It was nearly 10 a.m. on Masters Sunday, and Darren Clarke was sitting on an oak bench made from a felled Augusta National tree. Oh, he was splendid: white shoes, white belt, white visor, white beard; pink sweater, pink-and-white polka dot shirt, lavender trousers. He was taking it in.
The bench was hard by the outside wall of the club’s grill room, once known as the men’s grill, but those days are over. In that room, in display cases cut out of the paneled walls, are clubs that once belonged to Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, all winners at Augusta and, like Clarke, winners of the British Open. The TV was tuned to ESPN and somebody was saying something about Jordan Spieth, as well as Woods and Rory McIlroy, and isn’t it something that they are paired together?
In five hours’ time, the show would come on, the real show: the Masters on CBS. Billy Payne wanted a show, and he was going to get one. Push the tees back, so the guys would hit more drivers. Grow the rough around the greens just a little bit longer, so guys could play pitch shots. Make the greens a little softer, so guys could putt with meaning. Oh, the influence of that Billy Payne.
The splendid Darren Clarke knew he was part of the show. He had his costume on and he looked marvelous. Nearby, a security guard made phantom swings and a young fan pulled a pairing sheet out of a green box that looked like a green Monopoly house on steroids. The 2011 Open champion, captain of next year’s European Ryder Cup team, took a final drag of his Marlboro Light, a sip of water from a plastic bottle, and headed for the 1st tee. A few hundred people awaited him there, hoping to be impressed by him, by his golf and by his presence. It was showtime, and Darren Clarke, in an early twosome of another Masters Sunday, was ready for them.
This article appeared in the most recent issue of SI Golf+ Digital, our weekly e-magazine. Click here to read this week’s issue and sign up for a free subscription.