The Masters 2018
In the early evening of Sunday, April 8, the setting sun cast large shadows all over Augusta National and Patrick Reed sank the final putt of the 2018 Masters, sealing his hard fought victory and 1st Major title.
Reed played inspired golf on Saturday and gritty golf on Sunday, somehow taking punch after punch from a surging Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler and a gallery around Augusta National that seemed to be erupting on every hole except the one he was playing. As a final test, he played the 18th hole with a one shot lead and a slippery downhill putt that left him with 3 feet of nerves for a shot at golf immortality. I wouldn’t wish that pressure on anyone, but I suppose you must pass through fire for such a prestigious title. Masters Champion.
Before Sergio Garcia could assist Reed in putting on his Green Jacket, the golfing world responded decisively and somewhat unanimously in their displeasure with the newly minted Masters Champion.
Apparently, the bright light of winning the Masters shines also on the past, which many pointed to as reason to criticize Reed. Some could not forgive him for mistakes made in his college years, or comments made after his win at Doral, but Reed’s estrangement from him mom, dad and sister who live in Augusta created the largest echo of boos. Journalists quoted Reed’s peers to amplify the narrative of a man without friends and interviewed his distraught father to give voice to the pain of watching his son win on TV from 3 miles away.
I know not the details, certainly not enough to cast judgement, but sufficient is the story I know to be sad for them and wish this wasn’t so. Wright Thompson wrote that “Augusta National is a place for fathers and sons.”
Perhaps this is why it’s so hard to come to terms with Patrick Reed’s victory and a son not hugging his father after winning the Masters.
Four days before Reed won the Green Jacket, I took my 5 year old son, Benz, to Augusta National for his first visit. Our day together helps me make sense of why so many care so much about the personal.
We began with a coca-cola at the par 3 contest where Benz shook Bubba Watson’s hand, gave Webb Simpson a hug and Wesley Bryan a high five…Wesley is as good with kids as you would expect someone capable of pulling off trick shots and a taco belt. One of the Members of Augusta National came up to Benz, asked him a few questions and handed him an ANGC ball marker which he asked me to hide away in the safety of my pocket.
It was the early afternoon and the big course was practically empty of players. The day before the tournament, play ends at 3pm so the army of groundkeepers can make the already perfect place even more so. I took Benz to my favorite spot on the course, the tee box of #2, a small shaded nook tucked away by a brick wall latent with ivy. I told him it reminded me of the make believe land of Narnia and he agreed.
We grabbed bbq sandwiches at the concessions in the woods adjacent to #2 and sat on the downslope behind the bunker that both Tiger and Phil found on Sunday. It’s a birdie hole, all the par 5’s are, unless you’re swallowed up by that massive moon sized bunker where even giants of the game look miniature.
I convinced Benz during the Par 3 contest that the blue sports drink in the clear plastic masters cup would give him superhuman strength and that he must not lean against the pine trees or risk knocking one over. As we sat in the grass, he took a sip, gently touched me, and I leaned backwards into the slope and we both laughed. He pulled blades of lush grass out by the roots and I warned him if the security guards saw him they would pull his fingernails out one by one…his eyes widened and we both laughed.
I privately wondered if I would be able to win his attention, affection and laughter when he matured past the point of (my) juvenile silliness. There I was at Augusta National, not thinking about who would win the Masters, but about what kind of Dad I would be. Augusta National is a place for Fathers and Sons.
We walked to Amen Corner and ate ice cream sandwiches in the top of the bleachers overlooking an unoccupied 12th green. It’s a short hole with a long history of crushed dreams and many men who tried and failed spectacularly. If you sit there long enough you can’t help but think of your own failures.
Maybe we’re more like Patrick Reed than unlike him.
Many others joined us at the golf-less Amen corner, confirming watching golf is optional to enjoying a day at The Masters. From the bleacher top there’s a bird’s eye view of Ray’s Creek, the Hogan Bridge and everything else that synthesizes into what has to be one of the most beautiful settings in all the world. In fact, that’s what I told Benz. “Buddy, this is a very special place and you are a special boy.”
He looked up at me and said, “you are a special dad,” as if he knew Augusta National was the perfect place to say that and ensure I would never forget.
We made our way back towards the clubhouse, but first stopped to sit down behind the 10th green in the shade of giant swaying pine trees, surrounded by azaleas and next to a listless, but content security guard leaning back in a folding chair underneath the canopy of a unoccupied camera tower the exact color of the surrounding grass.
Where’s Norman Rockwell when you need him?
Our day in Augusta wasn’t just about Wednesday at The Masters, it was a forward looking attempt to create memories in specific places that would stand the test of time. Augusta National ties generations together, because it outlives us all, no matter how many Green Jackets you win. The hope is that in coming years Benz will return to the fairway of 2, the bleachers of Amen corner and the green of 10, maybe even with a child of his own. He will remember the blue drink, the ice cream sandwich and laying on his Dad in the late afternoon shade and Augusta National won’t just feel like The Masters, but home.
As we stood up to leave the tenth green and Augusta National, I thought of Bubba Watson’s miraculous shot from the pine straw in 2012. He cried when he won and thought of his dad and he cried when he returned a year later remembering wrapping his new son, Caleb, in the Green Jacket. It’s ok to cry at Augusta National.
We walked past the 18th green, where so many golfers have written themselves into Masters History, where Patrick Reed would do just that four days later. I couldn’t help but think of 1997. I was 16, watching on TV with my Dad when Reed’s hero, Tiger Woods won his first Green Jacket and hugged and held on to his father, Earl.
Winning the Green Jacket guarantees Reed the opportunity to return each Spring to Augusta and play in the Masters in perpetuity, no matter what turns his golfing career or personal life takes. It’s a reminder that a Masters Champion is always welcomed home. One can hope that time will heal all wounds and that Reed can find peace with fans and family.
If redemption is possible, it just might happen at Augusta National.