March 26, 2009

What do you call a black guy flying an airplane?

A pilot, you racist.

Jokes aside, spring has sprung. Can you hear the music?

For me, there's warmth and sustenance in the manna from Bobby Jones's little toonamint which starts in less than two weeks. Golf's big boys will kiss the King's ring in Orlando, swing through Houston, and re-assemble at the Cathedral of Golf that is Augusta National.

Way before I became a curmudgeonly ex-lawyer and cyber-entrepreneur, there was, and there remains, an epic quality to the Masters which I will admit holds me spellbound, if not because of the ethereal atmosphere created by their meticulous greenskeeping, then only for the theater of human folly which is golf, placed on emerald pedestals amid the looming yellow pines, bright azaleas, and wound around the depths of Rae's Creek.

The Masters mythology lives in the same realms as the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby, Daytona, Indy, and, okay, sometimes the Stanley Cup.

In spite of the degrees of separation experienced in daily drudgery, what passes as a banal earthly existence becomes the stuff of legend when we gather for these cultural festivals, when simple human will expels the fickle formulations of spreadsheets and peurile aspirations of foolish discretion. There is a shared ethos in sport that gives substance in its immediacy. Reality TV also gives spectacle, but is empty of character. It is perverse where sportsmanship is noble.

Fans who consider themselves to be "purists" may now be only remnants of those who have loved sports. The couch-riding, nacho-slurping, beer guzzler shatters the myth in the same way fat Roman child molesters cheered for their favorite gladiator in the Colisseum. That is one of the realities, as are the obsene piles of money changing hands as fans wager predictions among the winners and losers.

All the more reason, I think, the Masters is a special event. Its values and venue serve to give to golfers and fans alike, but especially to golfers who cherish the game, a chance to portray to the world, a higher ideal. At this level, golf is not merely token fancy. At Augusta, you are a "Patron", sharing in the competition in a process taking you beyond mere spectator. For golfers, the Masters allows us to partake of the experience whereby we look into ourselves.

Epic sporting events mark time, so that you can know what you were doing, where you were, at a given point during your life. Humans have always sought these archetypal reference points, and the individual dramas played out provide the particular shared experiences for us not only to enjoy, but to draw upon, for whatever we need that is good; whatever we need that endures; whatever we need that triumphs; whatever we need, whatever that may be.

Whether the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, we golfers share unlike any other sport, a knowledge of our impermanence and the frailty of human endeavor. Yet, we gather again, to show the world there is another world of better things.

The event is not without taint. As a 500-plus year old game, golf has had a beleaguered history fueled by social contingencies, sometimes castigated and sometimes praised by agents of social change. But a real golfer will tell you there are few greater joys than the freedom of spirit found in our game.

Ultimately, though, pro golf is a game of Sorrows. Like every shot in life that we have ever taken, our old selves are dead and gone. You will never play a round of golf as the same golfer you were. The Masters makes an exta effort to pay homage to the amateur golfer, who has nothing to gain from shooting 65 on Sunday. The touching scene of Ben Crenshaw's 1995 victory serves as my own "Masters moment" because the price of victory was death. Transcending sports, the Masters serves as an "F--- You" to the slimy, ugly, and vulgar things in life.

I'll see you on the back nine Sunday.
© 2009 Roy Barin Santonil

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LCDR Rosendo T. "Ross" Santonil, USN (1931- 2011)

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