There was a spell when it was boring, wasn’t there.
There was a spell where as fans, it bordered on disappointment.
Where the anticipation of Masters Sunday, burning in the background of any early-day activities, (and perhaps still unknowingly fuelled by the astonishment of 2019) hit the rain-sodden course of Saturday afternoon and fizzled out.
To be clear, it wasn’t through not wanting Hideki to win. His talent had been painfully deserving for too long, which, combined with the ever-more-visible burden of Japanese expectation and an overnight lead, made not rooting for him impossible. It also wasn’t through being starved of drama for 75% of the tournament. It was a brilliant Masters, with four days (and preceding weeks and months) of compelling story arcs, driving narratives that we somehow simultaneously predict and never see coming. (Sorry Ben Coley).
But for a while, it seemed as though the story arcs had all ended too early. Those first 15 minutes perhaps gave us false hope; where understanding how quickly a four shot lead can evaporate still didn’t prepare us, or Hideki, for how quickly it almost did. We were spoilt, and we wanted to be rewarded for being golf fans; understanding the dramatics of a sport that other sports fans don’t necessarily comprehend. Understanding that golf doesn’t let anyone other than peak Tiger feel as though they have accomplished it. Understanding that seemingly flawless golfers can be punched in the stomach by the sin of being human.
We wanted Hideki to win, but we wanted him to have to birdie the last to do it.
But the players who charged early eventually faltered, and the players who faltered early charged too late. Spieth’s despondent commentary talked us out of falling for his flashes of promise, and Zalatoris’ brilliance came unstuck by a putter that had an almost-surmountable amount of fragility in it. Hideki was just too solid, and too far away from his challengers, to come unstuck. And so the final round drama we set ourselves up for, with our evening coffees and Masters’ mugs and green t-shirts, turned into an inevitably tinged with deflation.
If you stayed, it happened.
As Matsuyama’s 4 iron refused to climb, finding the water on 15 (making a 6 that most amateurs could have turned into an inescapable nightmare), and Xander’s bunker shot grazed the hole for a three, it was alive. We were rewarded As they like to say, we had a golf tournament.
But the text from my sister came barely 60 seconds later:
For what it’s worth, there’s something about Xander I really like. His explanation of that shot on 16 held everything I’m trying to say in this blog. There are a million reasons someone in the final group on a Sunday at a major, who has made four back-nine birdies in a row, could seemingly inexplicably throw away his chance just as soon as it has arrived. But the simplicity of why holds so much of golf’s complexity. Having sought out advice from those with more experience, the ultimate wisdom had been to trust the wind you feel in the moment on 16. And as he said, they just got it wrong.
Therein lies the reason why we all keep watching. Every decision, in hindsight, can display golf’s intricacies. Did Hideki’s decision to go for it on 15 show that he was, despite all the previous evidence, caught up in the moment? That his desire to win overtook his strategic sense? If he’d hit the towering iron shot onto the middle of the green that we all expected him too, we never would have questioned it. Did Xander overthink the wind on 16 because he was trying too hard to hit the perfect shot; believing that’s what he needed? Would he have remembered that piece of advice if it had been on Saturday, or would he have just trusted the wind he’d been playing all day?
Every major championship, every round of golf, every shot – inherent in all is something you can question. Trying to do so would paralyse even the greatest mind, or skillset. But trying not to do so can be destructive too. That’s surely why we keep watching, or back Rory when he’s in his worst form, or come leave the course after shooting 85 with a tiny fragment of optimism – we never know which way it will swing.
The turmoil between the brain and the ability always shows itself somehow, even in the most seemingly unflappable of players. Watching Matsuyama walk from the 18th green to scoring, flanked by people cheering and trying to bump his fist, followed by beautifully silent camerawork, said more than I could ever try to. Each step conveyed more emotion, each glance more relief; more happiness; more overwhelming pride. If you stayed for that bit… it was worth every second.