Sunday at Augusta.
Without the Masters.
This is when it really sinks in that everything is altered. The tradition like no other is like no other year.
I have a hat from the 2017 Par-3 Contest at Augusta, a contest that never happened. Other than the three years in World War II, that was the only time in Masters history that an event had been canceled.
We won’t know until later in the year whether this year’s tournament will be played on its “intended” date in November. Having never seen Augusta National in the fall, it would be the most-anticipated Masters in years. Maybe ever.
I’ve been going down for so long now, it seems like a rite of spring. More than that though, the Masters is the sporting event all other sporting events schedule around. The second week in April is the center of the sports calendar. Everything else revolves around it.
And last week, when the PGA Tour released an updated schedule for this truncated season, it was the Masters that likely told the Tour when it intended to hold its event. Everything else stacked up behind it.
The tournament has that much power.
So on this, the second weekend in April, there’s a pause in the natural order, a power vacuum that nothing will fill.
A year ago, we watched what might have been the greatest day in sports in a generation or more, a golf tournament that left us gasping, grown men in tears and a new generation of sports fans seeing the very history they’d only heard about.
When it ended, and Tiger Woods stood with his arms raised at 18, all of sports stopped to witness it. At 43 years of age, after five operations on his left knee alone, after four back operations that we know of, after personal tragedies and a public divorce stemming from countless affairs and a Thanksgiving Day accident involving his wife and a 9-iron, after sexual rehab and drug dependence and finally a 2017 DUI arrest, he was suddenly Tiger Woods again.
It was the greatest comeback since Muhammad Ali.
But for those of us who were there, and for some of the old scribes who have been going to Augusta for longer than you can imagine, there was actually a discussion as to how impressive it was.
Was it really the greatest Masters in history? Most of us said “no.”
That’s the nature of this weekend. Through the years, the roars through those pines and the moments we witnessed are impossible to rank and compare. You go to Augusta assuming you’re going to see something miraculous.
The loudest roar I’ve ever heard in any sporting event was in 2005 at the 16th green on Sunday. Woods chipped in from off the green, an agonizingly slow rolling chip aimed at a beam of light that built up a response from the crowd like rolling thunder. But when the ball hung on the lip, pausing and then falling, the explosion of noise down in that Georgia holler was like a bomb went off.
When you go to Augusta, your mind wanders back in time. You can’t help it. The trees are older than the golf course. There are plants there that serve as the seed plant for every other similar plant in the country. The very first wisteria vine in America still grows in a tree just outside the back door of the clubhouse.
That’s really what draws me to Augusta year after year. The other writers know I’m usually out at the big oak, looking up and not at whoever is walking off 18, or looking for the great horned owls behind the 13th, not watching golf in Amen Corner. They know I’m looking for the spring between the 13th and 14th fairways that actually spouts gold dust when it rains. There’s a palm tree, of all things, on the right side of No. 4, a par-3 called Flowering Crabapple. It was originally called “Palm.”
And on the scenic little Par-3 course, there’s a pond there constructed so President Dwight D. Eisenhower, an Augusta member, could raise minnows for bait. On the banks of that pond is where Augusta National co-founder Clifford Roberts killed himself.
The place is mystical beyond words and its power is understated. The place isn’t perfect. The people there aren’t perfect. Over time, while the tournament has dictated all of sports revolve around it, the world outside the privet hedge has forced the club to evolve.
The place is timeless, though.
And while we reminisce this weekend about last year and all those years before it, I know that the course sits quietly right now, a nursery in repose once again, populated not by patrons or by golfers but by redtail hawk and the songbirds you never see, by critters scampering across the greens and the fairways, the place finally their own.
I wish I could be there with them.
Contact Ed Hardin at 336-373-7069, and follow @Ed_Hardin on Twitter.