Between Tiger Woods’s comeback, Scottie Scheffler’s triumph, and the tournament’s first full crowd since 2019, hope floats in Augusta.
I hate to say it, but I got the message in the men’s bathroom, the one near the 14th hole. The Masters at Augusta, Championship Sunday, late afternoon, and the eventual winner—Scottie Scheffler, the man who barreled ahead and never looked back—was about to pass through.
This particular bathroom was not only situated near the 16th hole, but also somewhere outside of space and time, I think. Three or four dozen dudes in there. All of the sudden, top of his lungs, the restroom usher started counting down everyone’s collective whiz, screaming, EIGHT, SEVEN, SIX… and so on and so on, until everyone, lobster-colored from the sun—and buzzed from their day trip to heaven’s doorstep—straight-up giggled like I have never heard grown men giggle before. The bathrooms lines had been at Black Friday levels throughout the week, so the gag was that the ushers have now resorted to a Sergeant Hartman routine to hustle out the comers and goers. Imagine how they cackled when the usher started singling out a couple guys, yelling, TWO SHAKES!
Can’t explain it, but when I headed outside, and heard the usher start again from the top, at EIGHT, SEVEN, SIX… for a whole new crowd of whizzers? I got it then.
You know, we’re quick to forget that we were replaced, not even a couple years ago. Teddy bears and cardboard cutouts silently rooted for our heroes, while we all stayed at home and slowly forgot what it meant to watch sports. To cheer. To scream at the ref. To be devastated and fulfilled by tiny margins and near misses and improbable makes. The four big ones (NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB) have slowly reverted back to pre-pandemic levels of business-as-usual, funneling fans through the gates again—and we’re relearning what it’s like to not see COV next to the names of half our favorite team before a big game. But there’s one bastion that has lived in suspended animation since 2020: The Masters.
In 2020, organizers delayed the tournament from April to November. When the 2020 Masters did happen, gone were the usual 35,000-plus patrons giving life to Augusta’s 18 holes, damn near the eighth wonder of the world. 2021? Limited attendance. That’s all to say, the 2022 Masters—which is already a phone-less, almost entirely analog event—promised a message from the days of sports past.
Were we ready for it?
I’ve got a Masters fact, not so fun. These tickets are damn hard to get, which, of course, adds to the myth of it all.
You could enter a lottery, for one. If you somehow win, you’re not blessed with passes to Augusta, but merely the opportunity to buy them. (Don’t dare try resale. $1700, roundabout.) You can work there for the weekend, too. Or, have some sort of ancestral claim to some piece the tournament’s history, which nabs a lifetime pass. This asshole, the one writing this essay, linked up with one of the tournament’s sponsors, Mercedes Benz. The crew at Mercedes loaned Esquire the EQS, its first fully electric luxury sedan, for the ride from the Atlanta to Augusta, typically the final leg of the trek for anyone flying in for the golf pilgrimage.
As someone who’s never been in an electric vehicle before, I noticed the silence. (And the massive LED screen stretching across the dash, but mostly the silence.) The lack of a vrummm is borderline bizarre, not hearing the white noise of an engine. It strangely made the EQS the best medium for the ride—because, getting closer and closer to the hallowed grounds, it feels like a journey to a mass baptism, as if Burning Man built a Par 3.
Who else do you find in the golf tournament worth driving a Mercedes to, but Tiger Woods? His comeback story—one that arose from a car crash that nearly took not only his leg, but his life—has already been told a thousand times. It’s worth telling a thousand more. You can see Tiger’s grimaces, the limp and the struggle of a reconstructed body on TV, but until you actually lay eyes on the man, who looks every bit as human as the rest of us, with the pain we all carry around? You feel for him that much more, the emotion bubbling from the hoards of followers running and darting across the course, if only to shout, C’mon, Tiger! His +13 on the week felt like -1000.
Now, if you’re not chasing Tiger, Rory, or Bubba, or DJ—for lack of a better way to get this sensation across—you’re living at the Masters. Sure, a catching a ballgame is a tradition, or partaking in any kind of a Sunday football ritual, but there’s always a clock in and clock out time. At the Masters, with the whooshes and clinks and UHHHs happening all around, there’s no choice but to settle in. The sandwiches and drinks are still hovering around pre-inflation prices. The booze comes in Masters-branded cups, so patrons proudly stack their cups higher and higher, carrying around these totem poles that smell like Coors Light. Inevitably, with the lack of phones, it’s easy to make a few new friends, muttering about approaches, weather, the 8 a.m. beer guzzlers, doesn’t matter. The pandemic is far from over, but you should be starting to see why Augusta welcoming us back feels like a walk through Amen Corner.
Here’s a good one, a left-field cameo that will tell say exactly what there is to know about what it’s like to get lost at this place. Near the very end of Championship Sunday, I lined up on one of the few unobstructed spots left to catch Scheffler in stride. Who comes running up like a pack of Mountain-Dewed kids at Disney World? Nick and Joe Jonas, puffing cigars and looking happy as hell. (Sorry, no Kevin.) A ball landed in the woods behind us, and Joe darted for a spot to see it catapult back out. Not a single person bothered them. It’s like church. Would you go up to the Jonas Brothers at church? Hell no. Because it’s church. You’re all doing something greater.
I hope the Jonas Brothers made it to the promised land: the 18th hole, Holly, to see Scheffler touch greatness. He whiffed a couple putts at the end, sure, but so many people welcomed him home on 18 that not even everyone saw it. What else were they to do but give one last roar, forget about tired legs, sunburn, and the forbidden word—Monday—at the very moment the champ raised both hands toward the sky?
Why is the Masters so damn special? It’s an epiphany masquerading as a golf tournament, sent here to prove that we can forge an escape. A sweet combination of trimmed flora, pulled pork sandwiches, people who can hit golf balls pretty friggin’ far, crumpled-up course maps, and a canopy of a bathroom, where everyone can have a laugh or three, before heading out to see whatever they can before the sun sets.
The message, found in the men’s bathroom, the one near the 16th hole, outside of space and time? Well, friend, laughing your ass off at the urinal, it’s very much about this space, and this time, who we’ve become and how much we have left to go.
We’re gonna be all right.