Letter from St. Andrews: Breakfast at Augusta

Photo by Graylyn Loomis


Forgive me if I don’t sound myself. I’m a bit under the weather, battling an incipient case of Pre-Masters Post-Partum Syndrome.

Not familiar with the condition? That’s okay, it’s relatively rare. PMPPS, also known as Doug Ford’s Disease, is a virulent affliction that strikes in early spring, descending on that small, pathetic group of mature adults who—having attended a chest-thumpingly long string of Masters Tournaments—are suddenly facing their first April without Augusta. Typical symptoms include irritability, difficulty socializing, a tendency to break out in hives at the mention of dogwood or azalea, and a perverse craving for pimento cheese sandwiches. In the most extreme cases, the sufferer projectile-vomits green.

My own record of perfect attendance began in 1976. The last time I missed a Masters, Gerald Ford was president and Tiger Woods was an embryo. But this year, not only will I not be in Augusta, I won’t be anywhere near Augusta. I’ll be here in the Auld Grey Toon, and that makes my condition all the more gruesome.

It means that not only will I have to watch this Masters on television, I’ll have to watch it at night! Given the five-hour time difference, my Sunday at Augusta will begin at about 7 p.m., and will probably extend past midnight.

That’s unacceptable. I’m a morning person, and there’s no way I can stay awake that long, especially now that I’m living in a town where darkness sets in at tea time. Hell, by 7 o’clock, my thoughts have turned to flannel jammies and warm milk.

So I’ve written a letter to Hootie Johnson, indicating the absurdity of the situation, and suggesting the obvious solution: Send the leaders off the first hole at 8 a.m. (EDT) instead of 2 p.m. That way the East Coast folks can switch their TVs on at breakfast, watch the full telecast and still get in an afternoon 18. Meanwhile, we on the other side of the pond can play our morning four-ball, enjoy  a leisurely dram and lunch, then plop down in front of the tellie at a civilized hour.

Everyone wins except the religious right, who will surely claim that East Coast church attendance would suffer. The truth, of course, is that the only absentees will be us same wretched heathens who play golf religiously every Sunday anyway. Oh, and I suppose TV ratings on the West Coast might dip, but that’s actually a good thing—the way the California economy is going, they need to conserve electricity.

So it’s the perfect solution. Curiously, I’ve received no reply as yet, although there’s a rumor that Hootie’s going public with his response—that he’s drafted a press release, something to the effect of, “There is no question that the 8 a.m. tee time policy is the right thing to do, ethically and morally. Indeed we at the Augusta National have always intended to follow this path. But we will not be bullied into it by a shrieking maniac. We will proceed on our own schedule.”

Fine, but that doesn’t do much for my schedule. So this year, as you and I watch the Masters, I’ll be doing everything in the opposite order from you. You’ll watch the telecast, have a meal and go to bed. For me, it will be sleep-eat-view.

Happily, I have two ways to do this. The first is to nap all afternoon, storing up my viewing stamina, then have a light dinner—no single malts, several coffees—and then lock in to the telecast, hoping for a riveting back-nine battle.

But I doubt that’ll work. I tried it on Sunday of last year’s U.S. Open, when I happened to be visiting St. Andrews. Said good night to my wife at about 9 p.m. and walked down the street to the Dunvegan Hotel pub, just in time to see Jim Furyk make the turn at Olympia Fields. Now, granted, that was a dull guy, pursued distantly by other dull guys, on a dull course. Still, by the 14th hole, I was face down in my pint of Carlsberg.

So this time, unless Arnold Palmer holds the 54-hole lead, I suspect I’ll go to Plan B, thanks to something called Sky Plus. Essentially this is a combination of satellite cable and TiVo, which I’ve just had installed at enormous effort and expense.

Since our house sits hard by the Old Course, it’s a “listed building” in the U.K., meaning it has historical significance. That means its façade can’t be altered except by permission of the Queen. In the case of something as blasphemous as a white, 12-inch satellite dish, application must be made—in octuplicate—to the local authorities. The groveling and approval took several months. Then another few weeks passed as I searched the Kingdom of Fife for a cable-ready SWAT team willing to scale 100 feet up the side of our building and slither around the gables of our 150-year-old, perpetually rain-slicked slate roof.

But my Sky Plus is now up and running, allowing me, with the touch of a button, to digitally store and replay anything that airs on my more than 400 channels, most of them devoted to gardening and snooker. Not only that, I can do stop-action, slo-mo and instant replay, and fast-forward through commercials. Of course, that won’t be an issue with the Masters. Guess I’ll have to content myself with fast-forwarding through the Dick Enberg essays. (I’ve held a grudge against that guy since 1999, when he beat me out for the only Emmy I’ll ever have a chance to win. So I’m looking forward to a high-tech revenge.)

Oops, I just remembered: There won’t be any Enberg, Nantz, Wadkins,

Feherty, et al., for me. I’ll be getting my 14 hours from the BBC and the likes of Peter Allis, Alex Hay, Ken Brown and Steve Ryder. “The Mahstus.” That’s fine—Allis is only about a half-syllable less quick with a quip than Feherty, and he and his crew are worlds more literate than Lanny.  Plus, I think they get to say the word “mob” if they want to.

So this is my plan: Sleep Sunday night while the rest of you are watching. (Note to sadists: Don’t even think about calling me when the tournament ends and shouting the winner in my ear—I’ll be taking the phone off the hook.) Wake up Monday, flip on the recording and settle in with my coffee and Yum Yums (a local confection that, by the way, runs circles around Krispy Kremes). If all goes perfectly, the tournament will end in sudden death, the first three extra holes will be tied, darkness will fall and everyone will have to come back at 9 a.m. for the finish. That’s 2 p.m. my time, which will be just about when I finish viewing the recording. I’ll flip to the BBC’s live coverage and pick up the playoff at glorious No. 13, watching it to conclusion at the very same time you do.

Following that, assuming the drama and quality of the golf inspire me as always, I’ll head out and play a round myself, something I’ve always wanted to do in the moments following an American major.

You know, I’m starting to feel a little better already.