David Owen  

David Owen  

A weeklong electronic journal.
April 9 1997 3:30 AM

David Owen  

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       I was on the local news here in Augusta, Ga. One of the stations was doing a preview of this week's Masters Tournament, and the report included footage of Pat Summerall, the retired CBS announcer, walking to the first tee on Sunday, the last day noncontestants were able to play. I happened to be walking beside him (we were playing partners that day), so the report also showed me. I won't bore you with details of our round, but I will mention that I managed to get up and down for par from above the hole on the excruciatingly difficult and beautiful 10th hole, and that Summerall birdied 17.
       Last night, before dinner, Summerall told a story about Muhammad Ali. I don't know enough about boxing to say exactly when the fight took place or exactly who the opponent was, although I do know that the fight was held in Puerto Rico and that the opponent's nickname was the Lion of Flanders. He was not a contender. Ali toyed with him for four rounds. When the bell rang at the end of the fourth, Ali went not to his corner but to the side of the ring where Summerall was sitting. (He was covering the fight for CBS.) Ali leaned over the ropes and asked, "You got all your commercials in?"
       Ali then said, "I got to take this guy out. This is bad for you, bad for me, and bad for boxing." For four rounds, Summerall said, Ali had sounded as though he was punching a grapefruit. From that point forward, his punches sounded like rifle shots. The Lion of Flanders was never heard from again.
       I spent all day Monday wandering aimlessly around the Augusta National Golf Club, soaking up the scenery and observing the first day of Masters practice rounds. The crowd was--as it always is--enormous, well behaved, and heavily laden with souvenir merchandise. Late in the afternoon, I spotted Tiger Woods, who may already be as famous as Muhammad Ali. Woods teed off late, after the crowd had thinned out, and played just nine holes. Even so, his gallery was almost as large as the Sunday gallery of a leader of the U.S. Open.
       I stood on tiptoe and caught glimpses of Woods practicing putts on the treacherous ninth green. When he finished, he needed the assistance of more than a dozen tournament officials and security guards to move to the safety of the clubhouse ropes, a distance of perhaps 50 yards. His protectors stood three deep in a tight circle around him, then surged forward together. The sea of fans and reporters parted, and Woods disappeared into the locker room.

David Owen is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a contributing editor of Golf Digest. His most recent book is My Usual Game: Adventures in Golf.