The Masters: A view from the couch

For a short time, through a series of events I won’t go into, I thought I was heading to Augusta to cover The Masters this past week. Logistics wouldn’t allow it. I had, of course, a natural curiosity to be a part of the spectacle that surrounded the return of Tiger Woods.

But there was one story that I was more eager to write than that.

On Wednesday in Augusta, the PGA awarded Dave Kindred its Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Award.

And before moving on to Phil and Tiger, I want to say a few words about Kindred, who played a few rounds himself at The Courier-Journal before moving on to The Washington Post, The National, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Sporting News.

For some time when I moved into this job he once held, not a week went by when I didn’t hear his name. As in, “You’re no Dave Kindred.”

Well, no. But who is?

Kindred, as a wordsmith, has few peers among those of us writing about sports. He can pierce with one line or probe for several thousand words. He has the short and the long game.

But in a day when you’re nobody as a columnist unless you’re marketing yourself on radio or television or some kind of multi-platform promotional tour, Kindred stands maybe near the end of a long line of gifted writers who did it on the page, who did it without shouting, who always brought intellect, insight and wit to the subject.

Jerry Tarde of Golf Digest compiled this tribute, which is far more complete than the one you’ll read here. He said Kindred, “is the sports writer in the room you don’t notice.”

But Kindred certainly classed up the room for a lot of us.

Now onto the golf . . .

—-

First Phil. All week I’ve been saying, let’s just make it about the golf. So for the record: Mickelson, eagle, eagle, birdie on the back nine on Saturday, 6-iron from behind a tree and over Rae’s Creek on Sunday, 200 yards and change to set up a birdie.

He’s never been better, and he’s always been awfully good. Right down to draining the birdie putt he didn’t need on the final hole, Mickelson finished with a force he has seldom found on such big stages.

But but it can’t just be about the golf, not when Mickelson was in Augusta with wife Amy in bed most of the week, drained from medications she is taking to treat breast cancer. Phil was taking his three kids to breakfast, even took his 10-year-old daughter to the emergency room Saturday night for a hairline fracture in a skating accident.

That’s the kind of stuff the rest of us do, then try to make the best of it at work. Few of us make the best of it like Mickelson did this past week. And then, to walk up to the 18th green with The Masters in his pocket, his third, not knowing his sick wife was waiting for him at the green?

Damn it, Lefty.

You don’t get stuff like this in Nike commercials.

I can’t capture it all because I wasn’t there, so I won’t try. All I know is that a guy who sponsors back-to-school shopping sprees for underprivileged kids and supports with time and money a foundation to pay for college for the children of special forces military members who are killed or disabled in combat or training deserves this kind of victory, particularly given the rough year he and his family have endured. His mother — in addition to his wife — is battling breast cancer.

(Here’s a glimpse into Mickelson in a column from the Orlando Sentinel’s Mike Bianchi).

I haven’t seen Mickelson this emotional since the Ryder Cup at Valhalla. He was also with Amy after the U.S. had clinched its victory on No. 17, and walked up the 18th green toward the clubhouse and a cheering throng, and they walked with arms around each other. Someone along the way gave Mickelson an American flag and he waved it and led chants of U-S-A. I walked behind him and got the feeling that the high points are worth all the disappointments.

I didn’t have the same feeling on Sunday. This was one of those victories that went deeper than the event, and had meaning wider than the sports pages.

——–

So the big news on Tiger Woods before Sunday was that he apparently can still play golf well, and that he still gets ticked off and swears when he makes a bad shot.

I know everybody made a lot of Woods’ statement that he was going to try to be more even keel on the golf course, then when he cussed and CBS microphones picked it up on Saturday, there were raised eyebrows and shaking heads all over the place.

I’m not here to defend Tiger Woods on anything, golf or otherwise. But I’ll say this. You don’t want Tiger swearing on television? Keep the microphone out of earshot. If you think what Woods said was bad, try putting a CBS mic behind Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski during the national title game and see what you get. Or most other college (or pro) coaches (or players). Tiger isn’t the only athlete to let loose like that, let alone the only golfer.

Still, he wasn’t himself for long stretches of the final two rounds, which will give the golf punditry much to mull over. Dan Jenkins, tweeting for Golf Digest, observed today, “Considering that he had two eagles, Tiger’s round was the ugliest 69 I’ve seen lately.”

Moving on without comment.

In a CBS interview afterward, CBS’ Peter Kostis pressed Woods on his emotional demeanor on the course.

KOSTIS: There’s a fine line, any one of us who has played golf would know, between controlling your emotions and eliminating them on the golf course, and to me through the first five or six holes today you looked, un-Tiger-like, and then once you made the two at 7, your passion and your fire came back. Is it going to take you a while to control your emotions and not eliminate them on the golf course in the change that you’ve committed to?

WOODS: I think people are making way too much of a big deal of this thing. Um, I was not feeling good when I hit a big snipe off the first hole and, um, I don’t know how people think I should be happy about that. You know, I hit a wedge from 45 yards and basically bladed it over the green, and, uh, these are not things that I normally do, so I’m not going to be smiling and I’m not going to be happy. I hit one of the worst, a low, quack hook on five, so I hadn’t a good shot yet, and I’m not going to be walking around there thinking I’m, you know, with a lot of pep in my step, because I hadn’t hit a good shot yet.

KOSTIS: No, that’s going to take time for you to change …

I don’t know. I kind of like it when media guys just interview the players, not try to counsel them. Kostis is a teaching pro employed by CBS. Among the students listed in his bio are Steve Elkington, Bernhard Langer, Tom Purtzer and Mark Calcavecchia — who between them have half the number of Masters victories that Woods has.

Any number of people have been advising Woods publicly on how to
handle his personal life, his image, his press conferences, whatever. That’s the way life is. Everyone has an opinion. But when people start telling him how to play golf, that’s when, for me, it gets comical.

Still, when he was sticking to the golf, Kostis did get the money quote from Woods, let’s give him credit. Woods said, “I’m not there.”

I’d agree. As for his image, who knows? All we were shown this week were the adoring galleries. I watched an ESPN lead-in to wrap up Woods’ week featuring Andy North where it was said that there wasn’t a discouraging word in the place.

They didn’t mention the plane someone had hired to fly a disparaging message above Augusta National earlier in the week. Nor did they talk about how many security guards walked with Woods, some, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who even upbraided fans for whistling in support.

The image machine is still in high gear, probably a higher gear than the golf game at the moment.

The machine is working. Woods, at least when it comes to the fans, still isn’t. Mike Freeman of CBS Sportsline tells of how both Woods and Mickelson hit fans with stray golf shots. Woods went on about his business. Mickelson sought out the fan he hit, asked if he was all right, gave him a golf glove. And in the aforementioned interview with CBS, Woods not once thanked those fans who gave him a warm reception.

But though the Woods hype machine began the week on center stage at Augusta, by the end, it faded in the shadow of a human drama that will go down among the unforgettable moments of The Masters.

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