I am uncomfortable writing this, and therefore, this effort will be shorter than most. Confessionals and personal perspectives are best left to the gossip columns and entertainment sections. The problem is that it is impossible to write what is needed here without sharing a piece of me with it. My love affair with the Augusta National Golf Course began at an early age, and continues today. It signifies something personal and profound, and is pregnant with virtues and values that are timeless…honor, grace, and healing.
The 2014 edition of The Masters Golf Tournament, the greatest sporting event on the planet, just wrapped up with Bubba Watson winning for a second time in three years, establishing him as one of the premier American golfers of his generation. The course was fast and unyielding, and showed a full teethed and ferocious beauty that it is uniquely Augustinian. Yet, most of the commentary from this weekend centered on what and who was missing. Tiger Woods didn’t play because of injury, many of the big names of the sport missed the Friday cut, and watched the weekend from a couch just like I did…well, not just like I did...but you get the picture. The usual Sunday drama on the “back nine” was mainly absent due to the incredibly difficult conditions, and barring a catastrophic meltdown by Mr. Watson, the whole thing was decided by Hole 13. So, why a column on the Tiger-less and drama-less golf tourney? Because love affairs deserve words.
It had been well over a decade since last I visited this cornucopia of earthly life and vegetation, when I walked through the gates at “Augusta” last Wednesday. A college buddy had tickets and had asked me to go. After a brief hesitation, I agreed, and four of us trekked down to golf’s cathedral to watch the best players in the world practice in the hopes of taming this fickle temptress of a course yet again. The look and feel of it had not changed after all that time. The grass was the softest I could ever feel, and the patrons were as polite and earnest with expectation as anyone anywhere. We stood in awe of the way these guys can hit a golf ball. The balance, force, dexterity, and grace it takes to move that tiny golf ball left and right…up and down…forwards and backwards at will, and the imagination required to manage a minefield of tragic disaster waiting at every turn commanded a quiet reverence. We laughed, we pointed in amazement, and we cheered. It was an amazing day. One that brought back memories.
My parents divorced when I was seven years old. I am the oldest of four boys, so you can imagine how difficult all of that might have been for us. Around the age of 16, I, and my brothers, moved to live with my father. My relationship with Dad at the time was strained, as there was plenty of blame to be dished out by a teenage boy with lots of anger. Golf became a catalyst for healing between us, as we spent countless days playing, talking, and breathing the game. It was something we could share. It was something we could talk about. It was a new start. During this time we began a short lived tradition of going to the practice rounds of The Masters. My first memories of this hallowed ground carved into existence by the great Bobby Jones was the sheer beauty and magnitude of the thing. There were colors and smells I had never seen or smelled before. All of a sudden, I knew what the color green was supposed to look like. It was the closest thing to the Garden of Eden that I had ever experienced. The memories of those trips helped solidy and crystalize all the things Dad had taught me about the game of golf. It is a game of honor. One does not wait to get caught transgressing the rules. A true golfer will offer the truth openly, even if it hurts his or her chances of winning, and that still rings true. In fact, an example of this happened this year. Brandt Snedeker was in contention, and alerted a rules official standing by that his ball had moved, that he had accidentally caused it to move, and that he saw it move. The rules official accessed a two stroke penalty, and Snedeker faded away from contention shortly thereafter. He lost the tournament, but he won and kept his honor. This, among other things, is what “Augusta” represents. A beauty that transcends the azaleas and dogwoods…a beauty that speaks to who you are when no one is looking…and when the whole world is watching.
There is so much wrapped up in that week at The Augusta National for The Masters…the forceful practice of guys trying to win a tournament that will change their lives, their caddies’ lives, and their families’ lives…the Par 3 mini-tournament where the players literally have their kids out there with them dressed out as little caddies and the whole thing feels like a family reunion…the conversations with people from all over the world who recognize this place for what it is…just like you, and for the same reasons. There’s just so much to say and love about it. But for me…it represents joy and healing. Until recently, I had not spoken to the aforementioned buddy who invited me to this year’s Masters in over a decade. We had a falling out, and I was sure that our friendship was over, and frankly, was comfortable with it. But late that afternoon, we both apologized, and I feel that a small broken piece of me has healed. It’s amazing what a few hours at “Augusta” will do. Maybe next year I can go with Lonnie Smith and forgive him for not rounding 3rd in the 1991 World Series.
W. Michael Lawson is an alumnus of Lee University and University of Richmond. Mr. Lawson currently hosts a weekly radio show “The Strong Sauce Hour” and Co-hosts a daily sports show “The Sports Drive” on 101.3 FM/1570 AM. You can follow him on twitter @thestrongsauce.