Major champions today create memories for tomorrow.
Some of them, anyway.
Still to be determined is whether the grit Patrick Reed showed at Augusta National – holding off Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler in that order – resonates with a junior who is just getting into golf or motivates one of Reed’s peers.
“It’s such a nostalgic game,” McIlroy said last summer. “People remember when they watched Jack (Nicklaus) win a U.S. Open or Tom Watson chip in at Pebble Beach. Whatever generation it is, that’s what they’re going to remember and that’s their fondest memory.”
McIlroy was among five major champions who were asked about their fondest memory of a major (excluding those they won).
“I’m a big redemption person,” McIlroy said. “I’m big on someone winning who deserves it.”
The one major that stands out is Adam Scott winning the Masters in 2013, mainly because it came nine months after one of the most stunning collapses on the back nine in a major, even by Australian standards. Scott had a four-shot lead with four holes to play at Royal Lytham & St. Annes when he closed with four straight bogeys, and Ernie Els won his second British Open.
The next year, Scott holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole at Augusta National, and then won with a birdie on the second playoff hole.
“I thought that was awesome,” McIlroy said.
Perhaps he spoke from experience. McIlroy had a four-shot lead going into the final round of the 2011 Masters when he shot 80. He won the very next major, the U.S. Open, by eight shots at Congressional.
There was one another example of redemption: Sergio Garcia, one of McIlroy’s best friends, who went nearly 20 years before winning his first major.
“I cried,” McIlroy said. “I cried! I was so happy for him.”
Jordan Spieth was 11, already honing his putter on a closely mown section of his front yard, when Tiger Woods won the Masters in 2005 for the fourth time. Spieth considers that his favorite major championship victory that wasn’t his own.
“It goes back to when Tiger holed that chip on 16 and ended up going to a playoff with Chris DiMarco,” Spieth said. “That Masters win because of that shot … when you’re a kid, you want to go out right away and try some kind of similar shot that you saw someone hit.”
Nothing was remotely similar until he played Augusta National for the first time in the fall of 2013.
“The first thing I was interested in was going behind 16, putting the tee down wherever that pin was and hitting that shot,” he said.
Ten years after watching Woods win a fourth green jacket, Spieth won his first. And perhaps it was only fitting that in the final round, Spieth went long on the 16th and wound up in a similar spot from where Woods chipped in.
“I didn’t hit the shot anywhere as good as him,” said Spieth, who had to make an 8-footer for par to keep a four-shot lead. “He was against the collar of the rough, too. That was the coolest shot I ever witnessed and probably ever will witness.”
Davis Love III has watched a lot of friends win majors, all special occasions. One of them meant so much to him that he stayed behind even after missing the cut in the 2011 British Open at Royal St. George’s.
“Darren Clarke winning made me the happiest,” Love said.
Even on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Love and Clarke were close. Clarke was 42, five years removed from losing his wife to breast cancer. He was no longer among the top 100 in the world and not even eligible for all the majors. And then, finally, he won the claret jug.
Love recalls waiting to see Justin Leonard win at Royal Troon in 1997.
This was different.
“I don’t think when I watched Justin get the trophy I had tears in my eyes,” Love said.
Scott used to get up early Monday morning to watch the Masters. His favorite major, however, was the British Open in 1993 at Royal St. George’s, mainly because of the winner.
Greg Norman never won the Masters. He won the claret jug twice, the second time when Scott was a few weeks from turning 13.
“It was such a big moment for me,” he said. “I was 5 when he won his other Open. So this was huge. I had more Shark clothing than him at that point. I really remember a lot of the `90s majors, how they all panned out. But my favorite was Greg, because it was Greg.”
The favorite major memory of Curtis Strange – except for his back-to-back U.S. Open titles – was when he tied for 21st at the Masters.
It was 1986.
“I was four groups in front of Jack,” he said.
Nicklaus shot 30 on the back nine and won his sixth green jacket at age 46. He remains the greatest – and oldest – Masters champion.
“From a players’ standpoint, it was one of the most exciting afternoons you’d ever spend,” Strange said.
Hearing the roars behind him along the back nine was only part of it. After closing with a 72, Strange did something he has never done at a major championship he didn’t win.
He stayed to watch the finish.
“Ordinarily, you finish on Sunday and you’re in and out of the locker room in five minutes because you want to get the hell out of Dodge,” Strange said. “That locker room was full of every player who played that day. Nobody left. That’s what it meant to everybody.”