Augusta’s Nifty Fiftysomethings

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA | In the 33 years I have been visiting Augusta National Golf Club during the first full week of April, I have learned a few things about The Masters. You don’t call it a championship because it isn’t. It’s a tournament. Please don’t walk barefoot. If you do, you’ll be told to put your shoes on. Bring a chair by all means but only one without arms. I am happy to report that at Augusta National you don’t hear people yelling “you da man” and “get in the hole.” What a blessed relief that is. It may surprise you to know how un-commercial the place is. Only four minutes of television advertisements each hour and food and drink prices reduced not raised. It tries very hard to give spectators — sorry, patrons — a good experience. If you’re a member you don’t have to tip. There is a no-tipping policy. And you don’t have to worry about tee times because there aren’t any. Turn up, shout “fore!” and go. Paying attention for all these years has taught me something else, too: For the first two days some of the older Masters competitors will show a clean pair of heels to many of their rivals. This year for example, four men in their 50s demonstrated that at Augusta on Thursday and Friday, at least, the image of golf as a game for the young and more athletic was less true than that The Masters is a tournament where brains matter more than brawn and where age and experience count as much if not more than outstanding ball striking and length. Is that refreshing or is it refreshing? It is an aspect of the game’s first major championship that may have gone unnoticed but is welcome for all that. This is the age of the wasp waist, the flat belly, the lean face, the toned calves. Camilo Villegas crouches like Spiderman to line up a putt. Tiger Woods is near Olympic standard at gymnastic exercises. Golfers these days do pull-downs and push-ups, lunges and chops, squats and torture twists in search of more flexibility and greater core strength to give them better balance and perhaps more length. They want more control of their big muscles and, probably, more muscle. Athleticism, athleticism, athleticism. And then after two rounds over a course that more than almost any other demands mental serenity in the face of adversity and nearly complete control of one’s golfing skills, what happens? Old men amble onto the stage, shoving these young guns who have shaved heads and low body-fat ratios to one side. The (relatively- speaking) old codgers took a bow, their old chops wreathed in wry smiles because they knew what to do at Augusta and, more to the point, they did it. How else to account for Fred Couples being one stroke off the pace Friday night at 53? Bernhard Langer making the cut at 55? Sandy Lyle, who was born in 1958, going round in 73 and 72, and Vijay Singh, two months past his 50th birthday, signing for a 36-hole total of 146? Do you notice anything about these four who among them have 111 appearances? They are all former winners. Clearly then, experience and knowledge count for a lot. “Most of the guys know what they’re doing,” Langer said. “They know where they need to go.” Indeed they do. He and Couples with 71s, Lyle with a 72 and Singh a 74 coped better with an average score of 72 on Friday, a difficult and windy day when the field’s average score was 74. Three of the four men recorded higher scores in Saturday’s third round, Langer a 72, Couples a 77 and Lyle an 81 while Singh had a 74 as he had the previous day. We read into this that tiredness was seeping into their bones, that the walks down the sixth and up the eighth, down the 10th and up the 18th had begun to take their toll. “It’s hard on the old body to get around this course,” Lyle said. “It’s so up and down.” Except Langer, at 55, was T9 with one round to go and got everybody’s attention Sunday with birdies on the first three holes. And Couples, six months short of his 54th birthday, who had finished T15 in 2011 and T12 in 2012, lay T18, even after shedding five strokes on three of his last five holes Saturday. The remarkable play of these two brought to mind the possibility of an old man winning a major, not a man in his forties but one in his fifties as was Tom Watson, then 59, when he came so close in the 2009 British Open at Turnberry. “I think it’s possible,” Langer said on Friday night. “I always thought that Freddie with his length could because he hits it a good 30 yards by me.” Wouldn’t that be refreshing, a winner in his sixth decade, a man reaffirming one of golf’s often repeated sayings, namely that it’s a game for all ages.


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