Does That Jacket Come in Blue?

I’ve had a vivid mental image coursing through my skull for the past few weeks; greens keepers all over South Western Ontario staring forlornly out of their windows, noses pressed anxiously to the glass like Tiny Tim in front of the toy store when the toy boat is taken away, destined to be someone else’s Christmas present.

The present, in this case, is in the form of greens fees…and courses all over our neck of the woods are losing cash by the bucket-full right now, as hundreds upon hundreds of eagerly anticipated spring rounds are put on, what feels like perma-hold, while Mother Nature continues to abuse us.

Is it worth mentioning that I’m writing this column (Wednesday morning) while watching another crap-load of snow fall on our city?  It’s pretty much become redundant.

For many of us, The Masters golf tournament is the official harbinger of Spring.  Over the years, it’s become a tradition to book some mid-morning tee times with friends, to really get into the spirit of the situation and get the golf juices flowing…and then head back to headquarters, to grow some roots in front of the TV and watch the pros do their Augusta magic.

The TV will certainly be on this year…but, based on this garbage weather, there almost definitely won’t be any pre-Masters rounds of golf to usher in the event properly.  At this point I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if my Augusta routine this weekend included shovelling…damn it!

But, I’m getting a little ahead of myself here.  Before I start waxing poetic on my masterful Master selections, there’s the small matter of re-capping our results from last weekend’s slug-fest in Texas.

What a difference a few days and a change of venue made!  Just a handful of days before, some of the best golfers in the world were literally brought to their knees, begging for mercy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.  After a quick trip across to the Longhorn State, most of these same pros were putting on a clinic…shooting lights-out golf and bringing Red Stone to its figurative knees.

Here’s how my daughter and I did with our predictions for last week’s event:

The Houston Open

Derek’s Picks D&D (Daughter & Dartboard)
Matt Kuchar T8  $     159,300 Lucas Glover Cut  
Hunter Mahan T8  $     159,300 Nick O’Hern T19  $           71,508
Fred Couples T60  $       12,685 Garrett Willis W/D  
Steve Marino T66  $       11,918 Jeff Maggert Cut  
This Week’s Total    $     343,203 This Week’s Total    $           71,508
Season Total    $  5,713,730 Season Total    $       2,470,794

My selections for last week can best be summed up as half inspired…and half crazed, wishful thinking.  Kuchar + Mahan = berry, berry good.  Couples + Marino = early onset of senility. 

Pass the Depends, please.

To make matters even worse, I’m suffering defeat in the form of a Steve-versus-Steve side wager with my golfing foil Svenny, who pitted his Stricker against my Marino and came out smelling like a rose…a rose that will soon be marinating in an expensive alcohol of my procurement.

So now that the semi-painful review is done, let’s shake the Texas dust off our hats and mosey eastward…to the hallowed halls of Augusta National Golf Course.

When I was a boy, my dad used to thoroughly enjoy sitting down to watch golf on TV.  I don’t recall this happening very often over the course of a year, but there was ALWAYS one event that absolutely, positively could not be interrupted, on pain of a slow, lingering death; and that was The Masters.

At the time, I simply didn’t get it.  My dad only golfed two or three times a year with his work mates…and since we had never ventured onto a golf course to play together, I certainly wasn’t bitten by any kind of golf bug that might have given me an appreciation of what was unfolding on the tube.

For me, having to sit through a telecast of the Masters (on the only TV we owned) ranked right up there with the post-supper, double-header agony my mother put us through every single weekend: Lawrence Welk and Don Messer’s Jubilee.  I think the Pig & Whistle might have been in there too…but I concede that my mind might be playing tricks on me after all these years, melding the pain together into a single night as some kind of defence mechanism or something.

Fast forward a few years later.  My first memory of watching a golf tournament, by conscious choice, was also The Masters.  I had taken up the game a few years earlier and was now a devoted, but thoroughly untalented golf addict.

The year was 1986.  Exceptionally good timing on my part, as it turned out…for that was, of course, the year that The Golden Bear rose like a phoenix out of the ashes to claim his sixth green jacket.  Golf pundits everywhere had years before written him off as having seen his competitive days slip by him for good; essentially assigning him the status of a legendary golfer, turned competitive eunuch. 

To this day, Nicklaus’ stunning victory at Augusta still ranks as the most memorable, most nerve-racking, most thrilling and most inspirational final round of golf ever televised.

And I was hooked forevermore.

Perhaps it’s fitting that the story came full-circle several years later. The Masters was also the very last tournament my father and I had a chance to enjoy together.  It was 2009…and we watched the (taped) telecast together in 15 or 20 minute blocks, as my dear old dad lapsed in and out of consciousness in his hospital bed.  We laughed, we cheered, we groaned.  He moaned and complained good-naturedly about the lousy performance of the players he had selected in our golf pool (which had become a weekly ritual of his for years). 

We also recounted a host of our own memorable golfing moments over the years…memories made even more special for both of us when my son finally became old enough to play and make our rounds together a 3-generation event.   Nothing brought an enormous smile to my dad’s face faster, or made him more proud, than seeing his grandson bust a drive down the middle of the fairway or stiff an iron shot, to give grandpa a real run for his money.

