Monday, April 30, 2007

Answering last-minute Wachovia questions

Now that Wachovia week has arrived, let’s run through a checklist of things to keep an eye on this week:

When will Tiger arrive?

Good question. I’m guessing he will show up at Quail Hollow sometime Tuesday afternoon to squeeze in a quick nine holes. That’s what he did the last time he played here in 2005. He likes to play early on Tuesdays but that may not be how it works this week.

What will Phil do next?

This is Week Two in the now-official Mickelson-Butch Harmon era and the first week was a good one. He tied for third at the Byron Nelson and nearly ran down the leaders on Sunday.
Obviously, Mickelson is working on some technical adjustments but the sense is he comes to Charlotte bubbling with optimism. He’s been close here before and likely will be this year.

Beyond the obvious, which players bear watching?

You may not know much – or anything – about Ken Duke but his name has been popping up on leader boards recently. Jerry Kelly nearly won at Hilton Head three weeks ago and shot 64 on Sunday at the Nelson for another top-five finish. He keeps talking about his fresh mental approach and there must be something to it.

What kind of shape is Quail Hollow in?

It’s close to perfect. The splash of rain last week and warmer temperatures did wonders. The rough has come up, the fairways are excellent and the greens are as quick as ever.
The hope is the rain will stay away this week so the course will play firm and fast.

What kind of national media attention does the Wachovia Championship get?

Plenty. The New York Times and Boston Globe are expected to staff the tournament as are Sports Illustrated, Golf World and Golf Week.

Any first-time players worth checking out this year?

Here’s a threesome – Darren Clarke, Jose Maria Olazabal and Henrik Stenson.
Clarke has become one of the game’s most popular figures, Olazabal has a short game that’s magic and Stenson is perhaps the game’s next great player.

Have another question you'd like us to answer? Post it in the Comments section and we'll try to get to it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fascination with Mickelson grows

It was no surprise this week when Phil Mickelson announced that he has entrusted his swing to instructor Butch Harmon, confirming what had been suspected for a while, especially since the two have been spotted together on a couple of practice ranges this year.

Is it a direct fallout of what happened to Mickelson in the U.S. Open last year?

That had to be part of Mickelson’s reasoning, given his difficulty in corraling his often wayward driver. Harmon said this week he will focus on making Mickelson more accurate off the tee and it’s the logical next step.

Even in today’s bomb and gouge world, accuracy off the tee is still critical. Hit it crooked often enough and pretty soon you’re going to hit it in spots you can’t get out of.

Mickelson knows that.

Did Mickelson do the right thing telling his friend Rick Smith he wanted to use another set of eyes on his game?

Time will tell. There is no better teacher in the game than Harmon. That doesn’t mean Smith isn’t good enough, it just means that Harmon’s record with Greg Norman, Tiger Woods and others justifies Mickelson’s curiosity in working with him.

In comments to The Golf Channel this week, Harmon made a point of saying that Mickelson will not be his No. 1 pupil. That designation still belongs to Adam Scott, though Mickelson isn’t likely to have to wait in line very often.

Harmon also said changes in Mickelson’s swing will be evident this week when he plays at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship. They’ll be on display up-close here at the Wachovia Championship next week.

There’s always been a fascination with watching Mickelson play golf. Now more than ever.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Patty Moore adds to trophy collection

While waiting on the Wachovia Championship:

