Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Ghosts of Augusta

The ghosts are everywhere in this place, accompanied by the hushed voice of Jim Nantz and the saccharine tinkling of ivories. At Augusta National, you hear that familiar theme music start up, it's like hearing that brooding bass line from "Jaws." You start looking for the shark.

And, no, not the Shark, Greg Norman. Though he's likely one of the ghosts.

His younger self is surely still out there somewhere, stumping mournfully through the Cathedral of Pines with his game unraveling around him. So is a younger Rory McIlroy, still looking for the ball he hit over by the cabins during his own unraveling. And so, presumably, is last year's version of Jordan Spieth -- a pale specter still visible late at night, some say, around the 12th green.

Listen closely. Is that a moan you hear, or just the wind?

Could be just the wind, but it's Masters week again, and so everyone is revisiting Spieth's haunted moment at the 12th hole a year ago. At 22, he was closing in on his second straight green jacket when he came to 12 on Sunday afternoon. And then disaster struck.

Two balls went swimming on him. Another landed on the beach. By the time Spieth limped away toward the 13th tee, he'd taken quadruple-bogey and someone named Danny Willett wound up wearing his green jacket.

And so, yes, Spieth has his own Augusta ghost now.

Or, again, maybe not.

Maybe not, because when he came to the 12th hole in a practice round yesterday, he damn near stuck it in the hole. His tee shot fetched up 14 inches or so from the cup, and he tapped it in.

So maybe there are no ghosts or gremlins or demons that haunt him here. Maybe he's mentally strong enough that the 12th will be just another hole for him this week.

If so, then it will be yet more proof that golf is a thing of the mind, and that the Masters more than any other event reveals as much. Or exposes as much.

A big swing helps here, a rapier short game helps more, but most of all it's the ability to get out of one's own head that wins for you here -- especially when things begin to go south, which to an alarming degree they seem to at Augusta.

It's a golf course that's not notably sinister until the leaders make that final turn into Amen Corner on Sunday afternoon, and then weird stuff commences happening. So much horror has descended there on Sundays that macabre jokes have grown up around it:

Q: Why do they have all those flowers?

A: To cover the graves.

And there are a lot of them, particularly on that back nine. Which, of course, conventional wisdom says is where the tournament actually begins on Sunday afternoon -- and where it's ended for so many.

Hence all those ghosts. So who'll be the next to join the pantheon?

Finding out is why we watch.         

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