Sunday, April 21, 2013

"This Sure Ain't No Regular Day"

From Sunday's Times and News-Star

The clubhouse entrance to Augusta National Golf Club is breathtaking Magnolia Lane, and a large officer of the law guarded it at 10:50 on the morning of Monday, April 9, 2012, when I pulled in and handed him what amounted to a golden ticket.

“Glad you could come,” he said. “Drive on up and they’ll greet you at the clubhouse.”

It was impossible not to smile, because usually an officer in such a position asks if I would mind stepping out of the car. This was going to be a good day.

I drove one-inch an hour. Seriously. It has to be an Augusta record for slow play over that 330 yards. And not just because my fuel pump was about to go out. No, I was about to play, for lack of a better term, a round of golf at America’s most notable, historic and beloved course, and I was milking it.
For the golf fan, the Monday after the Masters has a sort of day-after-Christmas feel to it. Not so last year for the lucky few of us who won the annual “media lottery” and were granted a round. With caddies in their white jumpsuits. With all the gallery ropes taken down. With no people where 40,000 had been the day before.


All week during the tournament my car had been parked at an Augusta home under a tree. Bird poop. I couldn’t see driving down Magnolia Lane in a pooped-on car with a bad fuel pump and a suspect battery. (My jumper cables were in the passenger seat.) So I went through a car wash across the street, then drove in like I was somebody.

On this day, they treat you better than they’d treat a member. For instance, you get a locker in the Champion’s Locker Room. I had Phil Mickelson’s. Beside me/Phil were lockers with the engraved names of Nick Faldo and Larry Mize and Gary Player and Henry Picard, the 1938 champ who I feared might be rolling over in his grave. “Give me about six hours, Mr. Picard,” I whispered, “and I’ll be gone. If my car starts.”

Two things. One, try to get a ticket online to the Masters’ practice rounds at Augusta. This piece of land that began as a nursery is as fabulous as you’ll see. There is help everywhere on the course. Prices for concessions and souvenirs are at break-even rates. It might be the best and most well-run sporting event in the world.

Two, with borrowed shoes and clubs and having not played in months, I shot a foot wedge-aided 96. In real life, that would be about 110. But there is little about Augusta National, or that day, that was like real life. I had a fine time.

Bogey on 1. Parred 2, 7 and, from the sand, 16. Back left bunker on 12. Pond at 15. Hit a pine with a wedge on 10 – sounded like a rifle blast – and the ball dropped 15 feet below the hole.

“Never seen THAT shot before,” one of our caddies said. They said that a lot that round. Glenny. Jimmy. Rhett. And Mr. Lucky. My Mount Rushmore of Caddies.

At the turn, a nice man in tie and black pants and vest made us a drink that fizzed. Maybe a 7-Up and cranberry juice. On regular days, one of our caddies said, for members who wanted a drink at the turn, vodka would be added.

The bartender laughed. “Well,” he said, “this sure ain’t no regular day.”