  • Patty Moore of Charlotte keeps adding to her trophy collection. Moore won the Carolinas Women’s Senior Amateur championship Wednesday at the Country Club of Spartanburg, successfully defending her title in the process. Moore holds four senior titles in the Carolinas right now and has been one of the area’s top amateurs for many years. Charlotte players - Moore, Melissa Sage and Anne Washington - finished 1,2,3, respectively in Spartanburg.
  • Quail Hollow survived the recent cold and blustery conditions without any serious problems. Bermuda grass areas turned brown again but if expected warm weather returns next week, those should green up substantially before tournament week.If there’s a concern, it’s getting the rough to be thick and consistent enough. Otherwise, the finishing touches are being added and everything looks as sharp as ever.
  • Some people are jumping to the conclusion that Annika Sorenstam’s career is nearing its end now that she has significant back problems. No doubt, Sorenstam has other interests beyond her playing career now, particularly her new teaching center in Orlando. And back problems have wrecked as many careers as nervous putting strokes but I wouldn’t write off Sorenstam too quickly. She may never be as dominant as she once was but my guess is we haven’t seen the last of her. It’s the big moments that will likely inspire her but the grind of getting tournament ready, all the hours we don’t see when players are practicing, eventually take their toll.
  • Adding Curtis Strange and Hubert Green to the World Golf Hall of Fame was the right call in both cases. Strange was the best player in the world for a time and Green remains an underappreciated talent. When it came to toughness, few could match them.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Heritage winner Weekley is one for the ages

If the PGA Tour has been looking for a new star, it has one in Boo Weekley.

He’s as country as George Jones and wonderfully unpolished.

Weekley may not look the part but he plays the game. His ability to hit low, driving shots through the wicked winds that swept across Harbour Town were critical to his victory Monday in the Verizon Heritage. He could keep his shots below the treetops, limiting the wind’s impact.

When it came time to win the tournament, Weekley sacrificed rock-solid golf for great theatre.

He chipped in for par on each of the last two holes, turning potential disaster into a dynamic finish.

Weekley is as good old boy as they come and he’s proud of it. He doesn’t mind talking about his pre-PGA Tour days when he worked for Monsanto and his job was to be lowered into enormous chemical tanks so that he could spray them out.

Until he found a synthetic fabric that worked for him, Weekley played golf in nylon rain pants because cotton tends to chafe him. Think Tiger would admit something like that?

Weekley also used to play professional golf in unlaced sneakers but he’s finally found some golf shoes that don’t make his feet hurt.

In March, Weekley had a chance to win the Honda Classic but missed a short putt on the 72nd hole then lost in a playoff the next day. This Monday was better than that Monday.

“I reckon my stars lined up right in the sky,” Weekley said.

With the victory, Weekley officially qualified for the 2008 Masters, the first player to do so under the tournament’s revived policy of inviting PGA Tour winners. Weekley said he’ll be sure to be there.

He can bring his tartan jacket, too.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Heritage halted while wind howls

I’m trying to find a word for how it looks and feels on the 18th hole at Harbour Town this Sunday afternoon.

Deserted comes to mind, but that’s because play has been suspended – perhaps for the day – because the wind has become so bad that golf has become more impossible than usual and the spectators/partygoers have congregated elsewhere so their drinks don’t slosh out of their glasses.

Ferocious is another word. The Calibogue Sound, normally a placid body of water speckled with boats on Heritage Sunday afternoons, looks like it’s boiling.

Or, to quote George Costanza, "the sea was angry that day, my friend."

David Feherty, the brilliant CBS commentator, is standing on the 18th green hitting four-foot putts while the wind howls. What should be a relatively straight putt is blowing 12 to 15 inches to the left going to the hole.

Behind him, workers are frantically trying to pull down pieces of the hospitality chalets before they blow away.

A large pine branch already has snapped just off the ninth fairway and fallen into a marshal, who is reportedly fine, though he was taken to a local hospital just to be sure.

Wind is an integral part of golf, but when it’s blowing so hard the sand is blasting out of bunkers and it’s difficult to stand up, maybe it’s time to take a break. That’s what they’ve done here today.

It’s not an entirely lost afternoon.

After hanging around the putting green for a while, Davis Love III developed a new plan.

"It’s a good day to go watch the (NASCAR) race," he said.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Els' favorite non-major? Heritage

Ernie Els admitted Thursday afternoon that, major championships aside, the Verizon Heritage is his favorite golf tournament in which to play.

His favorite used to be The International but it died a sudden death earlier this year, the official cause being lack-of-Tiger-itis, taking its famous milk shakes with it.

