The Legacy of Masters

Twenty-one years ago: Tiger Woods wins his second Masters, and is awarded the Green Jacket from previous winner Vijay Singh. Photo AFP

Today is the 21st anniversary of Tiger Woods’ 2001 win at the Masters. Which means today I also mark the 21st anniversary of my father’s death.

Sylvan H. Meyer actually died on April 8, 2001, but to us his Yahrzeit is Masters Sunday, because Dad passed in his Georgia mountain home just an hour after he watched Tiger on TV win his second Green Jacket, and that was poetic in two ways.

The Masters was one of Dad’s favorite times and places. Starting in the 1940s, he and ten or so of his north Georgia buddies would travel across the state to spend Masters Week in Augusta. They called themselves the Chicken Pluckers. They’d rent a house, play golf most mornings, go to the tournament in the afternoons, and at nightfall asleep earlier than they meant to. They weren’t wealthy; they were Greatest Generation guys doing alright. My Dad cooked the dinners – which was amazing to me because he pretty much never cooked at home.

And in 1984, when I was in law school, one of the regular Chicken Pluckers couldn’t make it and I was invited to make the pilgrimage. It remains one of my most cherished memories – the staggering beauty of the course, the cordial chat of the players, a kitchen full of Ruffles and Pecan Sandies. I remember sitting with Dad behind the 14th green, in a lull between approach shots, when he softly suggested that I maybe ought to marry that girl I’d been dating. Unbeknownst to him, I had proposed to Tracy not 24 hours earlier – and the last 37 years have proven that Dad’s editorial opinion was, as usual, on the money.

His editorial opinions are the second part. Sylvan Meyer was the first Editor In Chief of the daily newspaper in Gainesville, Georgia, where I was born. Throughout the 50s and 60s, from our small city, he covered the Civil Rights movement and advocated and editorialized for integration. He was one of a cadre of Southern newspaper journalists – mostly Jewish – speaking up for the cause. They did so because it was right and just, but also I think out of loyalty to their region, to build a ”New South.”

Still, the legacy of segregation created some cognitive dissonance for Dad when it came to the Augusta National, something I feel again about my native state this spring. So when Tiger Woods became the first Black Man to win the Masters in 1997, it was a thrilling victory for my Dad. And when Tiger cemented his Augusta immortality by winning again and capping the “Tiger Slam” on that Sunday 21 years ago, well, maybe it felt to Dad like a vindicating time to close the loop.

Lee Elder receives the applause of fellow Masters Honorary Starters Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Photo from Golfweek.

In Dad’s honor (and yeah, because I love it), I religiously watch the Masters. And I smiled this week when Augusta National invited 86-year-old Lee Elder, who broke the color barrier at the Masters, to be the Honorary Starter at this year’s tournament. It was a small reassurance that the arc of the moral universe does indeed bend toward justice, but that our institutions may need a little love, help and patience to get there – from loyal critics like my Dad, and from those of us who work to guide our organizations to ethics, compliance, and doing the right thing.

Sometimes what we do to encourage people in our organizations to speak up works, and often it doesn’t. We’re discussing what makes that difference all this month on the Eight Mindsets Cohort, and sharing those lessons in the Eight Mindsets Podcast. I hope you’ll join, or listen to, the discussion.