Masters champion Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus flank Augusta National Golf Club and Masters Tournament chair Billy Payne.

Rolex & the US Masters 2017: Fairways, farewells & fair game
Jose Paolo S. dela Cruz (The Philippine Star) - May 13, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines - On the lush fairways of the Augusta National Golf Club, winners are made, legends are born — and with their green jackets on, they become the “Masters” of the universe.

Elite — that is one word often associated with golf, especially in the Philippines where the sport is easily equated with businessmen of a certain age and stature. But somewhere across the world last April, in the southern paradise of Augusta, Georgia, golf proved itself to be the quiet, more disciplined star of the sporting universe.

PeopleAsia (a sister publication of The STAR), through this writer, had the privilege of being one of eight media representatives from all over the world to be hosted by Rolex during the recently concluded 81st edition of the Masters Tournament. Dubbed by some as “the golfing event, even for non-golfers,” the Masters is one of the most renowned in the world, having brought into the fore names that ring larger than life, even outside the realm of the sport.

Among them are Tiger Woods (who first won the tournament in 1997); two-time champion Tom Watson (who gamely bantered with us over breakfast); and the big three of golf, South African champion Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and the late Arnold Palmer — all of whom belong to the respected roster of Rolex Testimonees who are acclaimed for playing the sport with extraordinary precision and excellence.

Player and Nicklaus proceeded with the tradition of opening the tournament with their ceremonial tee-off. Only this time, it was a bittersweet affair since Palmer, their colleague and friend, had passed away September last year. While their former trio had now been reduced to two, the former champions still opened the tournament with their powerful swings as they held back tears, in front of thousands of audiences.

The somber tone of remembering Palmer seemed to linger for the duration of the tournament, as golfers and non-golfers alike shared anecdotes of the man in various occasions. But when it came to the game, all eyes were still on the ball.

While golf aficionados dominated the crowd, spectators such as myself were also aplenty in the audience. We discovered each other by asking questions to our seatmates, who enthusiastically educated us on the history, point system and even legends of tourneys past. From trees that marked impossible shots that were made by former winners, to where we could buy the famous cheese pimiento sandwiches in green wrappers — everyone had an answer to everything.

The fairways are a work of art and science, meticulously maintained for this occasion. While the pink azaleas didn’t bloom in time this year, the greens that glistened under the warm yet friendly Southern American spring weather compensated for it.

Subtlety is key at Augusta National and the Masters. Despite being one of the most popular sporting events in the world, you’d be hard pressed to find glaring brands and logos on the field — save for some towering green Rolex clocks that elegantly matched the verdant surroundings.

Golf courses may look flat on TV, yet it’s anything but in real life. There are so many slopes and elevations on the terrain, that landing your ball just a few inches off-your target could very well lead it to a bunker (or a loss). Some golfers even time their swing with the wind, to ensure that they land just where they wanted.

While each sport has its own shining aspects, what truly shone for golf and the Masters, at least in this writer’s opinion, were the people who follow the sport. They were a breed of sheer class and discipline — no matter how frustrated or excited they were over the game.

The Augusta National Golf Club, for instance, is a stickler for rules. In fact, no cameras, no cellphones and electronic devices were allowed on the site during the Masters. And they didn’t shy away from escorting violators out. Still, the crowds turned up, cheerful and excited — even if they couldn’t boast about the experience on Instagram.

The audience followed the traffic flow as they crossed fairways in between games. They didn’t jeer or boo when a rival bested their favorites. At most, you’d hear a chorus of sighs when a player made a bad shot. When their favorites made a great shot, they cheered and clapped in moderation. The audience was the perfect reflection of the professional golfers they followed, all of whom kept it classy, regardless of scoring an eagle, a birdie or a bogey. Except maybe for player Matt Kuchar, who scored a hole-in-one, but that’s understandable. It’s a hole-in-one!

In the end, it was Spanish Sergio Garcia and Englishman Justin Rose who ended up competing for the coveted green jacket of Augusta. It was a championship of hits and misses from both players, with both missing their respective holes from as close as five feet away. Spectators lined up the 18th hole for the outcome while we, Rolex guests, enjoyed the game from the lavish Tea Olive house, where air-conditioning, champagne and azalea cocktails were aplenty.

Regardless of who fate would have favored, both contenders would have walked away with a great story to tell. Rose had been a chronic second-placer in the last few years, while Garcia had been dubbed a lost prodigy after missing various cups so many times in the past.

After Rose made few more bad shots, Garcia finally won the cup. Guests at the Tea Olive jumped with joy as we watched from our screens. Someone immediately noted that it was the 60th birthday of the late Seve Ballesteros (also Spanish and a former Masters champion) when Garcia won. It was a birthday gift from the celebrant in heaven, to his prodigy on the fairway.

As the celebrations winded down and everyone regaled on the days that were in a mansion along Milledge Road (one of Georgia’s more posh addresses), it became even more apparent that while Garcia was the victor, nothing could be bigger than the game itself. And that it isn’t always a question of winning, but of what winners are made of.

 

 

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