The Heritage is the perfect event at the perfect time, a laid-back, beach break the week after the Masters, a decompression chamber lined by live oaks and sea gulls. Els gets a house on the beach, rides bikes with the family and takes daily breaks from what feels like a vacation to play golf – like the rest of us do on vacation.

Here are 10 things to love about the Verizon Heritage:

  1. The 18th hole at Harbour Town where you can stand and stare across the Calibogue Sound at Daufuskie Island and wish you never had to leave.
  2. Spectators walking around drinking champagne from crystal flutes.
  3. The golf doesn’t interrupt the perpetual cocktail party.
  4. The lighthouse.
  5. The yachts in the marina beside the lighthouse.
  6. Dinner at Stripes.
  7. The wind – if it doesn’t blow, you turn into Thanksgiving dinner for the no-see-ums.
  8. Gators. Real live yard ornaments.
  9. The Quarterdeck at sunset.
  10. Ernie Els is here.
Have something to add to the list that you love about the Heritage? Click on the "Comments" link below.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Zach Johnson still smiling, playing Heritage

After blowing in and out of New York City in 24 hours, dropping in on Letterman and Regis, getting some face time with Senator Barack Obama and Halle Berry, talking and talking some more about winning the Masters on Sunday, Zach Johnson could have politely called the folks at the Verizon Heritage and told them sorry, but he was just too burned out to play this week.

But he didn’t.

“I love everything about this place,” Johnson said Wednesday morning, meeting the golf media for the first time since sitting at Augusta in his green jacket Sunday night.

It’s a stretch to think Johnson will win here this week though conventional thinking would suggest his carefully managed game with wedge play that was good enough to win at Augusta makes this a perfect place for him.

The carryover effect from outplaying Tiger on Sunday and absorbing all the good things that come with winning the Masters are bound to catch up with Johnson at some point, perhaps somewhere around the turn on Thursday.

Johnson’s victory was refreshing. He just laughed when he learned that Tiger Woods – not him – wound up on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. That much hasn’t changed, though Woods is shown breaking his 4-iron around a tree, a shot that pretty much summed up the Masters.

Among the many good things about playing the Heritage – the course, the scent of saltwater in the air, the restaurants – perhaps the best is how relaxed it feels. After The Masters, where everything is magnified and pressurized, the Heritage feels like a beach weekend.

You see Ernie Els riding bikes with his family and kids wandering all over the place. Guys who played at Augusta share horror stories on the putting green and the guys who didn’t play listen in.

It’s where you’ll see Zach Johnson this week. He’s the one smiling.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Johnson breaks the mold

Someone asked Vaughn Taylor behind Augusta National’s 18th green late Sunday afternoon if Tiger Woods was no longer Superman because he had briefly led the Masters in the final round but failed to win.
"Maybe he’s Superman’s brother," Taylor said.
Zach Johnson won the Masters because, like most tournament winners, he played better than everyone else over the course of 72 holes. He played the par-5s 11 under despite never trying to reach one of them in two, which breaks the mold of how to win the Masters.
He also made three birdies on the back nine, writing his own chapter to the Sunday afternoon stories that live around Augusta National.
Johnson is a better player than people know because he had only won once on the PGA Tour before Sunday. Now everyone knows how good he is.
But while Johnson was being back-slapped and fit for his size-40 regular green jacket, Woods was standing just off the 18th green explaining why he hadn’t won.
He didn’t win because he wasn’t as sharp as he usually is in major championship.
In Tiger’s CSI report, he pointed to two critical mistakes – finishing both the first and third rounds with bogeys at the 17th and 18th holes. Four shots. The difference in winning and losing this week.
Woods never had the spark, the swagger, the look that this was his tournament. His game was shaggy around the edges at times, and he paid for it. It’s a testament to his talent that he had a chance to win with two holes remaining.
When he eagled the par-5 13th, Woods’ body language changed. He walked faster. He looked like a man who knew where he was going. But he never got there.
This Masters may be remembered more for its cold temperatures and brutal scoring conditions than for Johnson’s victory. This is my 27th Masters, and I can’t recall anything similar to the week we just witnessed.
It didn’t crackle until Sunday afternoon but, despite the lack of spectacular scoring, it is a tournament that will be remembered for years. Years from now, people will say, "Remember the year when it was so cold and no one broke par?"
It will be remembered.
And so will Zach Johnson.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Can't stop thinking about Woods

