Why is it ridiculous to predict who will win a golf tournament?
The answer: Who can know how anyone will perform, especially the player himself.
The 2021 Masters is history, and it was wonderful to see it played in Augusta in April with all the sights and sounds which have made it unique and special.
The new Masters Champion
I know you hear it all the time, but the words “a tradition unlike any other” can’t be overused.
It’s a fact.
Here’s another fact. Defending champ Dustin Johnson, and Rory McIlroy, did not make the cut.
Slugger Bryson DeChambeau tied for 46th at +5 struggled throughout, and Justin Thomas at even par for the championship was never a serious contender.
The much anticipated back-nine excitement on the final day never materialized, except for a moment of drama at the 15th and 16th holes.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, who led by four strokes entering the final round and had stretched it to six at one point. Early in the round there was trouble, but it dissipated in a hurry. Matsuyaka bogeyed the first hole while a rookie who proved to be the most compelling American had two birdies to cut Matsuyaka’s lead to one stroke.
More on the youngster later.
So, here was this 29-year old Japanese pro, who everyone who watches golf had heard about, as he finished in the top ten in every major, including a tie for 2d at the 2017 U.S. Open, but never a champion in any of them.
Until the 2021 Masters.
The way he played that final round earned him one of many descriptions. Robot, machine, ultra-steady.
Other than an occasional smile in talking with his caddy, Shota Hayafuji, no expressions or reactions to any shot he made.
Hideki Matsuyama was sailing along, his appointment to be awarded the green jacket a matter of time.
Suddenly, on the par 5 15th, he smashed his second shot over the green and into the water. He made bogey there, while Xander Schauffele, playing with Matsuyama birdied. The lead was now two. It wasn’t over.
But Scauffele hit an 8-iron into the water on the par 3, 16th, struggled to triple bogey, and as quickly as he was back in it, he was out of it.
Matsuyama bogeyed three of the last four holes but held on. All of the others chasing the leader, including Jordan Spieth, failed to sink birdie putts to make it interesting, and the Masters was history.
There’s an American story, and a global story.
A U.S. star may have been born with the showing of 24-year old Will Zalatoris.
Playing in only his third major championship, Zalatoris seemed totally unfazed by the magnitude and pressure of the Masters as the Wake Forest grad, finished second to Matsuyama by one stroke.
He was truly an unknown to most observers, but not to the fellow-players who have seen him rise from his junior days.
He shot a 2-under-par 70 in the final round with only a brief stumble around Amen Corner when he three-putted three out of four holes.
If anyone showed less visible emotion than the man who is now wearing the green jacket it was Will Zalatoris who will be heard from going forward.
However, in the final analysis, the global effects of Hideki Matsuyama’s triumph made the most significant impact.
He is the first male Japanese golfer to win the Masters, and established himself as one of the leading greats in that nation’s sports history.
What better person to light the torch when the summer Olympics begin in Tokyo later in the year.
Can you imagine the pride of the Japanese people when they watched and listened to Matsuyaka’s victory in the early morning hours.
Several of the announcer’s calls on the Japanese broadcast were replayed on American television, including the shot that skidded sharply into the water on 15.
Driving range in Japan
Golf in Japan reaches obsessive highs, with huge, stadium-like driving ranges that are filled well into the night.
There are many golf courses with lights for night play, and tee times are often made months in advance.
Tokyo golf at night.
Golf in Japan is a walking sport. Carts, which Americans are most familiar with, have been virtually non-existent.
Things may be easing a bit with the demand so great, now even greater with Matsuyaka’s Masters win.
Georgia was the sporting capital of the week.
But it was also the subject of a bad decision, in my view.
I’m talking of the ruling by Major League Baseball to move the annual All-Star Game out of Atlanta because of their disagreement with Georgia’s controversial new voting law.
It matters not what side of the fence you are on, sports has to stand alone, and not be guided by views, political or otherwise.
There is no question, that when sports are blended in with outside factors, it affects that sport in a negative fashion.
Sports are an escape. Like musical concerts, Broadway shows, comedy performances etc., sports are a departure from the daily problems of the nation and the world. Historically, sports has brought people together.
This is not a Pollyanna opinion.
Examine why you love sports. It takes you away.
There is more.
How many workers, who were counting on the All-Star Game for their livelihood, will now be robbed of several days that were significant to their financial world?
Think of it, not only those working in the stadium, but store-owners, limo and car service drivers, restaurant workers, hotel employees, and others.
Now the game will be held in Denver. Check out the voting laws there.
I believe MLB used a knee-jerk reaction to the pressures of those against the Georgia law, and may come to regret it.
This has nothing to do with my personal opinions on the issue.
This has everything to do with keeping the world of sports apart from outside issues.
It has to do with entertainment, escape, and enjoyment.
We need that more than ever.