My life is full of sports stories, both those I have personally experienced as well as told to me by my family and friends. I have decided to share one that falls into the former category. Appropriately, it took place on an Easter Sunday past.
A bit of my own family history first. I was lucky to have been raised in a great loving family. Sports, politics, culture, spirituality, and a love of family were all important ingredients. Big sporting events often trumped any other event that fell on the same day. Golf and Ohio State football were particularly big important. And when it came to golf, nothing was more exciting than the Masters, especially the final round.
The story I am about to share with you, brings all the above factors together — family, spirituality, the Masters, and Easter Sunday.
Where I was raised played a critical ingredient in the story too. As an Ohio native, professional athletes that came from the Buckeye state were held in very high esteem. John Havlicek of the Boston Celtics is second on my list. “Hondo” grew up in a small town on the Ohio River, Bridgeport, Ohio. He won eight NBA titles in 16 seasons. Bill Russell once said he was the smartest and best player he ever saw until Larry Bird came along. He remains the all-time leading scorer for the Celtics at 26,395 points and that was in an era without the three-point shot.
Number one on my list is the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus. Many sports historians know Jack won 18 professional majors, still the most ever. However, few rarely discuss how many second and third place finishes he scored (28). Jack also finished in the top ten a whopping 73 times. As a good golfer, I know the difference between winning and finishing second or third was may be two or three shots over 72 holes. Tiger Woods may or may not break Jack’s total major wins, but I find it highly unlikely he will top the Golden Bear’s overall major performance.
Back to my story. The 1998 Masters was one of those years the tournament ended on Easter Sunday. Even more exciting, my idol Jack Nicklaus was in contention to win his seventh Green Jacket at 58 years of age. What we did not know at the time was that Jack played the entire tournament on one good hip.
Here is where the story gets dicey. The family I married into was more religious and also had a different view of golf than my own. I respect their beliefs and views, but this was Master’s Sunday and Jack had a chance to win! His win in 1986, even though 12 years earlier, remained on the minds of all his fans.
As the Easter approached, I told my ex that the Masters finished on Sunday. I made it clear that I wanted to watch it. Even more important, I let her know that I would eat dinner with the family and then excuse myself to watch the Masters. She was fine with that and appreciated the heads up. Her family, as I found out, was not so accepting.
The Easter get together that year was at her brother’s house. We were summoned to the dinner table around 2:30. I politely and slowly ate my meal as I had plenty of time since the tournament did not come on until 4pm. Once I finished, I excused myself took my plate and put it in the dishwasher.
However, if looks could kill, I would not be here writing this story today. I can only imagine what was said behind my back. It was bad enough in their eyes that I was not a “true” Catholic. Now this!
Jack did not win the tournament that year, but he did come close finishing 6th. I watched the Master’s alone. Her brothers came in once in a while to check on who was leading but that its it. They were afraid of experience the wrath of their mother. Too bad, as life is way to short to live that way.
There is a moral to this story. I feel it is you have to stick to your guns, what makes you unique as a person. The Masters was every bit a part of my life as Easter. I did my best to honor both.
For those of us who love sports, the ritual at Augusta begins again in less than two weeks. Jack is now one of the honorary starters, along with the King, Arnold Palmer, and the Black Night, Gary Player. Let us hope that two weeks from today we experience a final round that matches the excitement of years past.