OLIVER HOLT: The Master proved that sport gives us beauty where there is pain and darkness elsewhere

The Masters crowd had left town the night before and Broad Street in downtown Augusta was quiet in the mid-afternoon heat. Some old men sat around the statue of singer James Brown, chatting and laughing in his shadow.

From there it was a short walk to the intersection with 13th Street and the Savannah River Bridge that crosses the state line between Georgia and South Carolina and leads to SRP Park.

Cars ticked and clicked on the tiny cracks in the carriageway, but on the way to the baseball field, it was hard to stop the mind returning to Sunday afternoon and the view from the back of Augusta National’s 18th green.

As we had seen Rory McIlroy striding up the fairway at the end of one of the biggest closing rounds in Masters history, the man next to me said he heard McIlroy was a good guy and I nodded.

A few minutes later we looked at each other in amazement, united by the joy of having witnessed sport in its most beautiful and engaging form.

It wasn’t just that McIlroy pulled out the most amazing shot in the bunker, lifting the ball onto the green and letting it hit a spot where it rolled down the slope and curled into the hole. That was just the beginning.

Rory McIlroy (left) and Collin Morikawa (right) shared a fantastic moment at the Augusta Masters tournament earlier this month that truly encapsulates the touching beauty of the sport.

Rory McIlroy (left) and Collin Morikawa (right) shared a fantastic moment at the Augusta Masters tournament earlier this month that truly encapsulates the touching beauty of the sport.

The two honestly and joyfully celebrated each other's shot on the 18th hole before hugging

The two honestly and joyfully celebrated each other’s shot on the 18th hole before hugging

McIlroy went mad with glee, pumping his fists, throwing his mace into the sand, hugging his caddy, throwing his ball into the crowd, knowing that only seven other men had thrown 64 in their last round at the most consecrated spot in golf.

I also noticed something else. A few meters away, Collin Morikawa, who was waiting to play his own shot from the bunker, raised his arms in the air as McIlroy’s ball fell into the hole, celebrating the genius of his playmate.

When the bedlam subsided, Morikawa played his shot in the bunker. The trajectory to the hole was flatter than McIlroy’s. His ball ran on the putting surface and went straight into the hole. It seemed like a miracle. Or maybe two miracles.

Thank the gods of sport for the glory and evasion, beauty and brotherhood of that moment

Thank the gods of sport for the glory and evasion, beauty and brotherhood of that moment

McIlroy celebrated Morikawa’s shot almost as much as Morikawa. The two men embraced. They strode off the green side by side, still full of joy at what they had done.

Thank the sports gods for it. Thank them for escaping from reality. Thank them for giving us that kind of beauty, brotherhood and generosity of spirit and relief at a time when there is so much darkness and pain outside the walls of the sport.

They will always be linked from that moment, McIlroy and Morikawa. For all the majors won, those moments of 18 in Augusta will be part of their immortality.

Cars clicked and lashed over the cracks in the carriageway, and the baseball field across the river came into view. At the end of the walk across the bridge, some of the kids from two of the local high schools, North Augusta and Midland Valley, were starting to arrive for the double header that day.

They dumped some shots in the bullpen. They called these two games that were about to unfold a “showcase”. It was a great day for young lives.

The Junior Varsity match between the Midland Valley Mustangs and the North Augusta Yellow Jackets was played first, a match for less experienced players not yet ready for the later Varsity match.

We would probably call them reserves. They swung towards the fences but didn’t have the strength to clear them. It never stopped them from trying.

Before the Varsity game began, the Mayor of North Augusta approached the diamond with a microphone. There were some special guests he wanted to introduce, he said.

Then he began to tell the story of the Boys of 1997, the Yellow Jackets team that at the end of the last century had won the South Carolina State Championship for the first time in 48 years.

The baseball field I visited, illuminated by the floodlights, was an oasis of light in the darkness that surrounded it

The baseball field I visited, illuminated by the floodlights, was an oasis of light in the darkness that surrounded it

He told the audience, who had now swelled to a thousand people, that the yellow jackets had snuck into the play-offs 25 years ago at the last gasp and, after more home and away wins, had gone on to defeat West Florence 6 -2 in Race 2 of the final series.

This was their moment of immortality, their McIlroy-Morikawa moment, something that would stay with them forever. And then the mayor nodded to a group of men in their forties, who were standing proudly and perhaps a little embarrassed near third base. And he started calling their names, one by one.

And they walked toward the diamond, some bald, some bellies, some erect, straight and skinny as when they were teenagers, one or two waving to the crowd, local men transported back to their childhood and to a sports fraternity that had supported them for their entire adult life.

This was South Carolina’s version of Friday Night Lights, the book about “one city, one team, and one dream” that captured high school sport’s hold on American communities three decades ago.

When the Boys of 97 took their place in the line, the last of them was Kevin Lynn, now manager of the Yellow Jackets. As he sweetly sings the sport over the years. We left before the end and crossed the bridge to Georgia. It was now night and the river flowed silently below us.

When we turned to look, the baseball field, echoing the cries, hopes and dreams of young lives, illuminated by the glare of the floodlights, was an oasis of light in the darkness all around.

As the sport sings sweetly through the years in providing moments of immortality to be lived forever

As the sport sings sweetly through the years in providing moments of immortality to be lived forever

Because we need a clash of styles

The light is beautiful against the light. In recent years, football has become more and more accustomed to the orthodoxy of elegant expression in sport and the aesthetic hegemony of the great Barcelona teams that had Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta at the center.

And, more recently, the Manchester City squad shaped by Pep Guardiola, the Liverpool squad shaped by Jurgen Klopp and the heady motion blur instilled by Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds United.

In the context of their ideological dominance, there was something refreshing about the unashamedly iconoclastic approach taken by Atletico Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final second leg against City on Wednesday.

Led by Diego Simeone, there was something wonderfully ugly about their old-fashioned mix of intimidation, muscularity, petulance and hysteria.

Atletico also have extremely skilled players, of course, most notably Antoine Griezmann, but who would have thought we’d be homesick for the days when some sort of thug was more widely accepted as part of the game?

Maybe it was partly because we wanted to see how City would stand up under such a barrier, but partly it was also because there is a swath of fans who have mourned the disappearance of some of the more traditional elements of the game.

The tie between the teams of Diego Simeone (left) and Pep Guardiola (right) was a good show

The tie between the teams of Diego Simeone (left) and Pep Guardiola (right) was a good show

There was something refreshing about the shamelessly iconoclastic approach taken by Simeone's Atletico Madrid team (right) against Guardiola's Manchester City (left) in Europe

There was something refreshing about the shamelessly iconoclastic approach taken by Simeone’s Atletico Madrid team (right) against Guardiola’s Manchester City (left) in Europe

How many times do we hear old pros protest “the game is over” when a player is punished for what would once have been considered a nice tackle?

For all the cheers we reserve for City’s intricate passing moves, anyone watching football live will know that the biggest cheers of a match are reserved for a thunderous and righteous challenge.

There is growing fear that that physical side of the game will be outlawed, or at least phased out, and that football is becoming more one-dimensional as a result. Atletico’s tactics – and the way City responded – were a reminder of how exciting a clash of styles can be.

The fact that City nearly withstood the mental and physical onslaught and infuriated opponents with their ability to tackle fire with fire, gave Guardiola’s team more credit than a comfortable win over a team that could have. try to match their creativity.

Guardiola talks about control as well as creativity and the fact that his team resisted Simeone’s attempt to break that control bodes well for their chances of winning the Champions League for the first time in their history this season.

If they manage to survive Atletico, it is tempting to think they can survive anything.

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