As the wave of young players continues to increase their influence on the 2012 Masters invitation committee, an increasing number of older golfers are being left outside of the field of approximately 90 that make up the Masters Golf Tournament each year. Although there may be many reasons to exclude these players, one cannot help but wonder if the potential for an inspirational story line that defies the law of aging will become less available each year due to our aging greats being increasingly pushed outside the ropes.
Many of us can remember when Jack Nicolas, at the age of 58 made his final charge in the 1998 Masters, where he birdied three of the first six holes to pull within 2 strokes of the lead on the front nine. Although his final round 68 was not enough to catch Mark O’Meara (who can forget his 20 foot putt on 18 to win it), as evinced by the roar of the massive crowd that followed him all day, Nicolas taught us that golf unlike any other sport, has the ability to give our long time greats one last chance at Major Championship immortality.
It is with a heavy heart that two long time Masters participants, who have made the climb up the leader board many times, only to fall one break short, may not be lacing up their golf shoes for this year’s Masters.
Davis Love III
It is amazing to think that Love, who has experienced the first page of the leader board on many occasions, will be absent this year. Love is best known for his 1997 PGA Championship where, just weeks after his father’s death, he sunk a fifteen foot putt on 18 with a magnificent rainbow in the background to capture his first and only major.
From the looks of his silky smooth swing and his 450 week stay in the top 10 of the World Golf Rankings, many believed that Love’s game was catered for success at Augusta National.
However, despite his six top ten finishes that included 2 heartbreaking runner up finishes in 1995 and 1999, the Masters has always been able to slip through Davis’ deserving fingertips. In recent years, Love’s biggest challenge has not been his swing. Instead Love has had to endure a series of injuries that are a result of his 27 years on the tour.
Despite his ailing condition there still existed some hope leading up to this week’s Shell Houston Open that Love would be able to mount one final charge. However, as has been increasingly the case, the injury he sustained at Bay Hill carried over and he was forced to withdraw from the Shell that eliminated any chance he had at sneaking into next week’s field.
Ernie Els’ chances of making this year’s Masters hinge on his posting a victory at the Shell Houston Open this week (which at the time of this article he was tied for 47th, six shots behind leader, Carl Petersen). Only a victory would catapult Els into the World’s top 50 and thus grant him a tee time at Augusta on Thursday.
Although Els has failed to capture the Masters in the 17 straight years he has competed in the event, his track record is far from unimpressive. From 2000 through 2004 Els placed in the top 6, which included two top runner up finishes. Although Els was unable to capitalize fully on his many Sunday runs, the consistency in Els’ game has long defined just how special of a player he is.
Although Masters’ special invitations are rarely given to players outside the qualifying criteria if there is anyone in the game of golf who has ever earned an invitation, it is Els. Realizing how tenuous his situation is, Els has attempted to play himself into the field by competing in eight tournaments in the last two months. Els was several close putts down the stretch of the Transitions Championship, including a four footer on number 18 from playing himself into the Master’s field.
However, what is ultimately more important than Els’ play and is more a reason why the Master’s committee should grant him a reprieve, is the manner in which Els has carried himself throughout his career. By his manner on the course and his charitable work off the course Els has long symbolized the true gentlemen. In a sport that is based on the ideals of honor and tradition, it would be a hard case to make that Els does not represent the ultimate symbol of both.
In an era of golf that has been dominated by youthful stars, it is important that we step back and appreciate some of the players who have brought the game to its current status. There is no better way to acknowledge our appreciation than to give our aging stars one last chance at proving that age really is just a number.