I've debated with myself for many years on why I believe The Masters is the greatest sports event every year. Part of me wants to dismiss the idea as being a biased preference from a golf fan. Still, another part of me wonders if there is something deeper going on in my mind whenever I think of Augusta National Golf Club, the tournament itself, and growing up. My first introduction to the game of golf came at the hands of Steve Fox, a cousin by marriage. I still remember the day he surprised me with my first set of golf clubs -- I think they may have been knock-off PING imitations or something similar -- prior to playing a round at a nearby municipal course. My father had actually taken me golfing for the first time only a few months prior to Willow Run, a small nine-hole course near New Lenox; however it wasn't until receiving those golf clubs from Uncle Steve that I truly became excited about the game.
In the years following those first couple of rounds (I was terrible, just like every beginner), I slowly became a fan of watching golf on television with my dad. I remember him talking to me about "some new kid named Tiger" who was "supposed to be the next big thing". As baseball fans first and foremost, my father and I discovered Tiger Woods very much in the same way: watching a skinny kid playing golf with a bunch of old men on television and beating the hell out of them all.
As time went on, I slowly began to understand the PGA Tour, the rules of golf and what a "major" actually was. It was around this time when I first heard about The Masters, which I remember thinking was a silly name for a golf tournament. When I watched the tournament for the first time in 1997, I remember laughing about the ridiculous white jumpsuits the caddies had to wear. Don't even get me started on my early thoughts about the ugly Green Jacket. Yeesh.
But then something amazing happened. This kid named Tiger not only won the tournament, but he dominated the golf course. This was a huge deal for me because the only golfer I really knew just won what seemed to be a pretty important golf tournament. My dad was excited, so therefore I was excited. I still remember watching Tiger hug his father, Earl, and my dad patting me on the back as it happened.
Our "guy" won. Someone we were both fans of actually pulled it off. We were able to celebrate that feeling together. The only other time my father and I both cried watching a sporting event was when the Chicago Bulls' John Paxon hit a three-pointer against Phoenix a few years prior.
I was immediately hooked. I began to inhale everything I could find about The Masters, whether it be the history of Augusta, past champions, the names of the golf holes (which blew my mind when I learned they had names!) and any of the three hundred other intricacies I stumbled upon. There was never enough information. Even to this day I search for new things to read about The Masters. I hope I never run out.
The idea of a golf tournament slowly transformed into the Legend of The Masters in my mind. Everything that happened on my television during Masters week was fantastical. I was watching a fairy tale, an alternate reality, where colors seemed brighter, grass seemed greener and yellows seemed... well, yellow-er.
Azaleas are still my favorite flowers. I think you get the gist.
Since 1997, our "guy" Tiger won three more times. I became a better golfer during that span and a better student of the game, as well. High school and college came and went, as did my own career as a caddy, then as a cart barn boy, then as a pro shop attendant. My love of the World Series, the Super Bowl and the NBA Finals all fell to second place behind The Masters.
I'm a little older now. I have a household of my own. I have a different job, different responsibilities, different worries and different goals. My dad and I still keep in touch as often as we can, but we haven't seen anything close to that Sunday in April more than 15 years ago.
For me, The Masters signifies a time in my childhood that I will never forget. The love I felt while watching a sporting event with my dad sprung a love of a game that will never leave. It can't leave; it's a part of me now.
My only hope is that one day, a few Aprils from now, I'll be able to watch The Masters through the eyes of my child as he or she takes in the yellows, greens, and Azalea purples for the first time.
And who knows? Maybe we'll have our own "guy" to cheer for, too.