Now that we’ve reached the halfway mark in the four stop cycle we call The Majors, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on the significance of each of these events.
The Masters: This is golf as we wish we could play it: the bold, dramatic shot executed on a majestic course that is in immaculate condition. As the first major of the year, it also embodies all our expectations for how “this is going to be the year when…” But, at the same time, The Masters is also the occasion for a bit of cognitive dissonance for some golf fans. After a winter in which a fair amount of commentary focuses on ways to “grow the game,” the advent of The Masters throws the discussion into an about face, and all of a sudden we’re all gaga over the magnolias and rhododendrons and “the tradition unlike any other.” Gone for a weekend is all the talk about expanding the game as the golf world prostrates itself at the altar of a place that won’t even let the CEO of IBM in as a member, because–gasp–she’s a, oh my goodness, she’s (can you believe it?) a woman.
The U.S. Open: This is golf as we should play it: where pars are good and you take your medicine after a bad shot and just try to minimize the damage. It also offers the car wreck voyeurism of watching the best in the world have holes that look like one of our weekend experiences. But after watching some Welsh dude take the Irish Open at a total that was into the red teens, combined with this week’s Scottish Open where scores will likely be even lower, I want to know why the USGA insists on layouts and course conditions that turn our national championship into a version of “Survivor.” Does it strike anyone else as ironic that the country whose founding philosophy includes “the pursuit of happiness” would make its golf championship so decidedly difficult?
The Open: This is golf as it was meant to be played: courses with minimal adornment, where the random bounce and the hard roll play a decisive role in the outcome. Gone are the Bro spectators (baseball cap, Bermuda shorts, polo shirt and flip-flops) who dominate the galleries here in the States, replaced by people dressed like they had non-refundable tickets for some chartered fishing boat. And, at the risk of sounding–oh I don’t know–really provincial in an American sort of way, it is a tournament played on a series of courses, that apart from the clubhouses and random hotel buildings here or there, all look freaking alike to me. I can recognize the Road hole at St. Andrews and, thanks to that French guy a few years back, I have an indelible image of the 18th at Carnoustie. But aside from that it’s just a lot of bumpy, sort of dried out fairways lined with tall grass and nasty looking shrubs. Don’t get me wrong: I like the look. It’s just that it’s the Only Look.
The PGA: As the tournament dedicated to the professionals who have devoted themselves to the sport, this represents, in an indirect way, the game that we could play if we ever bothered to take a lesson. Appropriately, it is the least regarded of the four. It has no real cache, no special image, and gets the least respect of the four. And that, sadly, all makes sense since most of us don’t pay enough attention to what the teachers of this challenging sport have to tell us.