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Dykstra on the Masters

On this long weekend, Lenny looks at a sports tradition unlike any other.

Sports junkies anxiously look forward each year to three long weekends encompassing 19 days in March, whereupon 65 Division I colleges compete for the NCAA basketball championship, participating in the magical ride that is aptly labeled "March Madness."

For golfers, however, March Madness is merely a prelude to the Masters, an annual rite of passage that occurs on the long weekend following the crowning of the NCAA basketball champion on Monday night.

The promos, which air throughout March madness, are simple, elegant, dignified, and unmistakable. "A tradition unlike any other, the Masters."

For true golf aficionados, Augusta National, home to the Masters, is Mecca. Granted, Pebble Beach, Merion, Royal St. Andrews and Pine Valley are special places with rich histories. Augusta, however, is extraordinary.

Bobby Jones founded Augusta National in 1931 in conjunction with a businessman named Clifford Roberts, and three years later, the Masters was born, remaining etched in the American consciousness ever since.

Mere mention of the Masters elicits images of acres of emerald green grass, framed by magnolias and dogwoods, and accentuated by pure white sand, magnificent water and beautiful azalea-filled gardens. Undulating hills provide a contour and symmetry that help create the most breathtaking views in all of sport.

Similarly, magical winning Masters moments are carefully compartmentalized in the brains of golf's devout legions: freeze frames that can be accessed almost instantaneously.

One was of Jack Nicklaus, left arm outstretched and putter in hand in 1986, a victory that made him the oldest Masters champion at age 46. Another was Tiger Woods' emotional fist-pump as he completed "a win for the ages" in 1997. There was Phil Mickelson's leap in 2004.

How about Woods' incomprehensible chip on the 16th in 2005?, which turned out to be the greatest advertisement Nike could have imagined. There was Gene Sarazen's hole in one, and the final walks up the 18th fairway by Arnie and Jack.

Masters moments always seem to be dignified, understated and classy. Moreover, the "passing of the torch" in sports can be uncomfortable, awkward and filled with uncertainty. But golf has witnessed a seamless transition from Bobby to Ben Hogan to Jack to Tiger.

When asked to comment on Nicklaus' prowess, Jones remarked, "He plays a game with which I am not familiar."

As if to complete the symmetry, Nicklaus, when asked to comment on Woods' abilities, uttered the exact words that Jones had said about him.

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In recent years, Augusta National has undergone some cosmetic changes to adapt to the new technology and power that characterize the game today.

The botanical names remain; however, some yardages have been altered to help restore the balance between risk and reward. Therefore, Augusta National does not reward good shots, only great shots are worthy of reward.

The chance for reward, for a birdie or eagle, must be carefully weighed against the risk of bogey, double bogey or worse. Therein lies the figurative beauty of Augusta National, which mirrors its literal beauty.

At the conclusion of several notable sporting events, ceremonial rituals are repeated time and time again. The winner of the Indy 500 drinks milk. The Stanley Cup is hoisted by the captain of the winning team and paraded around the ice. The winners of the NCAA basketball championship cut down the nets. The Super Bowl MVP goes to DisneyWorld.

In contradistinction, the winner of the Masters quietly dons the green jacket in the sedate cabin near the 18th hole. Enhancing that symbolism is that last year's winner places the green jacket on this year's winner.

In an interesting twist, Phil placed the green jacket on Tiger two years ago, who in turn placed the jacket on Phil last year. Thus, we have Phil to Tiger to Phil. Will Phil return the favor yet again this year? Two prime-time players, on a prime-time course, in the prime-time tournament. "The Masters, a tradition unlike any other."

Many sports fans forget or are unaware that Bobby Jones retained his amateur status throughout his career. He was truly a purist, untainted by the money that comes with being a professional.

His pursuit of golf and competition was solely a love for the game. Jones once eloquently remarked, "Competitive golf is played mainly on a 5-inch course, the space between your ears."

Despite his amateur status, Jones' accomplishments and his legacy are professional in every aspect of the word. Bobby Jones was a master who founded a masterful course and created the Masters, a tournament by which all others are measured.

Always remember: Life is a journey, enjoy the ride!

Nicknamed "Nails" for his tough style of play during his Major League Baseball career, Lenny Dykstra was an integral member of the powerful Mets of the mid-1980s, including the world champion 1986 squad, and the Phillies in the early 1990s.

Today, Dykstra manages his own stock portfolio and serves as president of several of his privately held companies, including car washes; a partnership with Castrol in "Team Dykstra" Quick Lube Centers; a state-of-the-art ConocoPhillips fueling facility; a real estate development company; and a new venture to develop several "I Sold It on eBay" stores throughout high-demographic areas of Southern California.