and The Player’s Championship. Woods is ready. Nothing is automatic in golf, but you’d have to say he will be right there at the end — probably well ahead.

I won’t be at this year’s Masters because Passover conflicts with the tournament. That happens every few years. This year I’ll have to content myself with my Masters memories. Thankfully, I have a lot stored up.