Fashion Criticism at the Masters
It's jolly good fun to watch someone who's never been there experience the beauty and grandeur of the Masters for the very first time.
The lush old nursery grounds vibrant with peaking spring blossoms, the hushed parade of savvy patrons moving like a race of nomadic bluebloods over the most pampered grass on God's earth, the super-welcoming attendants, the sudden eruptions of cheers from a distant dell of blazing azaleas, the unhurried weight of history being made, the glory of Magnolia Lane, the cheap and tasty pimento cheese sandwiches -- all of it adds up to perhaps the most singularly enjoyable day any spectator can have in any sport.
Out of the blue last Christmas, my wife Wendy casually announced that she hoped to someday attend her first Masters, golf's most elite championship.
I looked at her with genuine surprise. Up till then, she'd never made a peep about wanting to go.
"Now you tell me," I said, pointing out that I gave up my press credentials five or six years ago. My dozen or so trips to golf's annual rite of spring had been purely as a working stiff, a member of the press corps. If we put our names on the official waiting list for Masters tickets, I pointed out to her, we might actually get them about the time Tiger Woods was applying for Social Security benefits. We'd need walkers, however, just to make it out to watch Phil Mickleson hit the first honorary tee shot.
"Oh well," she sighed. "I guess we can just watch it on TV. I just thought it would be so great to see the Masters just once. You have no idea how happy and grateful that would make me to see Phil and Tiger, Padrig and Ian." As she intimately ticked off her list of favorite players by their first names, she gave me a meaningful little smile.
So I did what any self-respecting husband hoping to discover the outer boundaries of his wife's happiness and gratitude would do: I called up several well-connected friends and shamelessly begged for patron tickets.
I managed to snag a pair of them for Thursday and Friday from my good friend Howdy Giles, who is best known as Arnold Palmer's dentist and de facto photographer. Like my wife Wendy, Howdy speaks in enthusiastic exclamation points.
He suggested that we try and make it to the first tee on Thursday morning to watch Arnold hit the tournament's first shot the way Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen did over the decades before him.
I assured Howdy we would because I hadn't been back to the Masters since Arnold officially said goodbye to the competition in 2004. This particular edition of the Masters would feature Gary Player's official goodbye and a final appearance by Fuzzy Zoeller, who used to stay at my father's secretary's house back in his early days at the Greater Greensboro Open. Greg Norman had also returned.
Even I began to get excited about returning to Augusta National purely as a fan -- and the chance to see the place anew through the eyes of a rookie patron.
About Mickelson's Pants
Unfortunately, a delayed opening of Augusta National's rear gate meant we missed Arnold's first shot. But after a pleasant interlude with The King at his personal cottage on the grounds, we moseyed out and found great seats in the spectator stands by the first green, settling in with coffees and sausage biscuits just as the group of Mickelson, Furyk and Camilo Villegas approached the first green.
By then, my wife the Masters rookie was drinking in the assorted splendor of the Masters like free Moet Chandon on holiday, and I was feeling like a virtuous husband who might soon have his reward for service beyond the call of duty.
"Oh, my goodness!" she suddenly whispered with quiet horror.
"What?" I asked, wondering if perhaps Martha Burke had somehow breached the impressive security setup.
"Phil Mickelson's pants," she said, shaking her head. "Do you suppose his wife saw him before he left the house this morning."
"What's wrong with Phil's pants?" I asked in behalf of bad golf dressers everywhere. My favorite golf duds are all faded old khaki affairs, pretty well ready for the rag box. But in younger years my wife ran the men's department at Bonwit Teller in New York. She has a thing about men's pants. Why she agreed to marry me and my faded khakis for better or worse is beyond anyone's understanding.
"They're Euro pants. Meant for a guy half his age and build," she explained. "Poor thing. Who on earth do you suppose picked that ensemble?"
"Someone either not from this earth or possibly just from Cleveland," a middle-aged woman seated beside my bride chipped in with a chuckle over her blueberry muffin, eager to join in the fashion parade critique. Pretty soon several female patrons were giggling at Phil's get-up too. I silently ached for the lad.
Phil's shoes were blazing white, his tight pants midnight black. His belt was double-wide and also white. His skin-tight shirt was black with a weird white piping that emphasized his mature male physique. Some call them "man boobs."
For the record, I once spent two pleasant days playing golf and chatting with Phil Mickelson out in Arizona. I found him to be both thoughtful and genuine, a splendid fellow worthy of our admiration. But on this opening Masters morning, alas, my friend Phil did look a little like an aging matinee idol auditioning for a cheesy sci-fi TV series.
Moreover, his fashion faux pas established the tone for the rest of the day's commentary by my Masters companion. Later that morning, for instance, as we loitered by the 10th fairway, along came the group of Tom Watson, Ian Poulter, and amateur Steve Wilson.
"Now there's a man who knows how to pick age-appropriate pants," Wendy piped up, pointing to Poulter, one of her favorite players.
A talented young Englishman known for his wacky Doug Sanders-like outfits, Poulter was wearing a powder-blue shirt and blue and pink plaid slacks. In my book, he looked a little like a walking Easter egg. But who am I to judge? I have my own man boob concerns.
"What about Tom's attire?" I put to my traveling pants expert. The five-time winner of the British Open had on a simple, dignified white shirt and bright marine blue pants. I liked his faintly nautical effect.
This prompted a hoot from my Bonwit bride. "Are you serious? The man has no visible rear-end! He's wearing pants so bright you could position a satellite by them! The cut is entirely wrong for a man of his age."
Ernie Els, on the other hand, scored the highest marks in his elegant tan gabardine slacks, brown cashmere vest, and simple white shirt. "Did you see the way those trousers draped? That means they are very good quality. The vest and shirt are classic. Ernie's look just says tradition."
On Day 2, we settled in at several key places in Amen corner and actually watched some amazing golf. We saw eagles at 13 and birdies at 16. We saw Fuzzy tearfully wave goodbye and kiss his daughter. We saw Gary Player pump his fists and ramp up the galleries.
I somehow forgot to notice what anyone was wearing.
We ate delicious pimento cheese sandwiches and mini Masters Moon Pies. We drank cold beer and soaked up the warm spring sun. We saw old friends and made new ones. My wife boldly predicted Shingo Katayama would win -- though I think she simply liked the cut of his weird lime outfit and new-age cowboy hat.
I boldly predicted Gary Player wouldn't, given that he's 72 years old. As the Black Knight walked off the final green on Friday afternoon to thunderous applause to appreciative patrons, he dipped a knee and reportedly told Masters chairman Billy Payne that he knew it was time to quit because he could hear his drives land in the fairway.
As we left Magnolia Lane to head up the road to home, planning to catch the weekend conclusion on the tube, I couldn't help but wonder what my Masters rookie made of her first-ever visit to the most coveted golf event on earth. She was wearing a pleasant glow that almost matched the setting sun.
"It was absolutely wonderful," she declared, gratefully taking my arm. "I can't remember when I've had more fun. I think you deserve a great big reward for arranging this."
This is music to any husband's ears, of course. Nibbling my last mini Masters Moon Pie, I wondered what kind of reward she had in mind.
"Maybe some nice new pants," she said. "Something classic and very age-appropriate."
Jim Dodson, Sunday essayist for The Pilot, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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