Playing for History
Shortly before 6 o'clock on a sun-splashed April Sunday in Georgia, David Duval walked across the narrow stone bridge named in honor of Gene Sarazen that leads to the 15th green at the Augusta National Golf Club. Everywhere Duval looked, he saw people. Augusta's 15th is one of golf's great theaters. There is water in front of the narrow green and behind it too. Huge loblolly pine trees, one of Augusta's signatures, line the right side of the hole, and there is a grandstand to the left of the green between the putting surface and the 16th tee. When the players cross the Sarazen Bridge, they are only a few feet from the grandstand, walking in the afternoon shadow that it casts. Each player receives a resounding ovation as he passes, the shouts and cheers growing a little louder as the day wears on.
Duval's golf ball was sitting on the front of the green, about 18 feet from the flagstick. He had hit his second shot there, an almost perfect three-iron, and now he would have a putt for an eagle three. His playing partner, Jim Furyk, had hit his second shot over the green into the water, and he walked briskly ahead of Duval to see what he had to deal with in order to try and save par.
Just as Duval crossed from the stone bridge back onto green grass, he heard a murmur come from the stands and instinctively looked up at the scoreboard that sits to the right of the green. The name at the top of the board was Fred Couples, because he had been the leader at the end of the third round. Through twelve holes, Couples had been eight under par for the tournament, the same number Duval had reached when he had birdied the par-five 13th hole a few minutes earlier. Being tied for the lead on Sunday at the Masters is no small thing, but Duval had stayed very calm after pulling even with Couples. After all, Couples still had both of Augusta's back-nine par-fives - 13 and 15 - left to play, and, since both are easily reachable in two, Duval figured Couples still had the advantage.
But now, reacting to the crowd's murmur, Duval glanced up at the board and saw what everyone else had just seen. Next to Couples's name in the slot for the 13th hole, the scorekeeper had slid a large red numeral 6. Duval stared at it for a moment because he wasn't quite sure if it meant what he thought it meant. Maybe, he thought, they'll realize it's a mistake in another second and take it down. But no one was making any such move. Somehow, Couples had made a double-bogey seven at the 13th hole, meaning he had dropped from eight under for the tournament to six under.
Duval wears wraparound sunglasses on the golf course to protect his contact lenses from wind and dust. But the dark glasses do more than that. They allow Duval an extra measure of privacy from prying eyes and cameras. Now, those eyes and cameras could not see how wide his eyes had gotten. He took a deep breath and leaned on his putter, trying to look as casual as possible. But his heart was pounding so hard he was certain everyone around the green could hear it thumping. He was leading the Masters by two shots and staring at a very makable eagle putt. For one brief moment, Duval allowed the kind of thought he tries to avoid at all costs to infect his brain. If I make this putt, I'm going to win the Masters, he thought.
Furyk had played his fourth shot onto the green. It was Duval's turn to putt.
One of the most popular and pointless mind games that golfers like to play is called It's Just Another Tournament. They play this game four times a year at the four events that clearly are not just another tournament: the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA. Every golfer knows that if he wants a legacy that goes beyond having made a good living, he must win one of the game's four majors.
© 1999 by John Feinstein
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