By Greg Gulas
The beginning of spring is Jerry McGee’s favorite time of the year.
The area’s self-proclaimed “sports junkie” and member of America’s 1977 Ryder Cup team is either in an arena or glued to the tube watching both high school and NCAA basketball tournaments, all the while getting ready for the upcoming Masters Tournament.
Speaking to the Curbstone Coaches at their weekly Monday meeting, McGee noted that he has watched more than 100 scholastic or college hoops games this season while admitting that every other golf tournament is a distant third or fourth to the Masters.
“The Masters, without question, is the best golf tournament on this earth. The fact that it always falls on the first full week in April and its festivities begin on the Monday of the NCAA men’s championship game is an added bonus for me,” McGee said.
McGee doesn’t limit his viewing to just basketball or golf. He can be found at a boxing match as easily as he can be spotted at a football game.
It just so happens that the three-week stretch from the beginning of spring to the first week of April has him scrambling so he doesn’t miss any action in two of his most favorite sports.
“I was paired with Gary Player early in my career at a tournament in Wilmington, N.C., and I will never forget what he told me. He said, ‘Laddie, set your goals on Augusta because it’s the epitome of a golf tournament’ and I never forgot that,” McGee said. “During my formative years I always wanted to play there so when I qualified out of the U.S. Open, you can imagine my excitement.”
The first Masters appearance for McGee came in 1972 when he finished in a five-way tie for fifth behind eventual champion Jack Nicklaus.
Ironically, he finished a stroke ahead of Player and six strokes ahead of the great Sam Snead.
“To me, the Masters is the most unique tournament because it has been credited with nearly 100 firsts for the game. They were the first with spectator mounds, gallery ropes and scoreboards, and the first to televise a tournament for four consecutive days,” he said. “They were also the first to televise overseas, install TV towers and erect a press tent for the media.”
McGee also noted that the Masters was the first tournament to have badges and the very first to honor its past winners.
“You’ll never hear an announcer refer to the gallery, opting instead to call them patrons,” McGee said. “They never mention prize money, instead calling it a privilege to win the green jacket. When the most recent winner hosts the dinner for previous winners, it is his and only his food selection that is served for everyone to enjoy. That was a tradition started by Ben Hogan in 1952 and remains very popular to this day.”
He also noted that the winner of the par-3, nine-hole event which is held on Wednesday of Masters Week has been a curse for the winner.
“If you are playing in the Masters that week then you shouldn’t try to win the par-3 event. That winner has never won the Masters,” McGee said.
Over the years McGee has served as an assistant basketball coach and this past year, undertook the challenge of tutoring some highly regarded hoopsters.
“Some might think that golf and basketball are totally different when it comes time to teaching, but there are actually many similarities,” he said. “Great footwork is needed for both in order to succeed and the hands need to be properly positioned and with the right grip in order to be a success. The elbow and its proper positioning is also a key in both sports.”
McGee noted that if the Masters is golf’s top tournament, then Augusta is the top course for a myriad of reasons.
“They say if you play the Masters and Augusta then you have arrived,” he said. “Having had the privilege to play there eight times, it sure was tops for me. It is by far the most beautiful course and to this day I cannot figure out if Augusta got their greens from Brunswick or if Brunswick got the green from Augusta for their pool tables.”
The Curbstone Coaches will take next week off due to the Easter holiday, but will return April 8 when Jordan Taylor, general manager of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers will serve as guest speaker.