Three Great Men!

2015 Masters

Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player

How do you define greatness? The golfing world would define it in one way, “How many majors have they won?” There are four golf tournaments in professional golf that are simply called “the majors”: The Masters, The U.S. Open, The British Open, and The PGA.

These three players are considered to be the greats of the game, the legends of golf. Together they have won a combined total of 34 majors, 13 of which were The Masters. Jack Nicklaus, considered by most to be the greatest golfer ever (my childhood hero) leads the pack with 18 majors, Gary Player with 9, and Arnold Palmer with 7. Together the have won four grand slams: Jack Nicklaus won 3 and Gary Player won 1. A grand slam in golf is having won each of the four majors. In other words, Jack Nicklaus has won The Masters, The U.S. Open, The British Open, and The PGA three times each. Arnold Palmer won them all with the exception of The PGA.

These men were my idols growing up and over the years I have attended tournaments where each of them have played. I will never forget the talk of high school golf teams was when Greg Hines, a sophomore at one of the local high schools, caddied for Jack Nicklaus. How does that happen to a 16 year old kid? It was the Sahara Nevada Invitational, one of the tour stops in Las Vegas, Nevada. As high school golfers, we would head to the golf course early and hope for a “loop” an opportunity to caddy (carry the golf bag) for one of the participating golfers. It so happened, while a bunch of us were waiting, Greg being one of them, Jack Nicklaus walked up to him and basically said, “Son, are you looking for a loop?” After we resuscitated Greg, he ended up caddying for Jack for two days, and went home somewhat of a celebrity having gotten paid $150.00 and a couple of dozen golf balls. As for me, I picked up J.C. Snead (nephew of the famed Sam Snead). He ended up at the wrong golf course (the tournament was played at two different clubs) and I gave J.C. and his wife a ride to the other course in my ’57 Chevy. Two days later, after he missed the cut, I went home with $20.00 in my pocket, got yelled at once or twice, and caught him cheating.

As I write this, we are on our way to attending our last day at The Masters in Augusta, Georgia. We are anticipating a great day. Arnold, Jack, and Gary won’t be playing. Though they played a combined total of over 140 Masters tournaments their serious competitive golf playing days are over. Many younger players have taken their place.

What happens after you are through playing in The Masters? Do they give you a gold watch and call it good. Not for these three, they are now honorary starters. This means that every year The Masters officially starts when Jack, Arnold, and Gary tee off on the first hole.

Honorary Starter Ceremony

I watched these retired honorary starters start a golf tournament I once dreamed I would play in only to defer to the dream of one day attending. To be honest it has been somewhat emotional in so many different ways. I realize what a part golf has been in my life, how I love the game, and how these men who I looked up to, and in many ways still respect so much today, affected my life…and in a small way still do.

As I was reading through the Word this week, I came across a verse that stirred my heart:

“Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them.” Deuteronomy 11:16

As I reflect on that verse, having watched these three golfing greats over the years, I could not help be think about how quickly this life passes and how fleeting success in the eyes of the world can be. There is no doubt that if legends could somehow be eternally preserved and a place could be created by man, a place which would capsulate all that life this side of heaven entails, The Masters would be it.

However that simply is not the case! One of my favorite verses in this regards is found in the Psalms written by another great man, one of the greatest, King David.

“Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath.” Psalm 39:4–5

I love golf, but I love the Lord more. Golf teaches you a lot of things about life, it really does, but through His Word, God makes absolute sense of it all. I love Him for that eternal truth!

“It doesn’t even seem real!”

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My youngest son Jeremy and I in front of the signature leader board.

It has long been said by anyone who has ever stepped on the grounds of Augusta that it is the greatest tournament there is. In an interview I watched last night, Phil Mickelson who has won The Masters three times said it is the tournament that motivates all of the hard work the rest of the year, it’s what gets you up at 5:30 am to go to the gym, it’s what you look forward to all year long. So say the golf professionals and few amateurs who are good enough to be able to play in The Masters and doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands patrons who have attended over the years and would say the same thing. They don’t call them spectators at Augusta, not allowed. Yesterday my son Jeremy and I joined them. The Masters has always been my favorite golf tournament of the year and yesterday took my appreciation of the tournament to another level.

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The famous 13th hole “Azalea” the third hole of what is referred to as “Amen Corner”, holes 11 thru 13. Honestly, we actually took this picture…not photoshopped.

Words cannot even begin to express the beauty, the history, the drama, the hospitality, the tradition and to some extent the mystique of Augusta. My son said, “It doesn’t even seem real.” Truly it is unlike any sports event on earth. Next to the Superbowl (which is #1) The Masters is the hardest sports event to get tickets for. However, once you are on the property, they treat patrons like royalty. There is no question that they raise the term “southern hospitality” to the highest degree.

If you think that there are no honest and considerate people in the world anymore, you will find thousands of them during Masters week. In one article I read the author said:

“If you stake out your spot on the 18th green early enough and walk away, you’ll still have your spot when the pros reach the final par four (hours later). People are very respectful at the Masters. If you get there at 5 a.m. on Sunday and wait in line, then run to your favorite spot and set your chair down, you can be gone the entire rest of the day and no one will claim your spot.”

“Surely that can’t be true!” I thought when I first heard of such a thing, but yesterday we experienced it first hand. And not only can you leave your chair there, but go ahead and throw any souvenirs you bought underneath the chair. No worries…they were still there when we got back…along with a note saying, “Here is $100, enjoy your day at Augusta” (just kidding about the $100).

In a day and age when professional sports takes every opportunity to make a buck, to include taking advantage of the spectators without whom they wouldn’t exist in the first place, Augusta refuses to bend their knee. There is only one logo you will see “The Masters”. They aren’t interested in corporate sponsors and business deals that will make them a little more money. In a book I read, “Augusta: A Revealing Look Inside America’s Most Intriguing Golf Club”, it said the powers at be at Augusta would rather shut the tournament down before they ever catered to anyone who insisted they needed their money to make the tournament happen.

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What other venue could you get an egg salad sandwich, bag of chips, soft drink, and Georgia peach ice cream sandwich, hand them a $10.00 bill and get $4.00 back. That doesn’t include that smile and thank you get for coming to The Masters…that is free and awaits you everywhere you turn.

Perhaps one of the nicest things about the day yesterday was the “no cell phones” policy…and they mean it. I cannot tell you how nice it was to not succumb to the temptation to post on Twitter or Instagram or have your day interrupted by a bunch of people who are talking on their cell phones, including me. What a nice break to just enjoy the day…with about 45,000 other people.

With no tickets in hand for any of the tournament days, we are heading back to Augusta (we’re staying in Columbia, SC about an hour and fifteen minutes away) to see if we can get tickets for the tournament days (yesterday was for the practice round). We’ll let you know how that goes.

Postscript: I wrote this post on our way to buy tickets and am pleased to say that we were successful in getting tickets for Saturday’s round. Unfortunately while doing so, we experienced “the dark side of buying Master’s tickets.” No worries, we got our tickets legally. More on that next time.

Tuesday Practice Round Slideshow

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