As the clock ticks down to this year’s US Masters, there has been a huge sense of excitement on my part with the plane ticket booked and press pass approved. In the past, Augusta weekends have been reserved for Bank Holiday recoveries with only part-time viewing material courtesy of Steve Rider (now Gary Lineker) and the rest of the BBC crew.
But this year, I will be heading up the GM team coverage as I walk down Magnolia Lane for the first time. As ever, the tournament promises to be one of the most eagerly anticipated events in the golfing calendar.
Always being one for nostalgia, many of my finest golfing memories stem from a time way before I had even considered swinging a club with genuine anger. Indeed, 23 years have now passed since I first took in the importance of this tournament, watching the remarkable back-nine destruction of Jack Nicklaus as he cut his way through the closing holes on the way to his sixth Green Jacket in 1986. This was when I first woke up to how great golf was. Putter raised in the air like a victorious swordsman, Jack walking in his downhill 15-footer on the 17th; it remains one of the game’s most indelible images.
It is the stirring moments of undiluted passion that the Masters delivers: Larry Mize’s winning chip in ’87; Sandy Lyle’s bunker shot in ’88; Ian Woosnam’s gutsy ’91 victory; Nick Faldo’s brilliance at the expense of a hapless Greg Norman in ’96, and Tiger Woods’ new dawn a year later.
Putting Jack’s stroll to one side, it is difficult to pick one moment that stands above all others. Rather, the European domination of the late eighties through to the mid nineties reserves a period of special praise. From Lyle’s success to Faldo’s third Green Jacket eight years later, only twice was our continent’s stronghold released by the home players (Freddie Couples in 1992 and Ben Crenshaw in 1995).
Since Woods rewrote the record books in ’97, European success has been thin on the ground with the exception of Jose Maria Olazabal’s second win in ’99. But today, there is a feeling that the current crop of talent from this side of the Atlantic, most notably from the home nations, creates cause for greater optimism.
Paul Casey’s thrilling but consistent form has lifted him up to 12th in the world rankings, while Padraig Harrington goes in search of his third Major victory on the spin. The likely lads of Justin Rose and Ian Poulter are now recognised as genuine tournament threats, and the power of Ross Fisher combined with the consistency and all-round brilliance of Rory McIlroy means a Sunday challenge to Woods and co is a serious prospect.
This is a great time to be a European golf fan, and so with nostalgia and Jack consigned to the record books, I’m looking for the new dawn to do something special at Augusta this year.
Here’s to a great week in Georgia, and some new memories to add to the overspilling tank…