Column: A Masters to remember

COURTESY PHOTO Living the dream — Islanders Bill Hannabury and his son Shane at the 2015 Masters in Augusta, Georgia.

COURTESY PHOTO Living the dream — Islanders Bill Hannabury and his son Shane at the 2015 Masters in Augusta, Georgia.

When you talk about the four major professional golf tournaments, the Masters is talked about the most. Maybe that’s because it’s the first major of the year. Or perhaps it’s the most beautiful venue. Or possibly that it’s held at the same course every year, the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.

The 2017 Masters was different because Dustin Johnson, the number one player in the world, had to withdraw on the first day. While walking down stairs in his socks the evening before the tournament, Dustin slipped and fell. He injured his back but still showed up to play. Finally, the pain was too much and he pulled out of the tournament.

One other thing that was different this year was players were more aware of their golf ball being marked, picked up, and replaced in the exact same position. Yes, that is a rule of golf but until last week some folks were not always exact. The reason for the change was an incident on the Ladies Professional Golfer Association (LPGA) tour.

The week before the Masters, after the ANA Inspiration Golf Tournament at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, Lexi Thompson was told she had received a 4-stroke penalty for something that had happened the day before. She was on the back nine on Sunday, leading the tournament by 3 shots when she received the news that she was now 1 stroke behind the new leader.

What happened 24 hours earlier to cause such a penalty? While marking her ball on Saturday before a 1-foot putt, she put the ball back in a position less than an inch closer to the hole. She tapped it in and headed for the next hole. In the meantime, someone watching on TV noticed that the ball was placed a little closer to the hole and the next day they informed LPGA officials about the infraction.

After video was studied, the officials agreed the ball was a little closer and applied a 2-stroke penalty, rule 20-7c, for hitting from a wrong place, and another 2-stroke penalty, rule 6-6d, for turning in a wrong scorecard.

When Lexi first heard the news, she said, “Is this a joke?” before breaking broke down in tears. Like the true champion she is, she pulled herself together and picked up one stroke and still tied for first place. Unfortunately, Lexi lost in the playoff.

Those for and against the decision have been talking about this ruling ever since.

My feeling is that it’s unfair, since 90 percent of the players never were videotaped because the cameras are on the leaders. I know some will say rules are rules. I will, too. But I do feel the judging of some arm-chair referee calling a penalty from their couch 24 hours later is ridiculous. To me, Lexi Thompson won that tournament and I hope a new ruling can at least not have a million referees calling violations the next day.

Now, for the 2017 Masters. This one will be remembered as one of the most thrilling, with two men, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia, playing together in the final group, both with the same score and both leading the tournament. The last half hour of the TV coverage rarely left these two warriors as they matched great shot after great shot before finally finishing tied, forcing the event into extra holes with sudden death in play.

On the first extra hole, Sergio a ended the drama quickly by making a birdie. A sporting event, for some reason, can crank up the emotions like nothing else. But the emotions associated with this victory were stronger than I have ever seen for a simple reason. You see, for a long time Sergio has been a premium player on the PGA tour. This fine golfer was playing in his 72nd major tournament and had never won any of them.

But Sunday was different — it would have been the 60th birthday of his lifelong idol, mentor and countryman, Seve Ballesteros, who died of cancer six years ago. Can you think of a better time to win your first major golf tournament?

Extra strokes: There was another exciting event in the golf world. Our local golfing legend, 98-year-old, Sid Beckwith, reached 1,300 times that he has shot his age. Sid has been blowing my mind for a long time with the number of times he’s achieved this feat. Congratulations to Sid “The Iron Man” Beckwith, on another spectacular landmark reached.

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