Dick Harmon: Plenty of stories surrounding this year's Masters

Published: Monday, April 2 2012 7:14 p.m. MDT

Tiger Woods, right, putts on the 18th green during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament Monday, April 2, 2012, in Augusta, Ga. Left is Mark O'Meara.

Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

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The Masters.

This week ranks among my most favorite of the year because the best golfers in the world will gather in Augusta and artistically wind their way through the game's Garden of Eden.

This Masters is filled with drama. Tiger Woods is back to winning. A mature Rory McIlroy is finding his groove, and you know Phil Mickelson will be lurking.

Hank Haney's book, "The Big Miss," an account of his teaching time with Woods, is due out this week, and it has an edge to it with accounts of Tiger's infatuation with becoming a Navy SEAL and thoughts about his relationship with his ex-wife, Elin Nordegren.

This week drips with story lines, and headlines hang in every corner of each round.

The Masters is more than a world event. It is a tournament that can define a person, win or lose, with or without a green jacket come Sunday.

Golf Digest's April issue has a tremendous spread on the tournament and contacted many of the game's storied names about their impressions of Augusta National. The story, written by veteran writer Guy Yocom, caught my eye because it included vignettes from three of Utah's most beloved professional golfers: Billy Casper, Jay Don Blake and Mike Reid.

Casper lives in Springville but spends six weeks each spring in San Diego helping with his charity golf tournament for his Billy's Kids foundation. Reid has lived in Orem most of his professional life but moved to Maryland to be near and help a daughter. Jay Don Blake has lived all his life in St. George.

Blake tells the story of how he'd tried for four years to get a date with Marci, the daughter of a friend who lived in Las Vegas. He tried everything he could but he always got the polite turndown. She had little knowledge of or desire to be involved in golf. That Jay Don was a professional golfer didn't move her needle.

One day in 1993, Blake decided to ask Marci to go on a date to the Masters. Marci asked what the Masters was. "It's sort of the Kentucky Derby of golf," he answered. It worked. She agreed.

"We had a great week. We hit all the hot spots — Hooters for dinner and Krispy Kreme in the mornings. I made the cut in the tournament and the whole experience kind of blew her away," Blake told the magazine. The next week, Blake headed out to Hilton Head for another tournament and Marci cried because she didn't want to go back to Las Vegas alone. They eventually got married. I saw them at the Mongolian BBQ in St. George last month. He was right, she is a great catch; he did make the cut.

You might remember the year Mike Reid almost won the Masters back in 1989. He'd gone through a career of missing cuts in Augusta and told Golf Digest he'd begun to think the course was too long, the greens too fast and it wasn't a place for him.

Then the night before the tournament, Reid saw an ESPN interview with golf writer Jaime Diaz who said players come to the Masters thinking they have to hit the ball 300 yards, curve the ball right and left and putt like the hole was a bucket — and that is not true.

That hit Reid just the right way. It inspired him. That night he got out his putter and practiced on a linoleum floor in the kitchen of a house he was staying in. "Every night I'd put down some coins and putt to them. I told myself that no matter how fast the greens at Augusta National were, there was no way they were faster than that kitchen floor."

On the final day of the tournament in 1989, Reid led the Masters with five holes to play. That memory has never left him.

In a book just released this spring, "The Big Three and Me," co-written by our own Deseret News columnist Lee Benson, Billy Casper's legendary career is highlighted as one of the more remarkable runs in the game.

Casper won the Masters in 1970 and will be at Augusta this week, although not competing.

Casper told the magazine writer last year he had a special experience.

"I was sitting under the big tree on the veranda talking with people, and for just a moment I was by myself. It was a cloudless day, and I happened to look up. At that moment a single white cloud drifted slowly over the clubhouse. Just one. I thought, 'All the boys are in that cloud.' I could feel the spirits of Jones, Sarazen, Hogan, all of them. It made me happy to think that one day I'm going to be in that cloud too."

Yocom chose to end his article with that quote.

It's as good a place as any to place a period.

Amen.

email: dharmon@desnews.com

Twitter: Harmonwrites

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