The Cleveland Indians tweeted happy birthday wishes to Rajai Davis a few weeks ago. In the tweet, the Tribe referred to a player who hit just 13 career home runs for the team as “the man, the myth, the Cleveland legend.”
The incongruity of an outpouring of birthday love for a 13-career-home-run “legend” made me pause and smile. He played less than two years with the team a few years back. But he is adored there now, and forever, and he did not need a decade-long relationship with the team putting up all-star numbers.
Rajai Davis is, of course, the player who choked up on the bat for a 2-2 pitch from the evil 100-mph-throwing Aroldis Chapman and took him deep to tie Game 7 of the World Series when hope was just about lost. The Tribe then lost the game and series to take ownership from the Cubs of the longest title drought in professional baseball. It was a crushing end to a crushing series. But that home run, and the feelings that followed it, will be remembered and celebrated forever.
If you just look at the leaderboard or Wikipedia page for the 2018 Masters, you’ll read that Jordan Spieth finished a respectable third place. He did not win and he did not set any notable records. The number 64 next to his final round is a low one but it tells us so little about the day and why I remember it. Spieth, who feels like he has 25 years of history with a tournament he’s played six times, started nine shots back. Then he went out in 31, and the crowds started peeling off the final pairing of Pat Reed and Rory McIlroy with that Augusta speed-walk toward history. Each birdie was a loud conversion ritual for the belief that something historic was happening. Then the nine-shot deficit was fully erased at the 16th hole.
"Are you kidding me?" — @JordanSpieth
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 8, 2018
Even alcohol cannot make khaki-clad dads lose their inhibitions the way Spieth’s 33-foot putt to tie the Masters did. I know I’ll never forget that scene—where I watched from, what I heard, who I watched with. The laughter with a couple golf media types from jokes I am not yet allowed to retell was interrupted by the ball going in the hole and all of us incredulously shouting curse words into a wall of louder noise.
The 64 on the Wikipedia page doesn’t tell the story of that putt, the story of that scene, Spieth mouthing “Are you kidding me?” to his caddie after it went in, the belief that he might shoot 62 or maybe 61 for the greatest major round ever, and then the heart-rending moment his ball clipped the tree off the 18th tee to seal just a 64 for just a third-place finish.
In a moment rife with debate shows and tweets where win-loss results must be contextualized in terms of what it all means for legacies or who should be fired, it’s easy to forget why we spend so much time watching sports. It would be much more efficient and beneficial to our health to just check the box score or leaderboards on Saturday and Sunday nights if the primary value we derived from hours watching sports was the manichean result. There’s pain, amusement, anxiety, tension, heartbreak, joy, and memories from the smaller moments of competition. There’s Rajai’s homer before a loss and Spieth’s putt before a third-place finish, and the minutes we lived immediately following them.
The Masters thrives from these smaller moments in the larger competition. More than any golf tournament, the Masters is bigger than the players in the field and bigger than the result. Certain editions are amplified by the result, such as Jack in 1986 or Tiger in… was that just last year?
But the tournament has become this powerhouse sports event enjoyed simply for what it is year over year and tradition after tradition, and less for the specifics of who is involved and how they finish. This ranges from the little familiar details and annual sights to the unexpected you may have never seen before on a course and at a tournament you know so well. Tiger won the Masters last year, but Zach Johnson accidentally bunted his driver off the tee marker on maybe the most famous par-5 tee box in golf. Both were celebrated as part of the 2019 Masters experience, and now we’re going to have those opportunities again in a year when that once seemed unlikely.
Wow! Zach Johnson is all of us… pic.twitter.com/BvVWA1wBvU
— Fantasy Golf Pod (@fantasygolfpod) April 12, 2019
The Masters is still the Masters, whether it’s won by Tiger Woods in the greatest comeback of all time or by ZJ over a cold and dreary four days. The Masters is still the Masters, whether it’s April or November.
This is why I find myself making a commitment to enjoy the hell out of every second of it this year. I will focus on and delight in every Bryson histrionic recoil, the Rory run (you know it’s coming), the Spieth run (it might be shorter but you know it’s coming, too), and every pace in the strut of a reigning champ that we never thought we’d see again. I’ll find pleasure in the eccentricities of this entire November exercise, finding the opportunity to appreciate the rarity of Augusta National in the fall and the camera shots we could get with no patrons in the way.
A coping mechanism in this no-good year has been trying to find the unexpected opportunities borne out of awful circumstances. That does not mean it’s better this way or that it’s not been an awful year. A Masters in April with fans and roars would have been better, and I’m ready to get back to that in 2021. But I’m grateful we’re having a Masters at all. I’m grateful I get to watch the shots and the recoils and the competition, regardless of whether the winner is not some miracle story or the finish is not especially dramatic.
I’m committing to the experience of the Masters and not the hope for a result that might make the best documentary someday. What makes a televised pro golf tournament so great is that you can come and go, put it on as background and then lock in for hours, leap off the couch and nap on the couch. It’s four days, dozens of broadcast hours, and hundreds of shots. It’s versatile and reliable and will be there for you to hopefully make this four-day stretch better.
This does not mean I will watch a golf tournament unburdened from what’s happening in the real world. I’m thankful we can get this Masters off in what appears to be a safe and responsible fashion in a year when that seemed tenuous, and maybe still does. The pandemic still rages. I will think about what we’ve lost and who we lost in the months since March and Easter, when we all sat on our couch and watched Tiger on a Zoom call with Jim Nantz instead of the originally scheduled Masters Sunday. It feels like years and not months ago.
Now the Zoom may come between you and family you can’t be with while you watch from distant couches. Consider it an opportunity for a dry-run or an entire stand-in for the impending holiday you might not be able to celebrate with everyone you want this year. A Zoom gathering with friends and family is better for panning Nick Faldo and hollering about golf shots good and bad than it is for some virtual Thanksgiving dinner. So throw on the Masters, dial in to FaceTime or Zoom with friends and family, come in and out of your Masters nap, devour your embarrassing attempt at a biscuit sandwich judgement-free, mute the uncle who starts to talk politics. Uniquely celebrate the uniqueness of this Masters. Find the opportunity you can out of these terrible circumstances.
For me, it will be getting watch with my kids at an age where they can follow what’s happening for the first time. It will be having the time and a phone not captive in the media center to call my parents, who got me into the game, for the first time in years during a Masters Sunday. Maybe I’ll buy some Monster if Tiger gets involved. I might try to make pimento cheese sandwiches even though a) I don’t think they’re all that good and b) I’ve never made one and I will probably fail spectacularly. That doesn’t matter. No one will ever know if it’s terrible and I will be happier than a pig in shit in the process of just trying to make it to celebrate this Masters from home. It’s the experience over the result.
The result has never mattered more than the simple fact that the Masters is being played and we get to watch it. It’s the Masters and it will deliver those moments over the next four days that were so far from your mind back in April. You’ll be rewarded with the minutes that follow something like a Rajai homer or a Spieth birdie charge along the way. Or maybe it’s just ZJ doinking one off the tee marker. You’ll remember it, though, and be grateful we had it.