AUGUSTA, Ga. – The sense of loss that dropped by this week at Augusta National was highlighted on Thursday when aging Arnold Palmer opted not to make a ceremonial swing of the golf club with fellow legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player to start the 80th Masters.
He was afraid he would fall down and not get up. Seriously. This is The King we're talking about. Arnie, the Masters and television were a perfect blend that helped make this event what it is today – the best of the four majors.
It took another stroke in the wrong direction on Friday after Tom Watson failed to make the cut in his final appearance here after being fitted for two green jackets in 1977 and 1981, and losing another in a playoff to Fuzzy Zoeller. Ben Crenshaw bid a fond farewell here last year where there wasn't a dry eye in the house as the University of Texas product waved goodbye to family and friends, telling those closest to him that it was time to put his clubs away for good.
No sport allows its legends to hang around longer than this one, and that's what makes it special and sad all in the same moment. They don't have an old-timers day in golf. If you can swing with the kids, they'll let you. Just ask 58-year-old Bernhard Langer. He's tied for 15th at 1 over heading into the third round, while fellow German and former world No. 1 Martin Kaymer, age 31, barely made the cut at 5 over.
With Tiger Woods also missing from the scene because of a faulty back, you get the idea that the changing of the guard starts at the top with Palmer and trickles down all the way to second-round leader and defending champion Jordan Spieth, who'd be graduating from Texas next month had he opted to stay in school.
When Nicklaus decided to drive down Magnolia Lane on Wednesday, one security guard didn't even know who he was, asking for his badge so it could be scanned as if he were some goofball reporter from Hawaii trying to crash the gate. Ever gracious, Nicklaus didn't chastise anyone, opting instead to say, "He was just doing his job." But there's something amiss when the winner of six green jackets gets carded by anyone around here.
Old giving way to new is not something out of the ordinary. In fact, it's just reality. Even now, you could see today's young players forgetting the reason they make so much money is because guys named Arnie, Jack and Tiger mowed the fairways for them first.
So as Watson walked up the 18th for the last time, those lining the ropes did the same thing as others did all afternoon – gave him a rousing ovation, a show of respect and an acknowledgement for what he means to this place.
For most of the day, Watson held his emotions in check. He'd give that wry smile, a tip of the hat, or a wave of the club. But at the end, the recognition brought a tear to the old man's eye and to those who remember when Watson was the same age as Spieth is now.
Old Tom won't be here when Spieth makes a similar journey of his own along about 2060. But his spirit will be, along with those who will remember the first time Spieth slipped into a green jacket all those years ago.
This article was written by Paul Arnett from The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.