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PostA Tradition Like No Other, or, Wars Are Won by Attrition (David Duggan, USA, 04/14/21 3:23 am)
As WAISers continue to worry about the Spanish Civil War (which played a big part in Ken Burns' recent Hemingway documentary airing on PBS last week), I thought I'd offer some observations about the civil war that played out at Augusta National over the weekend.
Not far from Sherman's path from Atlanta to the sea in 1864 during the real Civil War (speculation abounds as to why he avoided this southern transportation hub), this azalea-festooned course became a bogey-strewn blood bath on its final day. Japan's Hideki Matsuyama led the imperialist forces to a 1-stroke Masters victory over the nationalists in the person of Will Zalatoris. Of the top 11 finishers, six were from former empires (Jon Rahm-Spain and Marc Leishman-Australia: tied for 5th; Justin Rose - Britain: tied for 7th, Corey Connor - Canada: tied for 8th; and Cameron Smith-Australia, tied for 10th). This southern battle of international forces took precedence over the intramural Amazon union fight that played out in neighboring Alabama.
Continuing the military analogy, Matsuyama disproved the hypothesis that the Masters is won on the back nine Sunday. Starting the day with a 4-stroke lead over playing partner Xander Schauffele, and Zalatoris and Rose playing in the two groups ahead, Matsuyama went to 1-up after three holes, after bogeying 1, while Zalatoris birdied 1 and 2. With birdies at 8 and 9, Matsuyama made the turn with his 4-stroke lead intact. With a birdie at 13, he went to 6 clear of the field and when Schauffele tripled the par-3 16th after dumping his drive into the water that runs the entire left side of the green, Hideki only had to play the final two holes in 1-over to claim the green jacket. Zalatoris was in the clubhouse with a -9 card (279) awaiting the call to Butler Cabin should Matsuyama fade.
There's something wrong with a sport that allows you to limp toward a victory. Having parred the 17th, Matsuyama hit a picture-perfect drive on the 18th (Holly), avoiding the pine straw on the right, hitting 132 yards into the upsloped green shielded only by a bunker that covered the left-half, the pin in the familiar lower-left position. Matsuyama dropped his approach into the far-side bunker, blasted out and two-putted for the 1-stroke victory. Though he's been on the PGA tour for 10 years (at 19, he was low-amateur at the 2011 Masters), he still needed a translator when 2020's champion Dustin Johnson put the green jacket on him under the less-than withering barrage of cream-puff Jim Nance's Butler Cabin questioning. Johnson didn't make the cut this year, but unlike Trump, stayed around long enough to do the honors.
Japan, which features triple-decker driving ranges to supplement its 2,500 courses (roughly double the number in Florida with five times the population, both trending toward the super-annuated), may have been dancing in the lockdowned streets, but those pictures didn't make my news feeds after another police-involved shooting in Minnesota. Pundits have been saying that golf-crazy Japan will be energized by the first Asian to win the Masters (I guess they're not counting Indian ex-pat and 2000 winner Vijay Singh from Fiji as an Asian), but regardless, all six inhabited continents are now represented on the plaque of winners at Augusta National (not to mention a few of the adjacent islands like Britain). Curiously, only one of Augusta's 18 tree-inspired holes has an Asiatic name: Chinese Fir, the 440-yard par-4 14th. Maybe they'll rename No. 9, Carolina Cherry, to "Japanese Cherry" in Matsuyama's honor.
"A tradition like no other," is one of CBS' Masters taglines. It should be changed to "wars are won by attrition."
JE comments: David, I'd never question your takes on all things sporting, but doesn't every sport permit limping towards victory? Assuming that you've built enough of a lead early on. Boxing might be an exception. (I remember the image of F1 driver Nigel Mansell pushing his car across the finish line in Dallas, 1984, before fainting from heat exhaustion, although this was only good enough for sixth place.)
A WAISly congrats to Hideki Matsuyama. I don't pay much attention to golf stats, but I'm surprised that he is the first Japanese golfer to win the Masters.
In Sports, Beating the Clock Ain't the Same as Beating Your Opponent
(David Duggan, USA
04/17/21 3:54 AM)
Our editor asked, I assume not facetiously, whether all sports allow the victor to "limp home" to beat an opponent.
Sorry to disabuse him, but if you're running a race, hurdling an obstacle or landing a right cross, limping home doesn't get you the laurel wreath. Medal-play golf (that is when the players play against the scorecard, and not head-to-head, which is the case in match play) may be different, but only because the participants are not on the same playing field at the same time.
Let's look at it this way: before reliable time-keeping, sports didn't have a clock. Baseball, cricket, archery, tennis (and its racquet sports derivatives), track and field, even horse-racing (which gave rise to the stop watch and divisions of a second into fifths) all depended on objective winners and losers. Soccer and rugby matches lasted until nightfall. Bare knuckle brawls lasted until someone didn't get up. The addition of a clock into sports allowed--up to a point--a victor to limp home, but only when he had run up enough points to foreclose the opponent. How many boxers have been ahead on points only to be KO'd in the last round? Ask Jersey Joe Walcott who lost to Rocky Marciano in the 13th (1952), and Michael Moorer who lost his heavyweight crown to a 45-year old George Foreman in the 10th in 1994. And if Tom Brady is taking the snaps almost no lead is safe, as the Atlanta Falcons found out in Super Bowl LI (that's 51 for the Roman-numerically challenged).
Without a clock, limp-homes to victory are virtually impossible. In baseball you still need to get 27 outs against your opponent. The at-bat team can hope your pitchers have burned out and are tossing grapefruit, bunt the ball while your fielders are too tired to run to it, dance around the bases to encourage pick-off plays (and their consequent errors), and run toward home until the third out is recorded before he slides in safe. In tennis you absolutely have to win the last point, and with it the game, the set and the match.
Golf is the outlier. It is one of the few sports that allows a player to post a score and dare others to beat it, while he's in the clubhouse sipping cold ones. As such it eliminates the psych factor, the choke factor and the danger factor if he's playing against an on-the-course opponent (admittedly, unless Spiro Agnew is your opponent, there's little chance of encountering the danger factor, but you get the point). Jack Nicklaus, still the oldest Masters winner (46 in 1986), had to wait nearly an hour until contenders Tom Kite, Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman faded in the stretch.
Hideki Matsuyama bogeyed four of the last seven holes yet still managed to win last Sunday's Masters. He was in the last pairing so he knew what he had to do, and barely did it. Somehow, that's not William Tell splitting the apple off his son's head.
JE comments: I'm convinced, David. What I had in mind is, say, when you have an 8-run advantage in baseball, you're pretty safe going into the 9th inning. Or on the gridiron, a 27-point lead going in to the fourth quarter. In high school sports, it's time to put in the third string.