COMMENTARY | With golf's first major just six weeks away it certainly isn't too early to get excited about what kind of drama will go down April 11-14 on golf's most hallowed ground on U.S. soil, Augusta National Golf Club.
I still can't believe Bubba Watson's fearless hooked wedge on the first playoff hole. He appeared to be deep in Tolkien's Mirkwood Forest when he made the gutsy move to go for the green, curved the ball about 40 yards, and had an easy two-putt par for his first Masters victory.
Golfers around the world made a collective shake of the head after watching that shot. Amazing.
A few friends and I -- who typically get together to watch the Masters -- started a discussion of whether or not we could come up with any sporting event in the world that could rival it.
We could not.
Kind of a ridiculous endeavor, but when there is two feet of snow on the ground and your dog won't go outside because of the cold, sports discussions can get a little crazy.
We all agreed that the four days at Augusta for the Masters Invitational was the best sporting event of the year and decided to enumerate our position with five strong, although certainly debatable, reasons for said position:
5. The Masters is held in the same location, on the same golf course every year, Augusta National.
Golfers generally love to play and see new courses. However, there is always a high level of excitement when the tour gets to Pebble Beach, Doral, or Jack's Memorial Tournament, where Tiger birdied three of his last four holes for a fifth win in 2012. We like to see players on courses that we know. On courses where we recognize the finishing holes. The Masters is the only one of the four majors held on the same course each year. It makes it undeniably more special and more exciting. Augusta National is a course rife with familiarity and history even for young golf fans.
Such as Nicklaus in 1986 winning his sixth green jacket and becoming, fittingly, The Masters' oldest winner. Tiger's first win in 1997 when he dominated the field with his length and putting prowess. Ben Crenshaw winning within days of the funeral of his mentor, Harvey Penick. Robert DeVicenzo signing an incorrect scorecard in 1968, keeping him out of a playoff eventually won by Bob Goalby.
Yes, other major sporting events do take place in the same location each year; The Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500 come to mind, and those places are very special to sport to be sure.
But those events cannot compete with The Masters.
4. The Masters is four full days of excitement.
The Super Bowl goes about 3 1/2 hours even with a longish performance by Beyonce'. It's a good party, but it's over pretty quick. The Kentucky Derby is admittedly very exciting but if you happen to be heating up the cheese dip when they break from the gate, you've missed it. The Olympics have a nice long run every few years, but most of the sports are pretty unapproachable for regular folk. I haven't thrown a javelin in years. The Tour de France is a very long event -- that's its drawback. You miss the entire month of July if you want to really follow it.
No, four days is just perfect. Your spouse won't divorce you, and your boss won't fire you if you watch golf for four days. You're good.
3. All of the top players in the world come to the Masters. Every year.
There are always those that bring up the fact that the Masters has the smallest field in the majors (about 90 invitations go out each year), and that point is valid. You need a slide rule and an abacus to decipher all of the ways a player qualifies (or doesn't qualify) for the Masters. But unlike most major sports where two teams battle it out for the championship with each team having just a few real well-known players, all the stars show up for the Masters. The top 50 players in the World Golf Rankings are always invited. That alone is good enough for me.
Look at it this way: Adrian Peterson didn't play in the Super Bowl. But Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker will all be teeing it up Thursday at the Masters. Sure, there are All-Star games and those are nice celebrations bringing together the best players in a sport, but those events are relatively meaningless and the athletes, understandably, kind of take it easy. The Masters, on the other hand, means everything to these men and they prepare for it for months, want to win, and show it through the tremendous amount of emotion you see on the course. Last year, Bubba sobbed and cried with happiness for half an hour after the playoff. No one cried when the West won the NBA All-Star game. Well, to be fair, I heard one guy in Vermont did, I guess.
2. The Masters has Amen Corner.
Any event that has a portion of its playing field designated as an area that when you pass through successfully you are supposed to say a quiet "amen" adds tremendously to its mystique. (Holes 11, 12 and 13 make up Amen Corner). Can anyone forget Fred Couples' ball hanging precariously by one stray blade of grass on hole 12 in 1992? Or the 13 shots it took Tom Weiskopf to finish hole 12 in 1980? Probably no "Amen" out of the feisty Weiskopf that year.
Amen Corner is itself one of the most exciting moments of sport on the planet, particularly when the final groups come through on Sunday.
1. There are only 4 minutes of commercials each hour.
Four minutes of commercials give you just enough time to grab a beer or make a quick dash to the bathroom. But the lack of interruption allows you to completely immerse yourself in the tournament and the golf course itself, which is stunningly beautiful in its early April bloom. With the advent of high-definition TV, the meticulous manicuring of the course becomes even more evident and also greatly enhances viewing.
Don't agree? Have you watched a basketball game lately? During the final 5 minutes there are so many timeouts the players might as well have BarcaLoungers rather than chairs on the bench. It's almost unwatchable. No, the absence of multiple interruptions from financial advisers and sexual-health products adds tremendously to making the Masters the most enjoyable of all events to watch. I hope it never changes.
It's like they say in the promotional spots: "A tradition like no other."
Steven Stromberg owns a 4 handicap and is a two-time club champion in Minnesota. He played college golf in the third windiest city in the nation and collects and studies vintage golf equipment and memorabilia. He is also a columnist for the Eden Prairie News, Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
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