I know what you’re thinking – Tiger’s going to win another Masters.
It’s what Tiger’s thinking.
It’s what almost everyone, maybe even Stuart Appleby, Justin Rose and Padraig Harrington, is thinking.
It’s what I’m thinking.
But this Masters is different than any Masters since Ban-Lon went out of style.
It’s cold. It’s windy. It’s beyond tough.
It’s fair but only in a cruel sense because no one, not even the talented Mr. Woods, can tame Augusta National when it’s presented this way.
They’re playing last man standing in the final round of this Masters.
That’s why Woods is the obvious pick with 18 holes remaining. He hasn’t played his best golf – he’s hit a few too many loose shots and guessed wrong a few times with the wind – but there’s no one tougher with a golf club in their hand.
Hand Tiger a 7-iron and he could stare down Godzilla.
Stuart Appleby is a nice fellow and would be the first guy to ever win the Masters with surfer dude hair. But his major championship record is filled with unforgettable performances and it makes you wonder if he can get it done playing alongside Tiger.
Asked if he’d ever beaten Tiger at anything in their play time around Orlando, Appleby said, “No, no and no.”
And that’s all we need to know about that.
Justin Rose, still as baby-faced as the day he was born, is growing into a world-class player but the sense is he doesn’t have what this Sunday will demand.
Who does, other than Woods?
Padraig Harrington. He’s tougher than a $2 steak and it showed when he dunked a shot into the pond at the 15th, swallowed a double bogey then birdied the inexplicably diabolical 17th hole to get right back in the tournament.
Sunday at the Masters is what people dream about.
Right now, the same thought is running through almost everyone’s mind.

This year's Masters gives new meaning to cool

At most Masters – when that global warming thing was still alive in Augusta – spectator fashion has always had its place in the tournament universe.

Someone said this week that you tend to behave a little better once you arrive at Augusta National and it carries over to clothing – fans tend to dress a little better than at most tournaments.

Burberry is popular. Polo, too. And the Masters is the one tournament where it’s OK to wear clothing with the tournament logo on it. There’s an unwritten rule that you don’t , say, wear U.S. Open at Oakmont clothing while you’re at the Open at Oakmont. It’s a small thing – and a silly one – but that’s the way it is.

But all rules are off when it’s 42 degrees and the wind is blowing at the Masters.

Walking around Augusta National at lunch time Saturday, the only thing that mattered was staying warm, even if it meant hiding your Tommy Bahama logo.

I saw a woman wearing paisley pants (never a good move), an overcoat and she had tied a gray sweatshirt on top of a wide-brimmed hat, the arms of the sweatshirt tied under her chin. It was, even on a chilly day, a little much.

I saw another woman wrapped in what was either a blanket, a curtain or a table cloth.

Some fans wore leather coats. Others wore racing jackets – I saw a heavy, letter jacket-style orange and yellow Reese’s racing team model and a Cheerio’s racing model.

The golfers weren’t the only people wearing gloves. Toboggans sold out in 15 minutes in the big merchandise tent, someone said.

The Masters is always a cool place to be. But cool took on a while different meaning Saturday.

-Ron Green Jr.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Stars still not shining at Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. - I’m sitting here in the media room at Augusta National watching a clip of the day’s events and almost all of them are ugly.

There’s Tiger hitting it in the water at 12. And again at 13.

There’s Paul Goydos hitting a bunker shot across the green and into the pond at 11.

There’s Stuart Appleby picking his ball out of the hole at No. 12 and throwing it in the pond. Guess they didn’t want to show Chris DiMarco doing the same thing.

At least they had the good manners not to show anything Camilo Villegas did, but considering time is always a factor with television, it would be tough to show a guy shooting 85 and putting it like Joe Bob from Gaffney on a three-day weekend at Myrtle Beach.

