AUGUSTA, Ga. — It is the morning of the Masters, the tradition unlike any other.
There is no other event like this one in the world. Period. It has forever been about the game and the pressure and course.
The greens are oil-spill slick and roller-coaster wavy, but they are the same for each of the 96 players that hope to avoid the inclement weather today for 18 knuckle-cracking holes. It's magical because it's the Masters, and everyone who has been here understands the simplicity and the validity of that statement.
It is the throwback-jersey feel of the caddies in white uniforms and cutting-edge technology that has heating and cooling suction pumps under the greens to eliminate standing water.
It is the old-school nostalgia of new-school hotshot Rory McIlroy dealing with roughly the same treacherous 150-yard tee shot at No. 12 that Nick Faldo did when he won in 1989, about a month before McIlroy was born.
It is a $5 lunch -- Pimento Cheese sandwich, chips and a drink -- for everyone, regardless if the clientele is a perfect hodgepodge of folks who believe that's a great deal or slumming or anywhere in between.
If God crafted a sporting venue it would be Augusta National. The grounds are scenic and pure, even without their trademark colors and unforgettable azalea blooms that were erased by an unseasonably warm winter.
Granted the Masters without the foliage is like Fenway without the monster or following the closed caption of a Broadway show. There's a noticeable feel here this year that makes this Masters seem different.
Maybe the absence of legendary sports writer and longtime Masters fixture Furman Bisher has caused the changed vibe. Or maybe it's the fact that Tiger Woods, while still listed as the favorite, is no longer the young gun that seems certain to trash Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major title.
Or maybe it's the latest controversy about the Augusta National membership -- an all-male collection that has caused more than a few sportswriters to joke that the inclement weather Monday and Tuesday was Mother Nature's answer to Augusta's lack of a female member.
That different feel, however, will be gone this morning. It will fade like a perfectly struck 3-wood, at least until this 76th Masters is concluded.
This club, the organization and the members drip with money and its tangled complications and ensuing controversies, yet the tournament is not overly concerned with any of it. At least not this week.
Augusta National chairman Billy Payne was asked Wednesday about the absence of female members, and he casually side-stepped the issue as "breakfast table" discussions.
Payne was pressed on the issue, being reminded that IBM -- a primary sponsor of the tournament -- had recently named Virginia Rometty its CEO, and that each of the last four IBM CEOs, all males, were invited to join.
Payne refused to bite, instead politely saying he nor the club keep matters of their private membership private.
"I guess two reasons," Payne said when asked why he wouldn't expound on the topic. "One, we don't talk about our private deliberations. No. 2, we especially don't talk about it when a named candidate is a part of the question."
The issue is important and the questions to Payne and Augusta National were and will continue to be purposed and pertinent. In truth, I believe Mrs. Rometty will be a member sooner rather than later if that's her desire. But no one tells Augusta National what to do or when to do it. Beyond privacy and privilege, Payne and Co. certainly are not interested in discussing it this week, when the guys in green jackets are much more interested in crowning a new champion rather than championing a social cause, no matter how just and needed and important.
And that's part of the magic of this place and this week. It's about the game and those that love it -- regardless of their gender or the color of their coat.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...