How the 2017 Masters was a coming of age for both Sergio and meApril 11, 2017
From tears and tantrums to late night feeds with Butch Harmon, Mark Townsend explains how he got his dignity back in Masters week
I have a chequered history of watching the Masters.
For my first 20 years, I had enough friends who were limited and happy enough to spend their Friday and Saturday nights in front of the golf, and Sundays were always spent with the old man.
When we did venture out in the days of teenage parties, weak lager and the prospect of not talking to any girls, the same quartet of morons would always congregate in front of a TV and blow any chance of future happiness with the girls from the local high school.
At some point in the 90s, I had a girlfriend and we holidayed together for a week in Gran Canaria, which was misjudged on every level, and exacerbated by the fact that it clashed with the 1994 Masters. With no internet, no mobiles, no TV coverage and just the opportunity to read the Daily Express a day in arrears this was about as far removed from Augusta as I have ever been.
By the Saturday night, with the sounds of Maspalomas’s disappointing nightlife in the background, I resorted to calling home – reversing the charges, obviously – to find out what I was missing. Olazabal one off the lead?! What on earth was I thinking of coming here…
For the past 13 years I have been in a relationship, the last six of which have been in the form of blissful married life.
Right from the get-go, Masters week has been a shambles.
One idyllic bank holiday trip to the Lakes was spent walking a mile apart after missing the last boat back to the car park. It was only 6pm but I had agreed to leaving the house that morning solely on the basis that we would be back in front of Hazel and Ken by seven at the very latest. As things stood we wouldn’t be back until quarter past.
What’s your problem? All people talk about is the back nine on Sunday, what could you have possibly missed?
Part of me was thrilled by the fact that some Masters knowledge had penetrated her mind, the other part of me was quickly fuming when Iain Carter informed me that Phil Mickelson (six birdies – SIX! – when does that ever happen?!) and Tiger Woods were putting on the best front-nine masterclass the patrons had ever seen.
A good friend of mine was so devastated that the 1993 Grand National was declared void after a false start that he invented an argument with his girlfriend with the sole purpose that it gave him an excuse to let it out and start crying.
That day in the Lakes I simply cut straight to the chase and had myself a little weep while driving home.
I’m happy to admit that I’m fairly unbalanced when it comes to watching golf. It’s nothing to do with the job, though that does provide a handy shield for fielding awkward questions. It’s more of an all-or-nothing mentality.
I pride myself that I might have missed half a dozen shots from Augusta in the past 37 years, which is a strange boast to have and I squirm openly about my failings as a human being when a major or Ryder Cup is happening.
With the Masters it’s even harder to try to act normally.
You have spent eight months twiddling your thumbs and then there’s a Par 3 contest to take in on the Wednesday. Throw in a Masters Breakfast to try to shoehorn into your everyday routine and it doesn’t leave much time for anything else.
But things are different now on the home front. There are three small people who are barely able to speak, let alone list the names of Augusta’s holes and various bridges.
At the start of the week, my wife raised a concern that was fairly damning given that I am 46 years old.
You’re going to go all weird from Thursday onwards, aren’t you?
I didn’t dignify the absurd question with a response and just assumed it was rhetorical.
Helping me in my bid to appear like a changed man, the Masters is the most perfectly timed tournament in terms of its coverage.
The Open is a four-day write-off and best spent at the championship, the US Open is probably best limiting yourself to blanket coverage only over the weekend and the PGA will generally require a yearly explanation of its standing in the game.
But Augusta makes it so much easier to be across all the output. While the whole world is dumbfounded, year after year, that the club only allow so many – or few – hours of coverage, this is perfect for someone as unstable as me.
In years gone by I would be well in position by the time the credits roll, food consumed, snacks lined up and would be more than happy to drink in all of the Sky team’s thoughts on how to tackle the 15th.
Nowadays I am happy to miss the first 40 minutes of coverage – I know that Butch Harmon thinks Rickie Fowler will win – I can slam the Sky Plus accelerator down to x6. When the adverts come on I sometimes ramp it up to x30 before losing confidence and slipping it back a notch.
It takes everything I have to co-ordinate my children’s bedtime, eat something and talk normally but I do it. I don’t have enough faith in myself to keep my phone – and leaderboard – on me and it’s almost liberating not to stare blankly at a list of names and numbers every two minutes.
In years gone by I have felt the need to pause the action to allow someone to speak to me. This year I was all ears.
The naysayers will point to the fact that I watched 98 pe rcent of the action on my own – but baby steps and all that. The other two per cent was spent with a six-month-old whose late feed coincided perfectly with the leaders just coming through Amen Corner.
The 2017 Masters will be recorded in the history books as the one where Sergio Garcia finally broke his major duck. But to me it will always be the year I got my dignity back.