It’s safe to say this Masters has yet to find its, uh, rhythm or personality or something. It smelled like Christmas Friday morning. It was cold, fans were bundled up in sweatshirts and gloves and there was the scent of woodsmoke in the air. Made you want to throw the football but that would get you escorted off the premises quicker than having a ringing cell phone.

It is, shall we say, a challenge to get excited about Tim Clark and Brett Wetterich sharing the lead midway through this Masters unless your name is Mrs. Clark or Wetterich. That’s not to say they wouldn’t make fine champions but, frankly, they’re not exactly Phil and Tiger.

Then again, Phil and Tiger haven’t been Phil and Tiger yet. They’ve been all over the property so far but so has almost everyone else.

The weather forecast calls for chilly temperatures, windy conditions and a 70 percent chance Ian Poulter will wear something really outrageous in today’s third round.

That’s about the only sure thing right now.

1960 Masters comes to life in CBS broadcast

AUGUSTA, Ga. - If you’re already building your Sunday afternoon plans around watching the Masters – and even if you’re not – you need to throw in a bonus hour before the tournament comes on the air.

Make sure to watch ‘Jim Nantz Remembers Augusta: The 1960 Masters.’ It airs at 1:30 p.m. on CBS and it’s a pure pleasure to watch.

Nantz, whose affection for Augusta National and the Masters runs deep, has taken the actual telecast of the final round, had it colorized and watches it with Arnold Palmer, who birdied the last two holes in the final round to win his second green jacket.

Until Nantz pulled out the old films (the broadcast was filmed by a camera placed in front of a large television), no one had seen the broadcast since it aired, including Frank Chirkinian, who directed the telecast.

It’s a great trip back into Masters and golf history. Television could only show four holes and there were only six cameras on the course. You see Palmer play the last four holes and his magnetism is obvious.

But there’s more than Palmer. There’s Ben Hogan hitting his second shot into the 18th green. There’s Billy Casper and Dow Finsterwald and Ken Venturi. After Palmer has holed the winning putt, there’s still more golf – and you’ll love the little surprise there.

Bobby Jones presides over the green jacket ceremony and it allows us a glimpse of the man who with Clifford Roberts – seated beside Jones in the presentation – created Augusta National and the Masters.
It’s a terrific hour.

- Ron Green Jr.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Not much drama at Masters yet

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Okay, everyone who thinks Justin Rose or Brett Wetterich is going to win this Masters raise your mouse.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Now that we have that out of the way, we can get on with our evaluation of the first round of the Masters, which didn’t so much tremble with excitement as it ground along like an overcrowded member-guest tournament.

I admit that I, like most others, have wanted to see how the buffed-up Augusta National would play in firm, fast conditions. Now that we’ve seen it – think pars, lots of pars, lots of bogeys and, at least in the case of Ernie Els and Darren Clarke, too much of everything – I’m not sure how much I like it.

It’s not a U.S. Open exactly because there’s no rough, the prices are wonderful and the worst day at the Masters is still way better than the best day at the U.S. Open.

But there should be more than two eagles on Thursday at the Masters. Augusta National is often compared to church but it shouldn’t sound like one.

I’m just guessing but the second round will probably produce more drama than Thursday. They’ll put more of the pins in generous spots and encourage birdies more than bogeys. Somebody will get it going and shoot something reasonably low.

Phil Mickelson said 68 is his magic number, figuring if he’s at even par starting the weekend he’ll be in the chase. He’s right. Of course, shooting 68 is a pretty good trick, even for a guy who can do the things Lefty can do.

Tiger left ticked off at himself late Thursday because he bogeyed the last two holes. He’s still the de facto leader because he’s Tiger.

The biggest surprise Thursday?
That nothing spectacular happened.

The biggest disappointment?
Ernie Els shooting 78 and wasting another Masters. Els got beat by Craig Stadler, Fuzzy Zoeller, Ben Crenshaw, Mark O’Meara and Raymond Floyd – five Champions Tour players.

It’s just one day. Let’s hope the best is yet to come.

