Coming to write this I was a little shocked to realise that we’ve not written about golf directly yet here at DeadBall. Shocking because it sorta feels like the biggest sport in the world when you’re watching it, and also the most democratic. How else could you explain the three Jesse Ryders going at it down the stretch for the Masters this morning?
Angel Cabrera, Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry average 41 years of age and 104 kilos. Take professional golf away from them and they’re just a trio of bypasses waiting to happen. But this morning they combined for a finish to a major sporting event as good as any we’ll see this year, and for all the sheer exhileration of Tiger storming home to win a Masters, there’s something heartwarming about watching three regular-looking guys trying to keep it together with the weight of the world on their shoulders.
I think maybe the funnest part of the championship was everything from the 17th hole on, when it seemed like all three were doing everything in their power to lose the green jacket (jncidentally, is that the weirdest prize in pro sports? a jacket you couldn’t possibly wear anywhere apart from the golf course where you won it? I want a replica real bad). As soon as Perry realised he had a two-shot buffer, it’s like Cabrera and Campbell gave up, while Perry himself just went to pieces in the most heartrending fashion. It was only when they got within 20 metres or so of the hole and realised that the thing was on the table for all three that they played some shots of quality. And the first playoff hole was even crazier.
After Campbell had driven a fairly standard line along the Georgia pines of the 18th, Cabrera went batshit and dumped the ball in the trees, and Perry drifted left the way he’d tended to ever since that incredible 8-iron on the 16th. Cabrera’s tournament looked over by that point, so he thought, ‘fuck it, I’ll have a crack’ and smashed it straight into the timber ahead of him, I guess hoping that by some miracle it would pass through unscathed.
He got his miracle though, because the ricochet dropped him squarely centre of the fairway, with 160-odd yards to the pin. By all rights and logic the ball should have been somewhere in the public gallery of the 10th, but he got lucky, hit a superb iron shot, and suddenly the pressure was on Perry and Campbell, who had turned in very ordinary second shots to be faced with tricky chips to save par.
Perry nailed his, with a stroke that suggested he’d regathered his nerve and wanted the championship the hardest (at 48 he would’ve been the oldest Masters champ by some margin; and he has playoff history, taking three years by his own admission to get over his loss to Mark Brooks in the ’96 PGA), while Campbell left himself a fairly perfunctory putt to save par and send the trio to a second extra hole.
It wasn’t to be. With his very white trash looking bottle-blonde wife looking on he lipped out, while Cabrera nailed his and he and Perry headed to the 11th, where Perry cemented his meltdown with another pair of chokesome shots to hand the Masters to Cabrera.
It was high drama, more because of the incompetence of those involved than any sublime golf. I think that’s one of the many things that make the final holes of any major, but especially the Masters so compelling – that it puts regular looking and thinking dudes (golfers, especially golfers of their generation, don’t grow up knowing they’re superstars) in the most scrutinised and high pressure situation, and forces them to act deliberately.
This stage of a game of cricket or rugby or F1 or tennis, you’re responding 99% on instinct, oblivious to your surroundings and just hanging on. With golf there’s so much time and space and quiet that the athletes (I use that term euphemistically) are acutely aware that history will judge them and their career based on the next few swings. For most guys, they only get one or two shots at something this big, this life-changing, and the thoughts weigh heavy on them.
In the end it was just solid par golf that won the Masters for Angel Cabrera. But he played it under the most insane heat, and no one else alongside could match him.