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Russell Frank: Sic Transit Bubba

by on April 13, 2012 6:00 AM

I neither golf nor follow golf. But I was in my car on Sunday. My CDs, like everything else I own, had disappeared into a carton pending the sale of my house.

So I spun my radio dial in search of a baseball game and heard instead the hushed tones of golf announcers and the muffled applause from the gallery, which sounds like gloved hands clapping. Ah yes, The Masters.

The only name I recognized among those still in contention was Phil Mickelson, so I started rooting for him, in large part because his name summons nostalgic thoughts of Pete Mikkelsen, a bespectacled pitcher for the Yankees in the 1960s.

(Descriptions of Mikkelsen were my first exposure to the word “bespectacled.” When I looked him up I learned that he was born on Staten Island and that he died – in 2006 at the age of 67 – in Mabton, Wash., which happens to be the hometown of former Yankees ace Mel Stottlemyre. Poor Pete. Fun facts, though.)

Then I heard that one of the golfers was named Bubba Watson and I was torn because it’s un-American not to pull for a guy named Bubba. But Bubba and the Mickelson-Mikkelsen connection would not have been enough for me to transition from the radio to the TV when I got home if I hadn’t heard the words “sudden-death playoff” as I pulled into my driveway: Not Bubba vs. Phil but Bubba vs. Louis Oosthuizen, who, like Mr. Watson, I’d never heard of.

Fortunately, my television has not yet been packed away for the move to I-don’t-know-where. So there I was, watching golf, for the first time since the last time the Masters was decided by a playoff. That would have been 2005.

Same scenario: I hadn’t watched the tournament, heard it had ended in a tie, and saw Tiger Woods beat Chris DeMarco. Apparently, I’m very susceptible to the words “sudden death.”

(Pre-2005 I have to go all the way back to my boyhood on Long Island. We would visit my aunt and uncle and find Uncle Eddie reclining in his bedroom, watching Palmer and Nicklaus. He would pat the bed by way of inviting my dad and me to join him. It was either climb aboard or hang with the women and girls.)

Now that I could see how “Oosthuizen” was spelled, I was torn again. How often do you run across a name that starts with a double-O? As you can see, I’m like a racetrack novice who bets on the basis of which horse has the most entertaining name. My current favorite football player: New York Jets offensive lineman D’Brickashaw Ferguson.

Then I heard that Bubba Watson had never taken a golf lesson and had an unorthodox style, which clinched my allegiance.

On the second sudden-death hole, Bubba looked like a goner. His tee shot landed in the forests of Outer Mongolia. Somehow, though, he hit this gorgeous second shot, made par while Double-O bogeyed and just like that it was green jacket time. (Leave it to golf, the most sartorially challenged of all the sports, to honor its champions with the presentation of an ugly jacket.)

But here’s the part that prompted me to write this column. At the moment he sank his putt and embraced his caddie, Bubba blubbered. You could see his shoulders heaving. Then he hugged his mom. More sobbing. Eventually, he collected himself and waved to the crowd. By the time they gave him the hideous jacket, he was dry-eyed.

Thus we got to watch glory’s sudden arrival and swift departure. The brevity of it! The brevity of all our joys! Oh, to be sure, Bubba will savor the sweetness of this victory a good long while. The joy will deepen into satisfaction as the magnitude of the triumph begins to sink in.

It was easy to imagine the new champ waking up the next morning and marveling at the incontrovertible reality of it. He did indeed win the 2012 Masters Tournament. He will always be the winner of the 2012 Masters Tournament.

But the intense, wracking joy of winning? Unsustainable. It can’t be helped. Present becomes past. What’s happening becomes what happened. Glow fades to after-glow.

’Tis ever thus. The leaf twirls down from the tree. The sun hisses into the sea in a green flash. The skyrocket flares and fizzles. The lovers unclinch. And last year’s winner, fella by the name of Charl Schwartzel, becomes a clothing store clerk at this year's Masters, helping the new champ into his jacket.

Earlier, a frustrated Tiger Woods had kicked his club after a particularly bad shot – apparently an egregious breach of golf etiquette. This is a guy who has already won that putrid jacket four times.

Further proof: The satisfaction of having won can’t compete with the joy of winning. Memory is sweet; experience is sweeter.

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A collection of Russell Frank's columns from the past 20 years, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for Statecollege.com won second place in the Humor category in the 2018 National Society of Newspaper Columnists writing contest. The winning columns: One Day at the Zombie Apocalypse Poultry Auction, Deux Nuits à Paris: A French Farce and A Shaggy Dog Story. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania for 13 years. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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