Columnist: The Masters — Different people, different times

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 9, 2016

Loran Smith

Syndicated columnist

AUGUSTA — The names of the contestants on the PGA Tour change like the weather in Scotland. You have to strain to connect a name with a face unless you follow the tour in some official capacity.

They become millionaires before they become household names. They no longer have sponsors. They never heard of Monday qualifying. They are doing commercials by the time they earn their tour card. They follow the sun, not by car as Ben, Byron and Sam did, but by sleek jet airliners. Nobody shares a room. Everybody has a courtesy car.

The PGA tour today is the good life, the easy life, but winning championships — especially the majors — remains, for most, as daunting as ever. The Speiths, the McIlroys and the Bubba Watsons are exceptions as you visually peruse the pairings in the 2016 Masters. There are names like Grillo, Koepaka, Streb, Streelman, Piercy and Na hoping to move into the winner’s circle at a major venue.

They come from unknown towns across America, the Transvaal, the Outback, the frozen tundra of Scandinavia and the pagoda’s of the Orient. Golf organizations across the world are trying to grow the game and also to introduce it to the have-nots. Golf has never had a greater international flavor.

The Masters, for example, has staff that work full time in coordinating television rights around the world. If Lesotho, the landlocked country of 11,718 square miles in South Africa is interested, it can gain the rights to televising the Masters.

Television projects the Masters image to the four corners of the earth. Even Billy Payne, the chairman, following a trip to the Orient, was overwhelmed when he learned how widely known the Masters logo is across the world.

“It’s amazing,” he remarked.

As long ago as the ’60s, Mark McCormack of International Management Group maintained that winning the Masters was worth a million dollars and probably was for his best known client, Arnold Palmer. It was a matter of making a dollar stretch into 10, 20, 50 or more.

Wonder what the value of a second Green Jacket would do for Jordan Spieth, the gifted Texan, who not only is gaining the Midas touch in business, but the competitive touch around and on the greens that translates into lots of cash. If he becomes entrenched as golf’s superstar, who would complain?

Spieth has the shot making ability of Texans who came before him — Hogan, Nelson and Trevino — a telling short game and the manners and humility of the founder of the tournament, Bobby Jones.

He is a throwback to the prime of Arnold Palmer, who seemed to always have time for everybody. Arnold signed more autographs, shook more hands and scrambled for more pars than golfer who ever played the game.

The Augusta National prohibits the signing of autographs today — for good reason — and Spieth has less reason to scramble — his game is just too good. His play and his personality resonate with the galleries, making him a popular player in the Palmer tradition. Even though his game is not as overpowering as that of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, Spieth has a remarkable consistency which should continue to usher him into the winner’s circle often.

As the weekend plays out, those who have spent time at Augusta over the years happily take note that change has come to Augusta but not the golf course. A hole may be tweaked from year to year and lengthened a bit, but the Augusta National remains an enduring layout of unrivaled beauty and sensitive appeal.

It is refreshing to note that controversy seems to have faded away — at least for the most part. Membership now includes minorities.

With invitations extended to Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, that ended the issue with regard to women members. There seems to be nothing for anybody to complain about.

Certainly not the food where you can still buy a pimento cheese sandwich for a buck-fifty.

They are different, but it is their time.

Loran Smith is an athletic administrator at the University of Georgia.