John Duggan writes that we need to keep our mind occupied during the pandemic, and a November Masters is guaranteed to do so...
I wore a mask this week. I washed my hands. I kept my distance from people. I was careful in the supermarket. I carried a small bottle of hand sanitizer in my pocket. I didn't go rogue and travel to Roscommon just for the craic. I obeyed all of the rules. I was a good citizen, in the hope that I can enjoy Christmas, like everyone else.
Do you know what also happened this week? I forgot about the coronavirus. I took all the precautions on auto-pilot. I was out of the cockpit of vigilance, trusting that habit would fly my internal plane. I was in business class on my own airliner, consuming and inhaling the US Presidential election on television and social media.
I told a friend that I hadn't thought constantly of living in a prison and I hadn't thought of being denied the freedom to wander into a friendly establishment for a pint or a meal. I didn't have that Good Friday feeling of restraint. He told me it's because the election was my drug of choice, to replace all other pleasures. It was the focus.
I have to say it improved my mood, having the blinkers on. Living in reality, but taking a break from it. I spoke to Barry Geraghty on Off the Ball Saturday about his distinguished career. His way of dealing with the obvious danger of being a National Hunt jockey was not to recognize it. His feeling was that to do what you love, despite the risks, you have to try and block out what could happen and not think about it. The same went for his approach to dealing with pain.
When it comes to the pandemic, it's easier said than done not to think about it. People have lost loved ones. Jobs have been lost, many in previously secure industries. Parents have to mind kids and keep them entertained. Hugging a loved one is a luxury some people don't have. Some elderly folk live alone and some of them are lonely. It's harder to meet friends. We can't travel. A lot of these are first world problems, but it's bloody difficult all the same. It can be exhausting.
That's why sport has been such a balm at times. A salve for the soul. It's not a perfect serving on our plates, but it's living and breathing. The Premier League can appear somewhat soulless without the energy of the fans, but at least there are things to talk about. Crazy results. Jurgen, Ole, Pep, Jose. The GAA are doing their best to run a Championship to give people at home a bit of light in their lives. The Sligo situation is unfortunate, but the Limerick v Tipperary hurling match was a feast. We need it.
Ireland's Six Nations finale against France was pulsating and threw up its talking points. Carrick-On-Suir's Sam Bennett captured our imagination with his exploits at the Tour de France and Irish trained horses won the Breeders Cup Turf and Mile in Kentucky this weekend.
So it's something to be really thankful for. Of all the sports, golf is one that I don't notice when it comes to an absence of crowds. It's an individual pursuit anyway, a television sport. Fans tend to electrify one event only, the Ryder Cup.
Golf's success in hosting the US PGA Championship and US Open tees up this week's Masters brilliantly.
The story lines are plentiful, and of a rich quality. Tiger Woods is actually defending a green jacket, a year and a half after his 15th major title, his win for the ages. US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau is going to test his game against Augusta National. Open champion Shane Lowry is coming into form. Rory McIlroy is still just one major away from the career Grand Slam - this one. James Sugrue, the amateur from Cork, is going to lap up every second. Graeme McDowell gets his chance. Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm are the top two players in the world and have the ability to enthrall.
The Masters is the one golf event that has an aura to draw in the masses. The Garden of Eden splendour and familiarity of the course, the ceremony, the tradition, the risk and reward holes and the drama of a Sunday conjures an intangible magic for sports fans.
Who will win the Masters? It's actually very difficult to predict in uncertain conditions. It really doesn't matter. What matters is that we have the chance to enjoy this real life movie over four days with its plot, twists and turns. It can take our minds off our challenges. A small, beautiful mercy.