Roddy Carr on The Masters

The anticipation boils up slowly and is palpable – like no other event. It’s springtime and it’s the natural opener to the golf season in the northern hemisphere. It is time for the Azaleas to bloom into colour and provide the beautiful backdrops that frame the iconic and treacherous holes around Amen Corner. Memories are etched in everybody’s mind from witnessing over the years the agonies and ecstasies experienced by those lucky enough to be invited to Bobby Jones’s MASTERS.

It is hard to appreciate the majesty of Augusta and this event, the season’s first Major. It is built from the vision and integrity of the greatest Amateur golfer of all time, past, present and future. It is the closest thing to perfection in any major sporting event I have ever seen. There is zero tolerance for anything that offends the etiquette or integrity of the game of golf. There are no logos, no running, no litter, no shouting, no weeds, not a hair out of place, and it’s all about respect. Those that don’t conform are silently removed by the ever-present Pinkerton men with very little fuss. They never get back in! The players, the caddies, the press, the patrons all know the rules. They are all invited guests and are expected to behave. In this changing world we live in, it is a joy to behold the old fashioned values and ethos that still exist at Augusta.

Our family has been connected to Augusta since Bobby Jones invited my father personally to play there for the first of his three visits in 1967. I was honoured to meet Bobby Jones in person with my father playing with Sam Snead in 1969. A memory I will never forget.

Augusta values integrity and sportsmanship most of all. That is why Arnie, Gary and Jack, three of golf’s greatest icons have faithfully raised the curtain with their ceremonial opening tee shots for over a decade until Arnie sadly passed in 2016. I remember vividly being there in 2015 and pushing myself through the crowds at 7 am to the front of the first tee rope to watch, what I felt in my heart and soul, would be the last time the ‘Big Three’ would get to perform their ritual act at Augusta. It was. Now Tom Watson, a fitting replacement for the King, continues the tradition that started in 1954. I will be there again on April 11th for these special moments honouring the truly great champions and gentlemen of our game.

Those who win the Masters are always welcomed back and have their own locker in the Champion’s locker room, the most exclusive locker room in the world. They have a Champion’s dinner every year for past winners, which is the highlight of the year for many of those retired and some forgotten. The best Amateurs from around the world are treated with equal respect hosted to a special Amateur dinner where they are reminded of their responsibilities going forward as many of them will graduate to the professional ranks and some will win the coveted green jacket in the future. Some of the Amateurs will stay in the ‘crow’s nest’, the simple ‘amateur’ room over the pro shop that is reserved for Amateur Champions (that included my father) for decades. Its tradition – honoured as Jones would have liked it to be.

Augusta has been kind to many Europeans led by the charismatic matador Seve, but no so to many of the games great players such as Norman, Els, Trevino, Miller, Price and Kite.

Rory has tasted the agony and bitterness of Augusta even though he loves the place like no other. It is made for his type of game that has imagination, soft hands and shot making ability second to none. But it also tests the mind, temperament, patience and heart of aspiring young champions.

In 2011 Rory stood on the first hole on Sunday four shots clear looking destined to win. He was young in heart and mind. I remember his caddy JP later describing to me the moment when things started to go wrong.

It was a simple short iron second shot from the middle of the fairway on the first hole. The green is huge which disguises the subtlety of the strategy. The pin is placed on the left middle heavily disguising the subtle but inevitable cliff edge for any ball daring to attack the seemingly defenceless pin. It was so simple just to hit it to the middle of the green but he’s young and on top of his game / fearless and cannot resist at the last moment with youthful abandon turning it back into the pin. It looked perfect….landed soft but as designed, punished the aggression by rolling 40 foot off the green on the left. A five from nowhere and it set the tone for the day. We all remember the 10th hole and what happened afterwards. It’s all part of growing up – the hard way in golf!!!

That was a long time ago and water under the bridge. As Jack Nicklaus learned to do during his illustrious career, he deleted failures and focused only on the wins. He also learned early the necessity of patience and generously passed this wisdom onto a maturing and attentive Rory in recent years. Rory, like Harrington is always trying to improve.

This year Rory has the look of a different person, more at one and at peace with himself. This peace and wisdom like a grasshopper, allows him to relax and ‘let it happen’ which is the ultimate Zen state for an elite athlete. There is nobody to compare with Rory when he’s in full flow: the ease, grace, power, balance and beauty of his execution is matched only by Roger Federer in tennis. When he’s on and in this state of mind, they can all go home – and they know it, even Tiger!

He got hammered in the press in Ireland for not playing the Irish Open this year and for not joining the European Tour. He has always done the right thing for his responsible position in life and that included saving the Irish Open in recent years by having his Foundation host the event. His decision enables him to do what he knows he has to do – win majors and especially the Masters to join the most elite in the Grand Slam Club.

He has matured and he is ready. Jack knows the game better than anyone and he knows Rory will have more than one Green Jacket in his wardrobe by the time he hangs up his sticks. It would be nice if it was this year, but it’s not the end of the world if it isn’t……and that is why I think it will happen next week.

Good luck Rory.