As exciting as The Masters Tournament has been lately, or the 2015 edition might end up being, I can’t shake this feeling that something is missing. Maybe better said, something has been lost. I am an avid golf fan, with a 60th birthday easily in sight, and I remember The Masters as the one sports event shrouded in mystery, fueled by anticipation and defined by discovery.
It wasn’t that long ago television times were purposely set for later in the day and shortened, sometimes by more than half, of what the other major championships offered. The first six holes were enigmatic to anyone who hadn’t stepped foot on the hallowed grounds and the Par Three Contest was reserved for stories passed down from friends, relatives and eloquent scribes. Now no less than six different coverage options are available to view, starting bright and early in the morning, on devices that can fit in your back pocket. The Par Three is just another ESPN television event.
We weren’t allowed to actually see what happened during morning play for the first 36 holes. One was expected to occupy oneself with something else during a large portion of the day on the weekend. “You’ll get nothing and like it” was the mantra from the behind the gates on Washington Avenue and believe it or not we did! We liked it a lot. Then it changed.
Some dictionaries define change this way, “to make the form of something different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone.” I’ve heard again and again, from people young and old, that “change is good” but despite the fact that real progress has been made in regard to the amount of information we can now get and how it’s delivered I, for one, am not convinced this particular change is ALL for the best.
Now before you write me off as a dinosaur, a curmudgeon, or worse, a crazy person, consider this; it was just more than 30 years ago that there was NO early round coverage from Augusta. In 1982 the USA Network aired a Thursday round at The Masters for the first time and some of us remember that CBS carved out a half hour of programming time, “after your late local news” (11:30 PM ET), for a Jim Nantz/ David Feherty half hour highlights show. It took until the turn of this century for Augusta National to allow CBS the ability to televise the leaders on Sunday from the first tee forward. For you “Millenials” that’s less than 15 years ago, just a drop in Father Time’s bucket of seconds, minutes and millennia.
To further clarify, I am NOT saying, or trying to imply, any of this progress and change is bad, it’s just different. From these “looking back on the good old days” eyes it’s just a little lamentable. In some weird nostalgia-filled way it’s akin to Christmas mornings past for me. I remember the excitement of knowing some of my presents were not so secretly hidden in the corner of a closet in the house. I know my parents, may they rest in peace, would be disappointed, yet probably not surprised, to hear that, unable to contain my curiosity, I peeked under the wrapping paper of the biggest box. Suddenly I was thrilled to know what one of my gifts would be in a week’s time but all of the sudden what I would describe now as melancholy enveloped me. A small part of the magic of Christmas morning was gone.
Today I can look at a Masters leaderboard, follow a featured group, or watch action from the most famous corner in golf starting Thursday morning. I can even, not only know what’s going on but, be told how to feel about it thanks to Jason Sobel, Steve Elling, Shane Ryan and a hundred others on Twitter. It’s great you say but, again in some small fashion, doesn’t it all make it a little less special and a lot less spiritual?
The United States Open is different. The television coverage is, and has been, a beautifully orchestrated all day affair from the announcement on the first tee Thursday until the kissing of the trophy ahead of a Sunday sunset. The British Open has its own stateside tradition of bagels, birdies, and being done with more than enough hours in the day to enjoy an afternoon round of your own. But The Masters, Thanks to technology, and in my opinion, has lost that one unique thing it owned alone… Its mystery. Once upon a time the event’s iconic tag line, “a tradition unlike any other”, also referred to the way we could, and did, watch it. I don’t know about you but part of me misses that.