Scott Parel is a throwback to the early charm of the senior circuit, when guys who had spent a career in golf’s obscure precincts – a Dana Quigley, a Mark Johnson – could author improbable Cinderella stories amid the seasoned winners collecting their reliable annuities.
That contrast in accomplishments will again be apparent this week when the PGA Tour Champions wraps its season with the Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Phoenix Country Club. Parel goes to Arizona second in the season-long standings, trailing only a man with more than 100 professional wins and north of $40 million in career earnings.
Bernhard Langer’s two biggest victories came at Augusta National. Parel lives a couple of miles from the famed club, but his one-way road in professional golf ran out of town.
There are a few elements essential to the character of a major championship.
It starts with the field. If the world’s best consider it optional, it’s not a major. Injuries or indictments are the only acceptable excuses for a player’s absence.
A weepy Jim Nantz retrospective helps too. Granted, his tendency to wring tears from even the most banal Tour stop has cheapened the currency, but viewers must be persuaded that they’re catching glimpses of a significant tournament between the commercials and fluffing of CEOs.
But nothing contributes more to the sense of a major than the golf course. The venue was a vital character in the plots of 2018’s majors. Augusta National, Shinnecock Hills and Carnoustie were not incidental to the action.
Which may explain why – so far, at least – this major feels decidedly minor.
The debate over unruly crowd behavior at golf tournaments is – much like those troublesome fans – growing louder, increasingly fractious and more persistent. A welcome respite looms at golf’s marquee event.
You probably won’t hear much chatter on that subject during the Masters, chiefly because you won’t hear much of the hecklers either. Enforcing rules that seem outdated is a tradition unlike any other at Augusta National, but one tradition warrants celebrating: A patron who bellows abuse or inanities at a player quickly will feel security on his collar (it’s always a “him”) and swiftly be shown to the street.
You won’t hear Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley asking for patience or acceptance of the lobotomized louts, or requesting that players simply deal with the disruption. Spectators pay to watch the show, not to be part of it. The Masters Committee understands that.
Two things tend to blight sporting careers with a bleak predictability: unforeseen injury and untethered expectations. The psychological toxicity often comes not from the aspirations of the athlete – since those can be managed or adjusted – but from the expectations he cannot control: those of others, the insistent chorus that chirps today about his tremendous potential and tomorrow about his dismal underachieving.
That chorus must now be as familiar a feature of spring as the first birdsong for Rory McIlroy.
Just above the doorway through which players walk onto center court at Wimbledon is etched a line from Rudyard Kipling’s celebrated poem If: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two imposters just the same.”
Sergio Garcia could make a case for having that same inscription carved into the Sarazen Bridge at Augusta National. Gene’s bridge crosses the pond fronting the 15th green, a journey Garcia himself memorably failed to make with five balls during the opening round of the Masters. He signed for a 13 on the par-5 and shot 81. A second-round 78 gave him the worst-ever two-day total by a defending champion. Only two amateur rookies fared worse.
There are a handful of constant themes in the Masters script produced every year on the movie set that is Augusta National Golf Club. Drama, of course. Often some tragedy. Scenes of euphoric joy, moments of quiet despair. The occasional old love affair rekindled. A healthy dose of sentimentality. Heroes are abundant, villains invisible.
Heartbreak at the Masters is like a doomed first love affair, the one whose ache never quite dulls. Sure, players can go on to find love in other places — the Opens, a PGA Championship — but the pain of a loss at Augusta National doesn’t ever fully disappear.
Some of that is owed to familiarity. As the Open returns to Carnoustie this summer, Jean Van De Velde will field a flurry of calls to autopsy his 1999 collapse. But at least the Frenchman only has to relive his fiasco every decade or so when the rota returns to the scene of le horreur.
Fail at Augusta National and the ghosts will start whispering every year on the drive down Magnolia Lane.