Arnie fires a beautiful opening shot

The sun was creeping over the trees behind the first tee at 7:45 Thursday morning when Augusta National chairman Billy Payne took the microphone.

“Ladies and gentlemen, now on the tee at Augusta National where he belongs to thrill and delight millions of his fans, Mr. Arnold Palmer,” Payne said in the crisp morning air.

And there was Palmer, 77 and silver-haired now, with his driver in his hand. He still has a dashing style, tinted Thursday morning by the robin’s egg blue sweater he wore with navy slacks.

Several thousand fans were crowded around the first tee and down the fairway to witness the moment Palmer grudgingly accepted. While warming up on the range, Palmer had told his caddie, David Chapman, he was hitting it so solidly he should be playing.

That’s why he was so reluctant to play the role of honorary starter than he finally accepted. He still believes – or at least he wants to believe.

As he began to settle over his tee shot, Palmer looked down the first fairway, backlit by the rising sun.

“It sure is pretty, isn’it it?” he said.

Beautiful, in more ways than one.

Palmer gave it one of his classic lashes, tearing at the ball and twisting into his follow through, watching a solid strike sail off into the distance, gently bending from right to left.

He stared it down, smiling at the shot and soaking in the cheers again.

Right where he belongs.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The place to be at the Masters: Under the oak

Of all the landmarks at Augusta National, none may hold any more allure than the giant live oak directly behind the clubhouse because during tournament week it’s where the world of golf meets.

Here’s what it was like under the tree at lunchtime Wednesday:

There’s Tom Watson standing in the sunshine that comes and goes, talking to a group of reporters who are firing random questions at him. Does he hit the ball longer today than he did 30 years ago? A little longer off the tee, Watson says. Maybe a hair shorter with his irons. It’s impossible not to notice the oversized Polo logo on Watson’s shirt, the better for fans and TV cameras to catch it

There’s Chubby Chandler, agent to many of the Euorpean stars.

There’s Tom Fazio, the official Augusta National course re-designer.

There’s Mike Davis, the man who sets up the course for the U.S. Open each year.

There are thousands of little stringy things falling out of the oak tree, leaving little yellow pollen marks on the shoulders and backs of the people standing under the tree.

There’s the sound of lunch being served, the tinkle of knives and forks, the buzz of conversation, the smell of burgers in the air.

There are business meetings being held in groups of two and three. One agent told me he schedules about three meetings during Masters week then lets the others come together naturally. A tournament contract was just hammered out 10 feet from where Watson is talking.

There’s Tiger Woods walking out of the clubhouse, dressed in black, and there’s his agent, Mark Steinberg, slapping hands with the star as they walk off toward the putting green.

There’s a great view from underneath the tree across and down hill that leads toward Amen Corner.

There’s no place better the day before the Masters begins.

14 honored for service to the Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Here is another way the Masters is different from other sporting events:

Rather than view the media as a nuisance, the tournament honors it.

On Wednesday morning, new chairman Billy Payne unveiled a project near and dear to him – the Masters Major Achievement Award.

It was given to 14 media members who have covered at least 40 Masters in their careers. A group, the 14 men have covered nearly 650 Masters, which means they’ve eaten a lot of pimento cheese sandwiches.

Among the honorees was retired (except for Masters and Wachovia week) Observer columnist Ron Green Sr., who is covering his 53rd consecutive Masters, meaning he has spent approximately one year of his life walking the hills of Augusta National, watching everyone from Hogan to Nicklaus to Woods.

The other honorees were Horace Billings, Furman Bisher, John Derr (his 62 Masters are the most), Dan Jenkins, Kaye Kessler, Dave Kindred, Hubert Mizell, Dave Moffitt, Edwin Pope, Nick Seitz, Art Spander and Al Wester.

The honorees were given an oak plaque made from a tree that stood for decades on the second hole at Augusta National. The plaque features a carving of the famous clubhouse and a larger version will remain in the media center just off the first fairway.

