Monday, April 12, 2010
If relaxation is consistent with a commitment to Sabbath, then the Masters Tournament in high definition on a Sunday afternoon would be one of my favorite ways to comply with the fourth of those Ten Commandments.
Augusta in Springtime. It doesn’t get any better. Azaleas of every variety, from all over the world. Indica, Kurume, Satsuki, Glen Dale and Kaempferi. Every color of blossom against the deep green fairways and full live oaks and Augusta pines. The videographers understand depth of field, which allows for flowers in sharp focus in the foreground and fuzzy brush and branches and shrubs reflecting off the glassy surface of a clear pond; with the backdrop of deep blue skies and fluffy clouds floating by. A soothing sound track accompanies the stunning images.
The blood pressure drops at the sight and sound of it all.
The quaint walking bridge between the green at the 12th and the tee box of the 13th holes is “Amen Corner,” where careers have been made since 1936. The Masters at Augusta is a major of majors, and this week’s tournament delivered as much inspiration and drama as the 2004 event when Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were paired in the last group on the fourth and final Sunday afternoon round in a classic unforgettable match up. As defending champion, Tiger, in his own green jacket from the prior year, awarded Phil his in the Butler Cabin that year. Phil edged out Tiger in his first Masters title that day.
The global media trumpeted this year’s Masters mainly because it marked Tiger Woods’ return to golf after five deplorable months of tabloid frenzy. Nike weighed in with a risky ad campaign. There were press conferences and interviews and appearances from spurned women making sordid claims. Would the fans heckle? Could Tiger focus? Could he win? Would he melt down under golf’s unrelenting strain? Would Elin show?
The first two days, Tiger performed as though nothing happened. But then others emerged with spectacular, virtuoso flair. Freddie Couples, Lee Westwood, K.J. Choi, and then… there was Phil Mickelson.
Ten years ago, a good friend gave an eyewitness account of Phil’s performance from close range. He was appalled. Phil abused the fans; his language crude and obscene. My friend put a spin on Phil that was hard for me to shake. Phil was emerging back then as a major force, but he had a reputation for buckling under the pressure of that final fourth Sunday round. He would melt down. Miss short putts. Take inordinate risks, and end up in the woods. While he consistently finished in the top ten, there were few victories and no majors. It seemed like the young Tiger Woods intimidated the older, more experienced Phil. His game fell apart when Tiger came into view, on the prowl.
That 2004 Masters victory was a turning point. Phil won. And from all appearances, he’s been well coached. Now he smiles. He acknowledges his well-wishers up in the gallery. He banters with the other players. When he misses unexpectedly, he shakes his head and laughs. He no longer broods. He moves on to the next shot with confidence and focus.
Like his counterpart (the Number One Player in the World), Phil’s marriage has also been in the headlines. But for very different reasons. Both Tiger and Phil are married to strikingly beautiful blonds. They have children waiting at eighteen in the final round. Their wives wear classy sunglasses that gleam in the late afternoon sun. The camera likes to capture them both celebrating the final hole and the big win.
But for the Masters 2010, Tiger, who was in the hunt and expected to win at the beginning of the final round, struggled. The birdies were matched by corresponding bogeys. The wheels fell off.
All the while, Phil was in the zone. He produced magical shots. Out of the woods. Off the pine needles. But mostly, there were long straight drives. Steady chips. Precision putts. An impossible eagle. Solid golf, all the way to the finish.
And as he approached the 18th green, the Green Jacket was all but won. Crowds that more than matched record-breaking numbers welcomed him with wild enthusiasm as he walked, smiling and tipping the bill of his cap. No, it wasn’t Tiger. It was Phil. And there was the blond. No, it wasn’t Elin. It was Amy.
Amy Mickelson, who was diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Next to her, Phil’s mom, Mary Mickelson, who in tragic coincidence, was also diagnosed this same year. The two women watched on as Phil addressed his putt. While he did not need it to win, he sank one last birdie and as the ball dropped into the cup the massive crowd exploded with joy and Phil threw his head back and raised two hands toward the sky. Then the camera turned and caught it. Tears streamed down both Mary’s and Amy’s faces as the two women embraced while the crowd hooted and whistled and hollered.
Maybe it’s just me. Had Tiger won, there would be no Elin waiting to join him in the celebration.
But as Phil walked off the green and into the crowd, he found his wife. They wrapped their arms around each other. Phil held on to his Amy way longer than usual. Like they couldn’t let go. Like they wouldn’t let go. Like nothing can take this away. Nothing.
And as the global audience watched, tight throated with deep emotion welling up at the sight of these two, it was as though the whole world came to terms with what Tiger has lost. And that’s way more than a green jacket. Way more.
Yes, Phil has the 2010 Green Jacket. That’s a good thing. Even better – he has Amy.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2010