Monday, April 9, 2012

The Masters

I used to watch a lot of sports on television, especially football. Until I was about 30, I spent Saturdays and Sundays in front of the tube watching a game -- any game.

I don't watch much football or anything else these days. I'd rather spend my time doing something rather than watching other people doing something. How much time do we waste glued to the tube watching people play a game? I'd rather be hiking or gardening or traveling or working on a project -- anything constructive.

But more than that, we've lost something from sports over the years -- sportsmanship. The current story regarding the New Orleans Saints and their "head hunting" philosophy is just the latest example. There are so many others, like grown men dancing in the end zone after making a touchdown. Last weekend while channel surfing, Donna and I happened across a hockey game. There were about 4 minutes left in the game. It took about half an hour to play the remaining 4 minutes because of all the delays due to fights breaking out -- and the fans loved it!

But one sport I do enjoy watching on TV is golf, especially when there is a major tournament underway. Sportsmanship is still alive and well in golf, and most of the players still behave in a gentlemanly manner. Sure, you have a few occasional outbreaks of temper where someone slams down a club after a bad drive, but these are rare.

One of the nice things about golf is that it is one of the few games where people do not directly compete against each other; instead, they compete primarily against a course, against the elements, and against themselves. Indirectly, a charge up the leader board by a prominent player may affect another player's strategy or how he/she plays a hole, but mainly each player struggles against the course, the elements, and themselves.

I enjoyed the Masters this past weekend. Now that I'm retired, I was able to watch it all 4 days. The final 2 days of golf tournaments always pairs players in order based upon score. However, the first 2 days players play in groups of 3, and they are mixed together irregardless of score. So you might have someone who is 5 under playing with someone who is 10 over. This provides an opportunity to see the entire field of players. It was fun, for example, to watch Tom Watson as he barely missed the cut on the final holes on Friday.

Yes, there were a few outbreaks of bad sportsmanship. Henrick Stenson pounded his club after his second bad shot on the 18th on Thursday, and Tiger Woods threw his club down in disgust and then kicked it on Friday -- an act for which he will probably be fined as conduct unbecoming a professional. The microphone also caught Tiger using a bit of profanity on Friday. It was a bad day for Tiger. But overall, the players were composed and amiable, and most are grateful to even be playing in such a legendary tournament.

And things got better on Saturday.

Yeah, Fred Couples dropped a few strokes, made a bit of a comeback, then fell again. And other players rose on the leader board. Phil Mickelson, whom Donna and I routinely root for, played the first nine holes at even par. Then magic occurred on the back 9. First he birdied a hole. Then he birdied another. Then he eagled the 13th. He continued to rise on the leader board until he and Peter Hanson were only 1 stroke apart, thus pairing them for the final round on Sunday.

And Sunday didn't disappoint, either. At the end of the day, Louis Oosthuizen and Bubba Watson were tied. After the first playoff hole, they remained tied. Then on the second playoff hole, both hit bad drives. Oosthuizen hit a tree, and although his drive landed in the fairway, he was far short of the green. Watson was in the woods, unable to even see the green. Oosthuizen hit his second shot and landed short of the green, while Watson hit one of those magical shots he has become famous for and ended up only 10 feet or so from the hole. The tournament ended when Oosthuizen bogeyed the hole and Watson parred it.

A lot of people find watching golf on television boring as compared to the more active sports like football and basketball. But watch The Legend of Bagger Vance sometime, and perhaps you might get a feel for the passion and history of the game.

And isn't Augusta National one of the prettiest courses you'll ever see, especially in spring with the azaleas and dogwoods in bloom?

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