Springtime, interrupted: What we lost when we lost the Masters

A quiet 18th. (Courtesy Masters.com)

Were we in different days, we’d be in the heart of the Masters tournament. Charley Hoffman would be leading, Tiger would be lurking, and Rory McIlroy would be close enough to the top for us to think, maybe this is the year he shakes off his Augusta curse

None of that’s happening now. Augusta National sits empty while the rest of us sit in our homes. That’s only right; there are problems and challenges far more significant than a golf tournament. Still, the absence of Augusta this week is a loss of something far more than just a chance to sip Arnold Palmers and watch men chase a little white ball around the Georgia countryside.

I live in the South, so for me, two events bookend the summertime. The azaleas blooming in the spring signal that we’re done with winter, and the sound of a high school band practicing on a football field is the first hint that fall is near. These have been the traditions for as long as I’ve been alive. 

So the fact that there’s no Masters Tournament this week … well, it means a lot more than just missing out on another week of sports. It’s a break with history, a fracturing of tradition, another tough reminder that this year is unlike any that any of us have lived through. 

One of the finest aspects of the Masters is the fact that nothing inside the gates of Augusta National ever changes. I was watching ESPN’s rebroadcast of Jack Nicklaus’s 1986 win Wednesday night, and what struck me was how little the course has changed since then. That broadcast didn’t have chyrons to tell us which hole we were looking at, and yet I recognized the wide downhill slope to 15; the tight, rolling green of 16; the narrow pine-lined fairway of 18 as easily as I’d recognize the streets where I grew up. 

(Yes, that unwavering allegiance to the past is also one of Augusta’s most significant problems; you don’t have to think too hard to realize that there are plenty of “traditions” in American history — and especially the South — that ought to be left behind. But today, let’s focus on the positive.)

You mess with tradition at your peril. When Augusta National changed the recipe for its famous pimento cheese sandwiches a few years ago, patrons recoiled in horror. With good reason … the taste of that pimento cheese sandwich, washed down with the secret “Stand 12” drink that you only get by asking, and paired with a peach ice cream sandwich … friends, that’s deliciousness and nostalgia and gratitude, all for less than six bucks. 

One of the enduring images of last year’s Masters came when Tiger Woods, who’d just clinched his unlikeliest major of all, reached out to embrace his two kids. The unforgettable look on his face — exultation, relief, the thrill of sharing this moment with the people he cared about most — in that moment, Woods wasn’t a remote icon, he was a joyous father. It marked a circle-of-life bookend to the moment in 1997 when Woods’ own father bear-hugged him at almost the exact same spot. 

It was also the perfect metaphor for every parent who’s taken a child to Augusta … and, in turn, every child who will grow up to take their own kid there. At Augusta, the roles change, but the tradition rolls on. 

So this weekend, I’ll watch some Masters highlights. I’ll whip up some Arnold Palmers of my own and drink them from a plastic Masters cup. (I’ve got a bunch.) I’ll Zoom with my friends, and we’ll tell the same stories we tell every year when Augusta rolls around. It won’t replace what’s lost. But it’ll do until the real thing comes back, in November or in 2021. 

And now, I’m just hoping I’ll hear that high school band start up on schedule. 

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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