Watching the third round of the Masters golf tournament today, I was reminded of just how much things have changed since I first became aware of the event.
The year was 1962, and a brash, swing-from-the heels golfer from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, named Arnold Palmer defeated Dow Finsterwald and Gary Player in a 36-hole playoff. The victory was Palmer’s third Masters win. Sadly, what made it so memorable (aside from Palmer’s heroics) was the fact that very few golf fans got to see it, except for the lucky few who witnessed the event in person. Why? Because the playoff was held on a Monday, and most people were at work—or in school, like me.
Today, by contrast, I recorded the entire third round of play on my DVR, and was able to watch it at my leisure after completing the various tasks that needed to be done on a Saturday. Another difference is that now viewers are able to see all of Augusta National Golf Course’s magnificent eighteen holes, rather than just those of the famous back nine, which were all we were permitted to see in 1962. Today, not only are we priveleged to witness all the holes on each of the four days of regulation play, but we even get to see the fabled Par 3 contest held on the Wednesday prior to the first round.
Yes, the Masters is still the Masters. Some things never change. They still sell those pimento cheese sandwiches, washed down with “CoCola,” as the locals refer to Coke, and the azaleas still lend their distinct colors to the course. But, this year’s event is missing its most cherished personality. “The King,” as Arnold Palmer was referred to by those who held him in such high esteem, is no longer with us. Arnie died last September 25th, and Augusta will never be the same without him. I never saw him play in his prime, but Becky and I were fortunate to see Palmer play on the Senior Tour at Upper Montclair Country Club in New Jersey. Ugly swing, but the sweetest smile you ever saw. That was Arnold Palmer.
Tomorrow, two dear friends will join us to watch the final round of the Masters. It’s a tradition that started over fifteen years ago. The focus will be more on the food than the golf, but we will certainly be watching intently. Gone from the field are most of the names we grew up with, but our interest will be just as keen. A good deal of talk will no doubt center around comparisons between the old favorites of Palmer, Nicklaus, and Player, and today’s young guns such as Ricky Fowler, Jordan Spieth, and so many others. It really doesn’t matter; they’re all fantastic, and we’re lucky to be able to watch them play.
But, for me, every Masters will always be about a young golfer who never played in the Masters. In fact, he never took a lesson, and probably never broke par. But he loved the game. His name was Matt Costigan, and he, along with his brother Michael and their father, were the the ones who introduced me to the game of golf. The four of us were there that Sunday back in 1962, in Mattie’s living room, when Arnold Palmer made one of his patented charges to tie Player and Finsterwald in the final round of the Masters. Matt served in Vietnam, and later died prematurely in his 30s. But I’ve never forgotten him. Not a Masters goes by that I don’t think of him and his family. I have no doubt that he’ll be teeing off tomorrow, right along with Arnie, Hogan, and all the others, on that big golf course in the sky. Keep it in the short grass, fellas!