Story behind New Yorker's Masters cover

Thursday April 7th, 2011
<a href="http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/cover-story" target="_blank">The New Yorker</a>

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Sports Illustrated, of course, has a Masters preview issue. Golf Magazine does too. Now The New Yorker, the venerable weekly, has entered the fray, in its own way.

The cover of the current issue of the magazine, famously not edited for the old lady in Dubuque, is a playful, fictional Masters tableau, if we are using that word correctly. We don't have any art-literate, French-speaking fact-checkers here at Golf.com, but we know good art when we see it. The April 11 New Yorker cover by Bruce McCall would be a welcome addition on any wall in the Augusta National clubhouse, where there's an excellent portrait of Clifford Roberts by Dwight Eisenhower on the second floor and drawings of urinating dogs in a second-floor loo.

About two weeks ago, the magazine's editor, David Remnick, told his art director, Francois Mouly, that he wanted something springy and golfy for the mid-April cover. Mouly called McCall. McCall, who is also a writer, got artist's block. Two days of sitting around produced nothing. He doesn't really like golf.

As a kid outside Toronto, he would caddie for his father and then wait several hours to get stiffed. Years ago, he wrote a piece for Esquire, called "The Case Against Golf," which included this ode to the olde shepherds game: "It's easy to see golf not as a game at all but as some whey-faced, nineteenth-century Presbyterian minister's fever dream of exorcism achieved through ritual and self-mortification."

He complained in the piece that golf had killed Bing Crosby. (It is true that the crooner completed a round in Madrid, said to his playing partners, "That was a great game of golf, fellas," and went into fatal cardiac arrest.) McCall had been to the Masters only once, on an assignment for Golf Digest. Going in, he thought he'd mock it to death. But he came away, as many do, smitten. "I loved the uptight nature of the place," McCall said in a phone interview, several hours before the important occasion of the Par-3 Contest, which results in the big-course being shut down for play.

The germ for the cover came from that Augusta trip, nine years ago, but it took a couple of days to unearth it. For a while, he was totally stymied. Somebody at The New Yorker sent him a copy of every golf cover the magazine ever had, about two dozen or so, including the Charles Addams classic in which a duffer plays a ball teed up on a hand emerging from a pond. (See a gallery of New Yorker golf covers here.) Still, nothing. McCall was about to call his boss and tell her he was going to have to bag it. And then the idea suddenly came: A golfer, somebody in the Masters, wearing a red shirt and black pants, straddling the crock of a tree, playing a ball resting between a limb and a trunk. He's at least 20 feet above fairway level, with no climbing limbs. How'd the golfer get up there? McCall doesn't know anymore than you.

The caddie, his double-strapped bag on his shoulder, wearing the white caddie Augusta jumpsuit, looks up at his boss. So do two Augusta National members, in their green coats. Some Georgia birds, thrashers and downy woodpeckers among them, are looking down at the golfer. McCall knows all about Georgia birds. He's got Google, too. The golfer is not Tiger. For one thing, McCall didn't even know the red-on-Sunday Tiger tradition.

When McCall first made the painting, he had the Augusta members wearing white armbands, identifying them as rules officials. A fact-checker called the artist. The members, even when officiating, don't wear white armbands. (That's more of an old USGA look.) McCall said oh. The armbands were digitally removed.

It's a wonderful painting. It screams golf, Augusta, spring, hope. From McCall's apartment, he can see Central Park. On Par-3 Contest Wednesday, he reported that there were hints of buds on the trees in the park. The golf course on his cover, called My Best Shot, is way beyond the budding stage. Real life Augusta is, too.

McCall was asked about the color of the members' coats. "I wanted to make it a little different than the green of the grass and the green of the forest," he said. "Maybe something with a little olive in it."

He was asked if there was a name for the color he came up with.

The artist said, "Masters Green, I guess?"

That works.

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