It was a generous and genuine gesture by the club.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Wouldn't be the same without Arnie

AUGUSTA, Ga. - So Arnie’s going back to the first tee at the Masters. It’s not exactly the way he wants it – hitting the opening tee shot as the tournament’s honorary starter – but it’s great that he’s doing it.

It took Arnie a while to agree to become the tournament’s honorary starter because, though he’s 77 years old, he doesn’t like admitting he’s getting old. That doesn’t make him unique.

What makes him special is everything else. Palmer wants to believe he can still play golf the way he did, ripping at the ball with a beautiful slash that managed to carry the world with him. He watches Phil and Tiger and Ernie and sees them hitting these majestic tee shots and, for a moment, thinks he can still do it. He can’t, of course, but he wants to think he can.
Sounds like all of us of a certain age.

Jack Nicklaus may have won the most Masters but Arnie won the most hearts.

To see him in the interview room Tuesday afternoon – looking sharp in his green jacket and a silver-striped tie that matched his hair color – was to see a man still in love with being Arnold Palmer. That’s the way it should be. He loves the attention and, while that could be off-putting in a lot of people, it’s the essence of Arnie.

He was funny fielding questions from the media about why now and about Gary Player tying his record of 50 Masters appearances. He dropped in the occasional coarse word, flashed that smile and it didn’t seem like it was 50 years ago that he was on the verge of owning golf.

It’s going to be cold Thursday morning when Arnie hits that tee shot. But not nearly as cold as it would be without him there.

And take the cute ringtone with you ...

Among the many things the Masters gets right is its policy on cell phones.

No way. No how. No time.


If you’re important enough to need a cell phone at the Masters, you’re too important to be on the golf course.

Golf tournaments have tried to eliminate cell phones from going off in the pockets of fans but it hasn’t worked. Or, at best, it’s worked for most people but not all people.

The Masters has solved that by getting its message across – get caught with a cell phone and we’ll see you, your cell phone and your ticket later. Well, not exactly. More like never again, especially your ticket.

Gone. For good.

If you’re fortunate, you’ll get your phone back.

The only wiggle room is for media members (yeah, I know, the media always gets special treatment). We’re allowed to bring cell phones onto the property with the strict understanding that they will not be used outside the confines of the media center.

Entering the course for the first time this week, two different security officials reinforced the phone policy to me. The second stood directly in front of me and, in a polite tone, reminded me of the policy like he was reading me my rights.

I’m fine with it. In fact, I love it.

I only wish the Masters could do something about people driving and using cell phones.

• In answer to an e-mail question as to where we stay at the Masters, the Observer group (including Ron Green Sr. and Scott Fowler) shares a house with writers from the Raleigh News and Observer and the Greensboro News and Record. It’s a terrific set-up, allowing us to cook dinner at home in the evening instead of fighting the restaurant crowds. And, compared to the price of hotel rooms, which often require 7-night minimums, it’s reasonably priced.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Magic of Augusta

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Any other time, the drive south from Charlotte on I-77 toward Columbia would be a dull chore, made more entertaining only by the magic of satellite radio on the opening day of major league baseball season.

But swinging west at Columbia onto I-26 meant going to Augusta and that meant another Masters and the road there felt like a magic carpet ride.
It’s when you notice the leaves have popped on the trees and the magenta azaleas blooming off the road. The yellow film of pollen, spring’s dirty secret, becomes part of the decorations, not a health hazard.

It is a unique thrill to turn off the clutter along Washington Road and onto Magnolia Lane, driving beneath the 65 trees that frame the most famous entryway in golf. It is not how anyone but the players and a few select guests arrive during Masters week.

However, turning onto Washington Road with its burger joints, car-repair shops and urban ministries has its own pull on Masters week. It’s there, with the $20 parking spots and pedestrian pathways, that the tournament starts to become real.

It’s where you see the fortunate ones with a ticket heading out late in the afternoon with a splash of sun on their nose, a new cap on their heads and the pleasantly weary smile of a good day on their faces. Most of them carry a clear plastic bag stuffed with shirts and calendars and programs, the memorabilia of their visit to Augusta.

It’s a journey that, remarkably, never loses its charm, no matter how you get there.