Close your eyes. Travel back to the spring of 2019. Coronavirus and COVID-19 were not even in our vocabularies.
Picture all of the rites of spring. Rebirth. Bloom. Growth. Promise.
Direct your mind’s eye to one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world, the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.
By now you are recalling one of the most exciting golf tournaments in modern memory, the 2019 Masters Tournament.
That tournament started out as something of a requiem for Tiger Woods. After missing the Masters in 2016 and 2017, Tiger returned in 2018 but finished the weekend tied for 32nd place. Like so many other professional athletes who had lost their touch, Tiger was back in 2019 for what most expected to be his swan song.
And then the 2019 Masters Tournament happened. Tiger started out at the back of the pack after round one. From Thursday to Sunday, in each of the four rounds of the tournament, Tiger fought and clawed his way forward until he finished in first place for the entire tournament on Sunday. It was like watching the aging prizefighter, a caricature of his former self, suddenly restoring his past glory one stroke at a time. His climb up the leaderboard was so methodical it looked like it would take him into the next week to make the top ten. Not only did he get better from one round to the next, but the pace of his better got better. It was like his game and his confidence kept egging each other on.
Most observers found themselves thinking that Tiger was moving up the leaderboard from one round to the next but he would not find a way to win it all. That doesn’t happen. Aging affects everyone. We can’t expect our favorite athletes to return to former glory after a prolonged absence due to injury and personal life travails.
Tiger’s 2019 come-from-behind victory was one of the most momentous triumphs in professional sports in this decade. It was one of the occasions when fans around the world felt themselves rising up from their couches with fists shooting skyward. It gave people hope about the potential for second acts. Having a second act in life is something that Americans cherish. Unlike in some other parts of the world, we like to believe that we can accomplish anything. Even if it looks like we’re over the hill, there’s always the possibility of a one more victory.
Fast forward to 2020. The Masters Tournament was cancelled in the spring because of the pandemic. It was rescheduled to this weekend. Many of us spend part of each day fantasizing about a post-COVID return to normalcy. Even if some things are different—will we ever shake hands again?—most things will return to normal … right? We will be able to return to school and work. To travel. To social gatherings with friends. Dinner at a restaurant without worrying about coming home with a deadly respiratory virus. Right?
It’s the same sense of victory we felt when Tiger won in 2019 that propels us forward during this difficult time. Things can get better. Things can get good again. Right?
Take a look around at who the experts will pick to win this 2020 Masters. Tiger isn’t even listed on anybody’s short list to place in the top five this year. Lightening doesn’t strike twice. But the fact that it can strike once propels us forward.
Playing the Masters in November instead of April just feels different. We aren’t thinking about Easter brunches or making summer plans. There are no azaleas in bloom at the thirteenth hole.
Many of us are wondering how we are going to make it through the holidays without getting sick or lonely or depressed. Wondering when we will have a vaccine.
But playing the Masters now can show us things about ourselves. That life can go on, that we can shift and adjust our way of life to fit our current situation. The length of daylight is different. Even in sunny Georgia, the light itself feels different.
But the golf ball still travels through the air in the same general way. Whoever takes the fewest strokes this weekend will walk away the winner. And we can still hope and feel and plan for the future, because one day the future will come. And this weekend will show us, if nothing else, that hope does spring eternal. Even when spring comes in November.