Yes…The Masters is a very special event. 

Derek’s Picks – The Masters

Phil Mickelson – Given Phil’s performance at Houston over the years, it was a little hard not to short list him last week for my picks.  But that decision was made easier by the relatively lacklustre year he’s had so far.  And, it seems like every time I’ve added him to my roster in the past year, he’s conspired to make me look like an idiot, by tanking on a large scale.

So naturally, the one week when I probably should have given him a shot, I didn’t.

Mickelson was positively on fire last weekend in Texas….and, if that doesn’t give you happy thoughts about his prospects of successfully defending his title at Augusta, I’m not sure what would.

The only things that seem to have been missing from his somewhat erratic game for the past few years have been good health (mental and physical)…and confidence.  Last week’s play seems to have put aside any concerns over his physical health.  The mind game is a harder read…one that was made more difficult by the health concerns he’s had for his wife and mom the past year and a bit.  He re-prioritized his life and championship golf took a back seat to things that were much more important.

But when he was playing, he just didn’t seem to have the mental Mickelson mojo of old.  I’m not sure how a player with a gazillion dollars in earnings and dozens and dozens of titles loses his confidence, but it seemed like he stared the prospect of becoming World #1 in the face…and gulped, repeatedly.  Based on how he met those opportunities, he might have even thrown up a little in his mouth.

His win at Houston last week has put him back on the right track.  His record at Augusta is solid.  Three jackets.  Three top 5’s in his past 3 starts, including the win last year.  Look for Phil to be a serious threat this weekend at Augusta.

Steve Stricker – Having made my silly Steve-versus-Steve bet with Svenny, I conceded to him that Stricker was on my Houston short list…but I ultimately decided to drop him in favour of Marino, who was on a better roll at the moment.  Nice choice Derek!

The reason for my Steve-switcheroo seemed logical at the time.  Marino was hot off a great showing at an incredibly difficult Bay Hill.  Stricker, on the other hand, started the year off in fine form, but had spiralled progressively downward ever since landing back on the continent.  Not exactly inspiring form of late.

So, naturally, Stricker turned Houston into a pivot point for his 2011 season and righted his ship with an excellent T4 finish.

Now that his game seems to be on the upward tick again, I’m putting Stricker in my line-up for Augusta this week. He had a whiff of the rarefied Sunday-in-contention-at-The-Masters air two years ago, when he finished 4 strokes behind champion Angel Cabrera.  This year I think he has a legitimate shot at being fitted with a nice green jacket…42 extremely long.

Hunter Mahan – One of my forecasts for last week’s event, Mahan came through in a pretty big way for me in Texas by finishing T8.

This week I think he has a better than average chance of besting that performance and claiming his first Major in the process.

Mahan has shown some significant progress at Augusta over the years.  In his two most recent performances he has finished T8 and T10.  He’s come to know the nuances of the course that only time and experience can provide…and I think there’s a really good chance that he can turn this into his big breakthrough tournament.

This is Mahan’s third tourney in a row…which, according to a theory I’ve developed, is a very good thing.  My only concern is whether or not he snuck off for a little quality time with his new wife after leaving Houston Sunday night.  (See last week’s column for the rationale).

Nick Watney – I was mightily torn between Kuchar and Watney for this final spot in the roster…and ultimately was inspired to go with Watney. 

It has nothing to do with the shaving accident I had this morning.  Bah-dum-bah.  Try the flaming hog balls and throw on a copy of “Skeet Surfing.” 

(A gratuitous “Top Secret” reference for those of you scratching your heads even harder than normal right now)

In six starts this season, Nick has only one finish outside the top 10.  That was his 13th place finish, the last time he teed it up a few weeks ago at the Transitions Championship.  The rest of his results for 2011 would be a dream career for a lot of journeymen on tour…a win at the WGC Cadillac Championship, 9th place at the WGC World Match Play Championship, 6th at Pebble, 5th in Phoenix…and so on.

Picking up the WGC Cadillac Championship trophy a few weeks ago provided Watney with the perfect acclimatization for being in the hunt at a Major.  He’s been tested at the highest level against the toughest competitors…and came through with flying colours.  That, plus his pretty decent record at Augusta the past few years give me some major happy thoughts for his potential to win this week amidst the magnolias.

And now that I’ve put you to sleep, let’s see what my daughter crafted on the dartboard for this most special of golfing weeks:

D&D’s Picks (Daughter & Dartboard):

  • Anders Hansen
  • D.A. Points
  • Kevin Streelman
  • Y.E. Yang

One more thing before I go; the one player I would have been cheering on most loudly this week didn’t make the invitation list, unfortunately…and that’s Tommy Gainey.  My mind is just twisted enough that I would have been rooting feverishly for “Two-Gloves”…not so much to win a green jacket, but just so he would host the Champion’s Dinner at Augusta next year.

The image of all the Augusta muckety-mucks bellying up to a buffet table groaning with a variety of deep-fried varmint has me rolling in the aisles every time it pops into my head.  I feel shame.

And that’s all for now.  Enjoy the Masters!



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