Masterful Observations: Course upstages competitors again
Here's the main thing I learned from my first Masters experience: The golfers aren't the stars.
Even with his closet full of green jackets, Tiger Woods isn't the star. Neither is Trevor Immelman, who won this year's event. Neither is Phil Mickelson. Neither was Jack Nicklaus. (OK, Jack probably was the star in '86, but that's the exception.)
The star of the Masters is Augusta National Golf Club.
Its mystique. Its history. Its landmarks. Its terrain. Its pure, white sand. Its azaleas. Its ultra-elite status. Its ability to bring even the greatest golfers to their knees. Its memorable moments. Its tendency to make you say, "Wow!"
In Sunday's final round, it "treated" the competitors to a mighty wind.
It went from breezy at 11 a.m. to blustery at 1 p.m. to swirling at 3 p.m.
By 5 p.m. -- just in time for the final groups to arrive at Amen Corner -- the wind had reached "Help me, Mommy!" phase.
Trees shook. Flags whipped. Pine needles danced across the greens. As players lined up putts, their pant legs flapped. Late in the afternoon, it was a challenge just to walk the course.
"You never really felt comfortable, no matter how well you thought you were striking the ball," said Brandt Snedeker, who tied for third. "The wind could come up or come down and affect your golf ball so dramatically."
Immelman won by three strokes despite closing with a 75. That sounds like a bad score -- and it did tie the highest final-round total by a Masters champion -- but given the conditions, it was an outstanding performance.
Did I say Immelman won? In the end, Augusta National won. It always does.
During Wednesday's practice round and the three tournament days to follow, I somehow had failed to check out No. 6.
So I made sure to spend some time there Sunday.
What a cool hole!
The tee on the 180-yard par-3 is elevated. Hundreds (perhaps thousands) of spectators sit on the hill and face the green as the golfers hit right over the top.
It's a wonderful visual, with the colorfully dressed fans on the verdant hillside.
When I build my course, I'll pay homage to Augusta National No. 6.
Steve Flesch's Sunday collapse and the weekend struggles of Mickelson and Mike Weir meant left-handers came up empty at the Masters -- as usual.
In 72 years, only two lefties have won the event: Mike Weir, who in 2003 ended the 66-year reign of righties; and Mickelson, who so enjoyed his 2004 triumph that he won again in '06.
And in the long and glorious history of the PGA Tour, only seven lefties have won any event: Mickelson, Weir, Flesch, Bob Charles, Russ Cochran, Sam Adams and Ernie Gonzalez.
It doesn't make sense. (I'm right-handed, by the way.)
Some of the best hitters in baseball history have been lefties: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Joe Jackson, Barry Bonds, Lou Gehrig, Tony Gwynn, George Brett, Stan Musial, Rod Carew, Mel Ott, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs, Ichiro Suzuki. Most hockey players shoot left-handed.
So it's not a reach to think lefties would excel at swinging golf clubs, too.
Left-handers are known to be imaginative, an important trait for great golfers. And many academic studies have concluded that lefties have higher intelligence levels.
Hey, maybe that's it: Lefties are too smart to torture themselves by playing golf!
I was not one of the lucky 32 people chosen randomly to play in the post-Masters media day.
What a shame.
Augusta National suits my swing so well.
Mike Nadel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is only three years away from his Champions Tour debut.