Here's my new idea for a Masters highlight tape. You get the winner and a few other players together, and you have them sit next to Bill Macatee in the Butler Cabin. Then you have them describe, without the aid of pictures, the great and not-so-great shots they hit during the tournament. Just imagine—60 minutes of replay-free entertainment.
I got the idea—well, stole it actually—during Thursday's first round of the Masters. Six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus had just shot 67, enlivened by an eagle on the practically unassailable par-4 5th hole. So Macatee leaned toward Nicklaus and said, "Tell us about your eagle at 5."
And Nicklaus did.
Now some folks will protest that my idea already has a name: radio. But this wasn't radio. I could see that Nicklaus was wearing a cerulean blue sweater. I could see that Macatee's tie was a centimeter or so off-center. And I could see some chairs, a mantlepiece, a few bricks of a fireplace and some plants and flowers on the hearth behind them. The only thing I couldn't see was Nicklaus holing out with a five-iron from the 5th fairway. The closest I got to a replay was Saturday, when Nicklaus explained how he had eagled the hole a second time (above).
Even more than sarcasm, I like paradox. Nicklaus's unrecorded deuces on the 5th hole were historic—the first time a player had eagled the same par-4 in one Masters. His unprecedented feat also reopened the question of why Augusta National Golf Club stubbornly refuses to let CBS provide live television coverage of the front nine. Masters chairman Jack Stephens was asked to explain this on Wednesday, and he said the matter was under "constant review." He then murmured something about "maintaining quality." The paradox is that the Masters—the tournament that introduced spectator scoreboards on every hole and a dozen other innovations designed to enhance the experience for tournament watchers—would consider the near-total TV blackout of the front nine a quality enhancement. Imagine a Super Bowl telecast that started with the third quarter, or a baseball game that.... O.K., it's hard enough just to imagine a baseball game.
The only thing I like better than paradox is mystery. Stephens told The New York Times last week that he wasn't going to let anybody plow up the front nine of his course to bury television cables. The fact is, Augusta's front nine was wired for television 15 years ago when CBS put in the permanent cabling for the back nine. When asked for clarification on Thursday, one of the green jackets on the club's television committee turned pale and stammered that he would have to phone the tournament director, Walton (Buzzy) Johnson, for instructions. The tournament director then said that any questions should be submitted in writing, with answers to come, if at all, in a day or two.
Too slow. Inquiring minds want to know: Is something other than cables buried on the front nine? Is the 5th hole covered with unsightly dandelions and poa annua? Does player profanity on the unputtable 6th green make the front side unfit for a general audience? Or is it simply a matter of control—Augusta National withholding half its glory to remind us that any television coverage is provided at the club's sole discretion.
Certainly CBS is no obstacle. Frank Chirkinian, who has produced the Masters for 37 years, said last week, "If they decide next year to do 18 holes live, we're willing and ready to go." But in the meantime we're subjected to sad deprivations like last Thursday's, in which Nicklaus's moment of drama was reduced to Q and A, his shot preserved not even by one of the portable cameras that intermittently roam the front nine.
Ken Venturi may have had it right years ago when he said, "The Masters doesn't really start until the last nine holes on Sunday." But if I could catch Stephens's ear, I would whisper the following heresy:
The Masters actually starts on the 1st hole on Thursday.