AUGUSTA — I'm convinced. Nature was perfected the day the Par 3 golf course at Augusta National Golf Club was created.
As birds chirped in the background and turtles crawled out of the sparkling Desoto Springs Pond, families, armed with piles of pimento cheese sandwiches, set softly on the green hillsides awaiting the Annual Par 3 Contest.
The scene was simple but majestic, the perfect combination of past, present, and future.
The past was represented by golf's three living legends, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player. The trio, winners of combined 13 Masters tournaments, walked the course amidst sheer admiration, often posing for group photos between moments of remembered brilliance. Nicklaus, in true 'Jack at the Masters' form, brought the crowd to its feet by birding the first two holes, and Player sent his final shot from the ninth tee over Ike's Pond and into the bottom of the hole (he hit his first shot on nine into the water, so technically, it was just an incredible par).
The present was represented by the crowds, brought to life by Greg Norman, playing his first Masters this week since 2002. The whispers turned to roars as Norman recorded the first ace of hole six in tournament history, and let his wife, tennis legend Chris Evert, retrieve the ball from the bottom of the cup. Norman's ace followed the first ace of the day from Par 3 Champion Tim Clark, whose hole-in-one on nine accounted for his winning margin. A hole-in-one to win the Masters (not too shabby).
The future was represented by the kids. Smiles abounded as Jake Immelman (Trevor's son) gave the crowd a laugh by dancing a jig on the ninth green, and Fuzzy Zoeller watched on as an unsuspecting 12-year-old girl received a thunderous ovation for sinking a 15-foot putt to finish his tournament. Other children stood along the ropes, their flags littered with autographs from the game's greats. And there lies the magic of the Par 3 Contest, the seamless connection between generations brought together in the game's great theater. The main event has a tough act to follow.