A Masters tradition

by Al Pastor

The camera angle caught me off-guard. The ceremonial first shot, with The Big Three. We weren’t permitted to see it, just the swings from the front. No doubt sensitivities prevailing. It’s possible the last shots we were allowed to watch were from Sam Snead and Byron Nelson, the year that Sam paralyzed a man in a tragic accident, running a light on his way to the National. Years before a bunch of scribes were out at the Byron Nelson School at Las Colinas, near Dallas. Byron was out alone “testing” some new drivers from Cleveland on the range. The thought of having to hit that shot at his age on an invariably cold Augusta morning weighed heavy on his mind.

The swings this morning from Arnie, Gary and Jack all looked okay, but, of course, we were denied the opportunity to see the results – not, I hesitate to add, that it really matters. Most golfers would be thrilled to be still playing at their age. I have come to appreciate that with better players, especially the best, there is an alarming point of diminishing returns. These come with the sheer annoyance from not being able to do something that once came so very easily.

One last downer note. Cleaning this afternoon I came across Robert Creamer’s description of the declining years of Babe Ruth. There’s nothing to add, really. You can imagine the Babe, obviously once a virile specimen, a gargantuan athletic talent. As Ruth’s health declined and cancer raged, Creamer took note of the sort of detail that exceptional historians notice.

Sometimes at the club he felt so bad he would have only a soft-boiled egg, and he had trouble swallowing that. One day he looked at the egg in his misery and said, “To think of the steaks.” For a time he continued to play eighteen holes, but as he grew weaker his games grew shorter. One day he teed up his ball, swung well and hit the ball cleanly. It carried straight down the fairway, but for only about 90 yards. Ruth stood on the tee watching it and cried, cursing through the tears.

But hey, enjoy the Masters!