Another major sports event is here, as the beginning of April brings with it The Masters golf championship. For those of you who follow the game, invented by Mary Queen of Scots, this golfing event brings back special memories I shared with my Pop.
There are a few facts connected with the Masters Tournament I would like to share. Bobby Jones was the father of this tournament, a lawyer and amateur golfer who found some land in Augusta, Ga. and set about designing a challenge for the golf professionals. This, the Augusta National Golf Club, was an ideal site for the Masters Tournament, but for years enforced the rule that no women or coloreds were welcome. Civil rights awareness finally woke up the golf world, and these things had to change.
One of the guidelines for entry into the Masters was that a player had to win another tournament. However, golf officials nevertheless ducked and dodged and changed the rules to keep the purity of their product and to keep Blacks out of the Masters. One year, Charlie Sifford, the first African-American to play on the PGA Tour, held a commanding lead in the Canadian Open and appeared to be a shoe-in for the Masters. But the rules committee caught him on the 10th tee of the final round of the Canadian Open and informed him that a Masters invitation was only awarded for tournaments won on American soil. A few years later, in 1975, Lee Elder won the Monsanto Open and the rules committee couldn’t find any reason to continue to keep the door locked.
During this period, Mexican golfer Lee Trevino practiced his own silent protest. After boycotting the Masters in 1970 and 1971, he played in the tournament in 1972, but kept his clubs in his car to avoid using the facilities in the Club House. Lee would change his shoes in the parking lot and carry his clubs to the practice area.
While Jim Crow was suffering some setbacks, Pop and I had our favorite golfers. Raymond Floyd, Tom Watson, Fred Couples and Ben Crenshaw led the list. Crenshaw lost favor with us when he fell to his knees and started crying after winning a tournament—too much drama. We weren’t initially fans of Nicklaus, but that changed when we were thrown together with him at an event and found him to be a really nice guy.
Fuzzy Zoeller was a favorite until he made a few comments about Tiger. One year, he referred to Tiger as “that little boy” while Tiger was running away with the Masters Tournament. A custom at the Masters is for the winner to pick the menu for the following year’s dinner. Zoeller commented that Tiger might pick fried chicken and collard greens. I think my Pop may have written Zoeller’s name on a piece of paper and dropped it in the toilet.
Pop is now playing the back nine in heaven, and when I lost my golf buddy and best friend, I lost my passion for the game. I gave my clubs to the kid next door, and golf has become an afterthought. I can only say, “Thanks for the memories.”