Get Out Your Green Jackets! Here’s a Beginner’s Guide to the Masters, the Greatest Sporting Event of the Year. | Sports

Get Out Your Green Jackets! Here’s a Beginner’s Guide to the Masters, the Greatest Sporting Event of the Year.

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Can you feel it in the air? It's Masters Time!

I love sports with the ardent, borderline indiscriminate fervor of a sailor on shore leave, so it's no small matter when I tell you that this is my favorite sporting event of the year. And it's no exaggeration to say this is set up to be one of the best Masters in a long time. If I were any more excited, I would require a mandatory state-sanctioned examination, which I would not pass. For those of you who already love the Masters—the ones who can smell what Bethy is cooking—you require no further explanation. Instead, I am here to address the segment of our readership who thinks this all sounds demented in the extreme.

To that constituency, I commence by stating the following: I understand. You have so many questions, and it is logical that you should. A golf tournament in April, you say? Hosted by a profoundly elitist, faux-traditional club with pretensions of antebellum grandeur? What could possibly be enjoyable about this? Why so much emphasis on pimento cheese?

But we're moving too fast. Let’s take a step back and address some of the basics.

What Is The Masters?

The Masters is an annual tournament that takes place at Augusta National in Augusta, Georgia. It is the first of golf's four yearly majors, arguably the most prestigious, and inarguably the most ridiculous. As a club, Augusta National is a much-fetishized institution with an air of pomposity that frequently veers into the highly comedic. The members are landed gentry of the highest order and all march around in green jackets. If a golfer wins the Masters, he also gets a green jacket and becomes a member for life. All of this is handled with the solemnness and gravity of a state funeral. It's so awesomely stupid. That's all fantastic, but the real attraction is the course itself. An utterly sui generis design makes the invariably lush and verdant greens and fairways both a feast for the eyes and a diabolical challenge for the field. It has been played since 1934 and still routinely reduces the best modern players to tears.

OK, I Guess Some of That Sounds Good. But Isn't It Boring?

Yes! This is one of the key misunderstandings for non-golf fans. For long swaths of any golf tournament, it can seem that nothing is happening. The pace is slow, the action diffuse, and the announcers seem to drone on as if reading a Theodore Dreiser book on tape. This is golf's gift to you. Think of it like you would the languid spaces of an Ozu film, as the quieting of the mind before the inevitable spastic eruptions of the outside world. To experience the good stuff—the marrow—you must accept that in some ways golf and life are boredom.

I'm Not at All Convinced. What's the "Marrow"?

Very glad you asked. Keep watching. Eventually, something incredible is going to happen. That might be an amazing shot in a playoff or an astounding chip-in at a pivotal moment, but more likely—and this is crucial—someone is going to have a full-fledged mental breakdown in front of your eyes. This is the marrow. Because it is excruciatingly slow-moving, no sport catalogs failure on a spectacular scale like golf, and no tournament courts failure like the Masters. At times, the pure sadism of watching a player go to absolute pieces is so painful that I'm amazed it's not censored. And this happens to great players. Two years ago, defending champion Jordan Spieth led by a stroke heading into the twelfth hole and promptly went on full vacation from his senses, as though he suddenly believed the object of the sport was to repeatedly hit his ball into the water hazard. The ensuing quadruple bogey ended his tournament chances in one symphonically cruel fifteen-minute stretch. In 2011, the wonderful young Irish star Rory McIlroy did something similar. Leading by four going into the final round, he seemed at some point to become disoriented and eventually ended up crying in frustration as one bad shot after the next doomed his chances. Is it wrong to enjoy this kind of psychological demolition by design? I have no idea. But a more compelling spectacle of raw human emotion you will not find elsewhere in sports.

Alright, I'd Watch That. But Whom Should I Root For?

That depends. Most sports have just two sides to choose from. Golf has like a hundred. Do you want to see a favorite or an underdog triumph? Do you like the young guns or the old guys? Usually, you pick a handful of guys to root for. Because there is just so much randomness, you never can say for sure who might simply play terribly and miss the cut. McIlroy is the odds-on choice to win his first green jacket this year, which would complete the career grand slam and finally reverse the trauma of 2011. That would be a fine outcome in just about everyone's judgment. The excellent British star and former U.S. Open champion Justin Rose lost the title in a playoff last year and has been close several times. He's cool-looking and seems like he might have otherwise been one of the anonymous guys backing up Justine Frischmann in Elastica. I'm rooting for both of them, but there are lots of other good choices.

Like Tiger Woods?

Sure! Improbably, following multiple back surgeries that seemed to have functionally ended his career, Tiger Woods is back on tour and playing well. He has won this tournament four times and typically performs well at Augusta but hasn't triumphed here since 2005. It is not inconceivable that he could be in the mix come Sunday, which in and of itself would have seemed utterly preposterous a year ago. His old rival and frenemy Phil Mickelson, a three-time champion, is also playing well. He would be the oldest ever winner at age forty-seven, and it's far from crazy to think he could pull it off. Either of these developments would be a massive story that transcended the sport of golf and riveted the general public. So that would be cool.

You
Know What? I'm Persuaded. I Am Going to Watch the Masters.

That's great news. You're making the right choice. And believe me when I tell you that we've just scratched the surface here. Wait until I get to the parts about Amen Corner, Butler Cabin, Jim Nantz, fake bird songs, and Kenny Loggins’s second cousin Dave. I'm talking wheels within wheels here, people. The Masters makes Infinite Jest feel like an Archie comic. I'll be here with updates every day. Please feel free to direct any questions to sports@indyweek.com, and remember: that putt on number eleven always breaks in the direction of Rae’s Creek!

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