We've all been where Ernie Els was on the first green at Augusta yesterday.
OK, so some of us have been where he was.
OK ... so hardly any of us have been where he was.
Where he was, was three measly feet away from a routine par, and then the cosmos cracked open. He missed the putt. Then he missed the comeback putt. Then he missed another putt ... another ... another, before the hole stopped dancing around and held still long enough for him to jar it.
Mark it 9, Dude. With six putts from three feet.
This was the starkest example of what golfers have always known, which is that the game is an unrepentant bastard that allows you to occasionally feel you've got it figured out before cruelly yanking the rug out from under you. What's that, Ernie Els? You're one of the most accomplished golfers in the world, and a profoundly decent human being besides? Screw you. Instead of Ernie Els, we're gonna turn you into Ernie from accounting (on national TV, no less!), who only took up golf because he "thought it looked like fun."
Yeah, well. We got your fun right here, pal.
And so Ernie putted, and putted, and ... putted. And every golfer with a soul cringed. Because, as every golfer knows, this is what golf is. It's not "fun." It's not even a good walk spoiled. It's a test of man's (or woman's) ability to control his or her inner 3-year-old. And everyone fails it occasionally.
One day you're an actual grownup people can take out in public; the next, you shoot quintuple-bogey and wind up throwing your clubs into the nearest pond one by one, all the while shrieking, "Let's see how well you can swim, bleeping bleepers."
To Els' great credit, he didn't do that yesterday, although he said he briefly thought about walking off the course after his six-putt. Then he said a few things every golfer who's ever swung a club could relate to.
"It's hard to putt when you've got snakes in your head," is one thing he said.
"You make some stuff up in your brain, you know, it's difficult," is another thing he said.
"It's something that, what holds you back from doing your normal thing? I don't know what it is," is one more thing he said.
Yeah, well, Ernie, that's OK. None of us knows what it is sometimes.
It's that thing golfers call the "yips," although that seems a trifle understated for what happened to Els yesterday. Yips on steroids, perhaps. What yips would be if they morphed into some incurable contagion. Something.
At any rate, they did a good man dirty yesterday. And now it's on to today, where defending Masters champion Jordan Spieth will try to build on his two-stroke lead after shooting 6-under in the first round and looking as if he'd never put up a bogey again.
Somewhere, Golf just chuckled.