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Freddie & the dreamers, only at Augusta

I’ve accepted I’m never going to play in the Masters now. I’m 40 in two years and although players such as Vijay Singh, Jay Haas and Eduardo Romero have demonstrated that my kind of age is sometimes when life can really begin for a pro, I’ve realised that my chronic fear of flying, ever-worsening yips and inability to break par since 2007 mean that I have finally abandoned a dream I’ve nurtured since I was 13. I can be surprisingly philosophical about this, though, purely due to the fact that, if I’d played in the Masters, I know that I would never have won. This is not because of my chronically poor short game, erratic long game, and general lack of mental stamina, but because I live in an era when Fred Couples plays in the Masters.

Even if I was a fifty times better golfer than I actually am, and held a one-shot lead over Fred Couples coming up the final hole, I couldn’t bring myself to win the Masters. Who with any semblance of a heart could? You’d be standing over your second shot, checking the yardage, trying to summon the spirit of Sandy Lyle’s approach in 1988, but then you’d think “Oh, but it’s Fred! I can’t do this” and chunk it into the fairway bunker, five feet in front of you, on purpose.

It’s become a feature of the twilight of Couples’ career to come out of the gates fast at Augusta and get armchair purists overexcited. It was the same again this year. “Surely this time his swing will be a little less long and loose, and he’ll be a little less handsome?” you thought, when you heard he was under par early on, and then there he was, his movie star good looks melting a million hearts, his arm position at the top of his swing still the best advert for long-term back problems that golf has ever seen.

Watching Couples, I feel no less involved than as if I was watching my own son: my own 53-year-old, grey-haired son, with two deceased wives. My love for Couples is so strong and blind that when he inevitably falls away towards the end of the tournament, I find myself backing the next most Couplesque player to win. In the case of the 2013 Masters, this meant Angel Cabrera, who is the golfer Couples might have been if he’d grown up in South America, like food more, and had lots of fights. Cabrera is still the only golfer who plays as if he’s just walked into a bar and he’s looking for trouble. He’s been off form for a couple of years, which does mean his second place at this year’s tournament came as a surprise, but commentators and pundits always seem slightly surprised when he wins something. His style is so free-flowing and natural, his power so effortless, it’s always a surprise to me when he doesn’t win everything.

Like most people who don’t enjoy self-harm, I reluctantly tuned into Sky for the first two rounds of this year’s Masters, before changing to the BBC at the weekend. Since the BBC’s live coverage was cut to just Saturday and Sunday a couple of years back, watching Sky’s before it has come to feel like arriving at a party early and knowing that all the most interesting people are coming late. On the plus side, it’s always fun to hear Butch Harmon’s subtle might-be-digs at Tiger Woods – “He’s walking on water! He’s Tiger Woods!” he exclaimed, as Woods’ approach shot to the 9th on day two landed improbably between two greenside bunkers – and there did seem to be fewer ad breaks than usual.

Less pleasing was the commentary of Mark Roe. Roe comes across as a man who is easily offended, and always seems very pleased with the more blindingly obvious of his observations, but part of the problem isn’t really his fault at all. This is the fact that his voice, in broadcasting terms, is roughly equivalent to that which a lob-wedge makes when hitting the ground five inches behind a ball. His SkyPad gadget in the Sky studio, meanwhile, has a way of making him look like a spoilt kid rubbing an expensive present in the face of the poorer kids down the road a couple of days after Christmas. If he wants to endear himself to his viewers, what he really needs is some fruit instead. Ken Brown has used a banana to great effect in the past to point out danger spots on the course, and it has only succeeded in making him more lovable.

Sadly, Ken didn’t wield any fruit during this year’s tournament, but in a quiet moment during round three we did see him near the 16th green, referring to a couple of turtles as “these Herberts” and having a gripping conversation with himself about whether to go for it with his second shot at 15, in which he played the role of both player and caddie. I was so wrapped up in this, I temporarily forgot that Ken hadn’t actually played in the Masters himself since the late 1980s. I sense that when the end of the year comes, and I try to use moments of TV gold to justify my continued paying of my TV licence fee, this will be one of them.

Actually, there were hardly any bits of the 2013 Masters you could really call “quiet”, unless you were referring in very literal terms to the atmosphere on the final day, which was muted by the heavy rain and the problems of clapping whilst wielding a giant white and green umbrella. Arguably the most controversial Masters this century needed a grandstand finish in order for the golf to outshine some of the more technical talking points, and it got it, with Cabrera and Adam Scott pulling some incredible golf out, apparently from somewhere deep in their socks, in the fading light. My support transferred to Scott about eight holes before the end of the standard tournament play, largely because of the guts he showed in the shadow of his collapse in the Open at Lytham last year.

After Lytham, you wondered if Scott was going to become the new Greg Norman, in a bad way, but now he’s looking like the new Greg Norman in the best way possible. In the commentary box, fellow Australian Wayne Grady could hardly contain himself. “Give me the controls!” he barked, as the camera lingered a little too long on Cabrera’s tee-shot on the 18th, while Scott was putting up ahead. I had, at one point, also been rooting for Sergio Garcia, but I should know by now that this is a silly thing to do. Garcia plays majors like many very beautiful yet shy women almost take off their clothes.

I was glad that Tiger Woods finished a full four shots behind the nine under par total that took Scott and Cabrera into the play-off, as it nixed any “If Woods had never had that penalty on the 15th in round two, he would have won” type speculation. Some believed Woods should have been disqualified for his incorrect drop on the fairway; others couldn’t help comparing it to Tianlang Guan’s one-shot penalty earlier the same day for slow play. Nobody had ever been penalised for slow play in the Masters before, so didn’t it seem a bit suspicious that it was now happening to a poor, innocent 14-yearold amateur form China? Many felt it was the harshest punishment they’d seen in the tournament since 1982, when the first ever King Charles Spaniel puppy to play in the Masters was given a three-stroke penalty and a £500 fine for “doing a little bit of a sick on the 13th green”. Whatever the case, the BBC commentary team assured us what a fair man referee John Paramor is, and I’m inclined to believe them. I do wonder, though, if it’s time some kind of fine was imposed on Woods for his frequent swearing on the course.

“Get f***ing lucky!” Woods shouted at his errant tee shot on the 2nd hole in the final round. Does he think his viewers – who, despite Tiger getting a bit long in the sabretooth now, still include plenty of kids who want to be him – can’t hear this? Perhaps nobody’s told him he’s on TV?

I’m a big advocate of the poetry of the f-word in many areas of life, but the area of “being rich and angry and on a golf course being watched by millions of impressionable young people worldwide” is not one of them. If not an official penalty, let’s at least give him a charity swear box to carry around his neck. $1000 a “f***”. An extra $500 if there’s an “ing” on the end. It wouldn’t have to be too bad. He could take it off for his longer shots and even wear a customised red one during the final round, to help him get lucky.

June 2013

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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