Take a moment and think about the Masters.
It’s probably as familiar as your favorite seat in front of the television or that sweatshirt you keep pulling out on chilly days.
It’s green and springtime and Jack turning back the clock in 1986. It’s Greg Norman almost literally falling on his sword in 1996, it’s Freddie’s ball hanging on the bank at 12 and it’s all those Tiger moments through the years.
Put together a list of how the Masters is different from every other golf tournament and it runs pages but what ultimately separates this week in April is simple.
The way it feels.
The way we feel it.
The way the players feel it.
The way the game feels it.
The Masters is immersive, emotional and personal even if you’re sitting 2,500 miles away. No other tournament has that and, like the best things, it can’t be manufactured. Similar to how Ben Hogan dug the answers out of the dirt, the Masters digs something out of us that makes it unique.
Bruce Springsteen has talked about the magic of playing concerts and, for three hours or so, creating something that didn’t exist before but produces shared moments and memories that live on for years. The event itself becomes a living thing.
The Masters does that.
The Masters is romantic and soul stirring, elegant even when it’s mud-spattered. It can have its flat days and the occasional Sunday when the drama runs low, but it arrives with a tug that never relents.
The other majors have their own attractions. The U.S. Open is built on tough love. The Open Championship has a wind-blown and time-tested charm and weightiness. The PGA Championship celebrates the people who anchor the game.
It’s not limited to what happens this week anymore. The Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the Drive, Chip & Putt competition have – to borrow a marketing phrase – expanded the Masters brand. If you saw the faces the past few days, they said it all.
April came and went without the Masters last year, one more void in a world full of them. The November Masters was unique, the almost unimaginable brought to life.
The color palette was different, the golf course played softer and the absence of patrons created an unavoidable emptiness but Dustin Johnson’s eye-welling reaction to winning the green jacket spoke to what the Masters means winter, spring, summer and fall.
Time is marked on the golf calendar around the Masters like students counting down the days to graduation or the joyful ticking down of the hours until Christmas. It’s that feeling, not just of what the Masters means but how it touches the golfer’s soul.
Maybe that’s overdoing it. Maybe it’s making the Masters more than it is. After all, the PGA Tour played an event in San Antonio last week and there will be another one next week on Hilton Head Island, all part of a 50-event season that runs almost continuously now, producing weekly winners and disappointments.
Those events come with their own stories and expectations but the Masters annually arrives like the curtain rising on a Broadway show in which the characters and the story line change from day to day.
This year, the themes include:
Can Johnson do again in April what he did five months ago?
Will new dad Jon Rahm take the next step after three consecutive top-10 finishes at Augusta National.
Is it too much to imagine Jordan Spieth winning again, snapping a victory drought that’s edging toward four years?
Could it be a blessing that the expectations are lower this year for Rory McIlroy as he chases the missing piece in his career Grand Slam collection?
And what about Bryson DeChambeau, who will apply his proprietary equations to a tournament that historically tests guts as much as it tests a player’s game?
If you have attended the Masters, you know how it feels to stand behind the clubhouse and look across the course as it spills out below, Amen Corner almost a half mile away and 170 feet down from the crest of the hill. There’s a language to the sounds of the day, the cheer for a birdie different from the roar for an eagle.
There are preferred viewing spots – the right side of the second fairway, the hillside at the 11th green and 12th tee, the amphitheater around the 16th hole – and the lunch menu is as traditional in its own way as Thanksgiving dinner.
It’s not necessary to be inside the gates to know the approach into the ninth green can’t be short and to never fire at the Sunday pin on the 12th.
There is a comfort in the rituals, whether at Augusta National or on a couch at home, a familiarity in seeing Nicklaus, Gary Player and, this year, Lee Elder hitting ceremonial tee shots into the Thursday morning air. It’s the sound of the Masters music and knowing the hole will be cut on the front left of the 18th green on Sunday.
It’s a week for azaleas in bloom and pimento cheese on white bread, for white caddie jumpsuits and calling the rough the second cut, for Mickelson splitting the trees with a 6-iron shot and Adam Scott posing in the rain in his green jacket, arms spread like he’s trying to hug the place.
It’s a place, an event and a feeling like nothing else.
And it’s back where it belongs, in full bloom again.
Top: Azaleas in full bloom along the 10th hole at Augusta National