Monday, 26 March 2018

Dad and Masters Sunday

As a golf fan, there are not many occasions that compare to Masters Sunday. There are a number of aspects that make it what it is: the beautiful Augusta National course; the first major of the season; a signal of winter turning to spring in Britain; and the fact that when I was a child, that I could stay up and watch the drama unfold with my dad.

Sadly, this wasn’t always the case. The tournament organisers obviously didn’t get in touch with my local school to ensure that the event fell at a convenient point, and in 1985 and 1986 I had to miss the finale of both. Yet my dad taped the last few hours of the latter, and I was able to enjoy a Jack Nicklaus’ astonishing final major retrospectively.

My dad was, and still is, a keen golfer, a single handicapper during his peak – I’ll have to ask him which ten day period this was – and as with most of my sporting passions, I inherited my love of these from my old man. Determined to produce the next Seve, he first took me out on the local course when I was 7, and since that day we have shared many a frustrating day trying to figure out the game (answer: we haven’t yet).

Sport helped us to bond, indeed it still does, although most of the time now we simply spend questioning what on earth is wrong at Arsenal. One of the ways we grew closer was by watching hours of television together, and the Masters played a big role in this. From 1987 onwards, where possible, we would take our places on the settee and settle in for pure sporting theatre.

It probably helped that my first two Masters Sundays were classics. Real nip and tuck affairs, one ending with an unlikely victor, and the other a British triumph that made you bite your nails to the quick. Being able to stay up past midnight and soak in the tension of the last nine holes at Augusta was so exciting.

The past is a foreign country, so to people under a certain age, I’m not sure you will fully comprehend the enormity of watching the US Masters in the 1980s. The green grass bathed in sunlight (I’ll conveniently forget 1989); the pink shrubbery glowing; the deep water reflecting some of the scenery. Golf from the other side of the world made it feel out of this world.

Through it all, my dad and I would try and add our expert opinions. We’d often assume that someone would choke, sometimes correctly, but often not. We would root for the Europeans during a fruitful period for golfers this side of the Atlantic. And we would seemingly go through the rollercoaster of emotions associated with the final day of this gripping entertainment.

Having blown big chances in 1986, it looked as if one of Greg Norman or Seve Ballesteros would find redemption during my first Masters Sunday. Entering a sudden-death play-off with American Larry Mize, surely one of golf’s powerhouses would prevail. Disappointingly, Ballesteros dropped out at the first extra hole, but at least we could get behind Norman now, as he searched for his elusive first green jacket.

Mize’s chip and run would go down in golfing folklore as another example of Norman’s bad luck in majors (step forward, Bob Tway). Sitting thousands of miles away, we were left open mouthed as Mize skipped about in delight. Unsurprisingly, Norman had no response, and somehow local lad Mize would end his career with one more green jacket than a distraught Norman.

“And they say the meek shall inherit the earth,” Peter Alliss stated as Mize’s ball dropped, a brilliant summary of the action unfolding before our disbelieving eyes. The BBC coverage was a key ingredient at the time; Alliss was a marvellous commentator in his heyday, and Steve Rider a solid pair of hands in the anchor role.

The following year was just as enthralling, and for British viewers it had a happy ending. For large parts of that Sunday, Sandy Lyle appeared to be squandering his opportunity to become the first British player to win the Masters. My dad’s reaction to Lyle finding water on the par three 12th hole suggested that the wheels were coming off.

Luckily, Lyle regained his composure, and his bunker shot on the final hole was the stuff of dreams. As the ball landed on the green, Alliss uttered his famous “that could spin” line, and we both let out a noise of joy and relief. Lyle’s putt, his jig on the final green revealing his sweaty arm pits, and our celebrations back in England, capped off a memorable and draining evening.

Straying outside my decade of preference, 1990 was another memorable tournament. Indeed, it was the kind of sporting weekend that dreams were made of; the Grand National; England playing a Test match in the Caribbean; epic FA Cup semi-finals; and Nick Faldo successfully defending his Masters title via a play-off.

The last Masters Sunday that we watched together was Faldo’s dramatic comeback in 1996. Again it appeared as if Norman had one arm in the green jacket at various points on that Sunday, but it was just never meant to be. Faldo’s determination, and Norman’s troubles demonstrated why the final round of a major makes such compelling viewing.

Norman denied once more; we had come full circle from our first shared Masters experience in 1987. Since I moved away from home, we have never got around to watching another Masters Sunday together again. I’m only a few minutes down the road, so I need to rectify that soon. But every Masters Sunday that I’ve been able to witness since, I always think of my dad settling down to watch it.

Sitting with my dad and watching the conclusion to the Masters, is one of the happiest memories of my childhood. Hopefully I can carry on the tradition with my son – not this year, though, as the local school have yet again scheduled their Easter break incorrectly – and one day the three generations can enjoy this fantastic experience together.

I thought I’d write this piece as a thank you to my dad. You sometimes don’t realise as a parent just how important shared moments like this are for your children, and I’m so grateful that through this very basic act of plonking ourselves in front of a television, we could share in moments of high drama in the sporting arena.

A Masters Sunday is something to be cherished as a sports fan, and I’m already counting down to the next instalment in the history of the tournament. I might even invite myself to my parent’s house on April 8 this year, so that my dad and I can go through the twists and turns of that final day, just like we used to.

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