After Hoch slips, Britannia rules

The memory lingers on, of Scott Hoch’s anguish on the 10th green, of Nick Faldo becoming the first Englishman to win the Masters, and of Sandy Lyle, the Scot, holding the Green Coat for him. What’s the difference, you say, a Brit’s a Brit.

There’s a chasm of difference, going all the back to Bannockburn in 1314, when the Scots won their independence. I’ll illustrate:

After Faldo won in the last dying sliver of daylight, every press delegate from England went into a state of rapture. They changed travel plans and booked into Hilton Head to follow their hero in the Heritage, the other American tournament he has won. They had been scheduled to appear for a Walker Cup preview at Peachtree Golf Club, but all canceled. The Scots and the Irish, nearly all of them, made the scene and their flights back to the homeland. Let the Queen take care of her own.

Once upon a time, Americans went across the sea and turned the British Open into their own private party. Now foreign players are twisting the blade in our classics. The topic of the Masters, and its survival in these days of the fattening purse, had been a live one during the week. None other than the lord and master of Augusta National, Hord Hardin, had brought it up in a magazine, and he kept it alive.

Saints preserve us from such heresy, but there it was.

Curtis Strange had spoken to the subject earlier in the week. “If he actually thinks that,” the national champion of golf had said, “then he doesn’t know what the Masters means to the players.”

In the exhilaration of victory, Faldo softened the testy, stone-faced front that alienates him to the homeland press. He spoke of the Masters as the Holy Grail he had been pursuing all his life, though less than two years ago he had won his own land’s Open.

“Words don’t describe what this means, “ he said. “You dream it’s going to happen to you.”

As if in evidence, he didn’t know the size of the winner’s check. “I wasn’t playing for that, I was playing for the green jacket.”

He fell just short of saying what this tournament really is — the world championship of golf. Say what they will, and as they will, of the fields in the other majors, there is no tournament that demands as much of a player under such pressure in such an imposing atmosphere on such a course that stands aside from all others in its uniqueness.

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