Sport not only gives us joy and excitement, but also provides a framework around which to structure our years. For the vast majority, The Masters is one of the highlights of the calendar
Dan Walker: Why I Love The Masters
I don’t know about you, but I find sporting events provide a perfect framework to the year. Birthdays and anniversaries keep things ticking over, but there is nothing like a bit of sporting punctuation.
The Six Nations is always an important one at the start of the year. It instantly takes me back to Saturday afternoons and eating wine gums with my dad. I’d get up and watch Trans World Sport, Kabaddi on Channel 4 and then Football Italia with James Richardson.
Then came the slow wander downstairs and a raiding of the fridge, before my dad would dispatch me to the local Spar to stock up on Five Nations (as it was then) provisions. It always feels like a great way to kick-start the year after a normally bleak January. As a slightly odd aside, I feel the need to tell you I went to England v Wales at Twickenham in February and had the greatest hot-dog of my life. Up until that point it had been a ‘mega-dog’ I devoured at Turnberry in Open week in 2009. It cost £6 but it was an absolute belter.
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Many of my memories growing up were pinned to specific sporting events and my basic rule was… if it was on telly, I watched it endlessly, no matter what time of day or night. There is a box in my mum and dad’s attic (which I keep promising to collect) which has every single game from the 1994 World Cup carefully filed on VHS. I think I even have the opening ceremony, where Diana Ross famously missed the entire goal from 12 yards. Each tape is lovingly labelled and even has the names of goal scorers and details on major incidents written on stickers on the outside. My mum tells me there is also a series of Bergerac in the box, but I have erased that from my memory – must have been one of my sisters.
There are many reasons to love The Masters, but I do think part of the magic is down to where it falls in the golfing calendar. It feels like the start of spring and the beginning of something magnificent. In September last year, I launched a little challenge called #OperationScratch. I spent the winter dedicating time to working on my golf to see if I could be playing off ‘zip’ – as my mildly annoying American friend calls it – by the time I was watching five-year-olds in white boiler suits rolling in putts in the largely pointless Par 3 Contest before one of the best days of the year… round one of The Masters.
This is the hardest I have ever worked on my golf at any stage in my life. I’ve watched hours of Brad Faxon and Dr. Bob Rotella talking about putting, spent days studying slow-motion swings of tall professional golfers (I am 6ft 6in) and been to see former pro Ben Mason at the iGolf studio in Sheffield every week.
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Mr Mason has made a big difference and, from time to time under his tutelage, (whisper it quietly) I actually feel in control of the golf ball. The fact he can also hit a flop shot with a 3-iron is mightily impressive. I haven’t played anywhere near enough golf to get the handicap officially down below 4.2, so I’ve had to slightly extend the initial dateline of #OperationScratch from ‘before The Masters’ to ‘at some point during 2018’. I’ll keep you posted.
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I really hope we are heading to Augusta with Tiger in the field. I’m sure you – like the rest of the golfing world – studied those videos of his swing from the end of last year where he declared he was ‘making progress’. It was great to see Woods make it through four rounds at Torrey Pines ‘pain free’ earlier in the season, and there were certainly signs that the touch is still there.
There were a few signature club twirls, but not many with the big stick – Woods only hit nine fairways in his final three rounds. Those numbers will need to improve if he has any chance of taking on golf’s latest generation of big hitters. In his defence, Torrey Pines is a lot tighter than many, the wind was up, he had his back fused last year and some of his scrambling was of ‘Luke Donald at World No.1’ proportions.
If we do see Woods continue to improve then we may well see the return of the ‘Tiger eye roll’. There was a time when no golfer on the planet, even if he’d just shot a 58, could hold a press conference without being asked about the biggest name in the game. Things are undoubtedly a little different now. He is not the force he once was, but he’s still a huge draw. A fully-fit and firing Woods is good for the game and everyone who plays it.
Dan Walker's column was originally printed in the April issue of Golf Monthly
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