AUGUSTA, Ga. — Hello, friends.
Detour with me down Memory Lane for a moment.
Forgive me, I’m at the Masters, where a plate of sentimentality is on the menu in the grill room, just below the peach cobbler.
It rubs off on you.
Let’s go back to the 1960 U.S. Open, a watershed major championship. It encapsulated a game in flux, with the present (Arnold Palmer) charging to victory over the past (Ben Hogan) and the future (Jack Nicklaus) in one mesmerizing 36-hole final day.
One day we may think of the 2015 Masters the same manner.
It’s still early, tis true, but Friday’s scoreboard gave us all the same images of golf torches (picture a flaming 7-wood) being passed before our eyes.
No sporting event does sentiment better than the Masters, and Friday we got a heaping helping as two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw bid adieu to the tournament he loves so much after competing for 44 straight years.
He should have quit years ago, he was the first to admit. But the tug to return to this place year after year and take a swing at it for old time’s sake was just too great. But Friday it was over, with standing ovations and tears as his wife and children rushed to greet him behind the 18th green after a long embrace from longtime Masters caddie Carl Jackson. Even defending champion Bubba Watson came down to watch and applaud after his round in his green jacket and a pair of matching green sneakers, the entire scene playing to a backdrop of building storm clouds that threatened but never quite did plunge the Masters into a weather delay.
“It’s the Clifford Roberts bubble,” Crenshaw joked, a reference to the tournament co-founder who wished to control everything at the Masters including the weather — and darned near did.
No one cherishes golf history more than Crenshaw, and the parallels between this Masters and the ’60 U.S. Open, as well as those between himself and this year’s 36-hole leader, are ones he would appreciate.
In 1974, Crenshaw made the cover of Sports Illustrated, the headline reading, “Make way for the kid.” He was the Jordan Spieth of his day, both of them even former Texas Longhorns, widely hailed as the next Nicklaus. Crenshaw never quite had Nicklaus-like success, but few golfers have ever been as beloved and respected as “Gentle Ben.”
Spieth has that “next great” label, too, so it’s remarkable happenstance then that Spieth seized control of the Masters at the same moment that Crenshaw took his final bows.
There is a sense here, a palpable one, of a changing of the golf guard, with a 21-year-old sitting alone in front clutching a five-stroke lead at 14-under-par 130, matching the lowest 36-hole total in any major ever.
“It feels like he’s playing a different golf course at the moment,” said former University High golfer Patrick Reed, Spieth’s friend and perhaps long-term rival for American golf supremacy. “Hopefully we can go out and put a little pressure on him. I don’t think anybody is doing that yet.”
The only pressure Spieth is feeling right now is to make history. Tiger Woods’ Masters record score of 18-under 270 (set in 1997 when he was 21) is within reach. So is David Toms’ 265 total in the 2001 PGA Championship, the lowest score ever shot in a major.
If Spieth shoots a 265 around here, 23-under, the members may pave the greens with cement.
The chase pack includes 40-somethings Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. Lurking 12 back with Watson and Reed is 39-year-old Tiger Woods, trying not so much to contend as to rebound from more back problems and a dangerous flirtation with short-game yips.
And the schmaltz malt was all topped off by a 63-year-old saying goodbye with a wave and a tear.
Only in golf can you get this kind of multi-generational meld of players and story lines. And Spieth should only be so lucky to be as admired as Crenshaw decades from now when he plays in his final Masters.