The greatest event in golf got under way today at Augusta National Golf Club. Everyone ought to go once, even if just to a practice round, to walk those hallowed fairways and just soak in the breathtaking beauty of spring.
I covered the Masters for 15 consecutive years. It provided some of the more memorable moments of my career. Jack Nicklaus, thought to be too old, coming out of the pack on Sunday to win the tournament on the back nine is as dramatic a story as I've ever covered. But it was the little things, away from center-stage, I remember most.
One year--and I don't remember which--Johnny Miller had a great final round to get within range of the leaders. Nowadays, they would take him to one of the historic houses along the course. At that time, he just went to the locker room and waited. I was there to gather notes from players as they came in. The room was deserted when Miller came in. I said something like 'Great round.' He plopped down on the sofa to watch the end of the round on television. I sat down, too. I asked him how he felt about it and he said, "I think I might win, but probably won't."
For the next hour or so, I sat with Miller and watched. It was fascinating to hear him talk about what was happening on the television in front of us and about the other players. He didn't win, but I had great story and a memory.
The memorable moments on the course were many--Larry Mize chipping in to win the tournament, joining the massive crowd that always followed Arnold Palmer, just watching Sam Snead swing a golf club and so many others.
There were funny times, too. One year Tom Weiskopf, who was the height of his career, was far back in the pack. After he and his partner hit, the gallery guard made a mistake and dropped the rope on the crosswalk before the players arrived. Spectators were streaming across. Weiskopf had hit his ball into the woods. When Weiskopf arrived, he was irate and told the guard so. An elderly gentleman, bent and frail, was walking slowly across the fairway. He stopped and glared at Weiskopf. "I'll tell you what, Tom," the gentleman told Weiskopf. "You hit it where you're supposed to and we'll walk where we're supposed to."
Weiskopf, to his credit, chuckled and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, 'You've got a point' and went on with his round.
Most years that I covered the Masters, several other reporters and I would rent a house. Many Augusta residents rent out their homes for the week and go on vacation. We would always go the first day and buy a cheap barbecue grill. When the work was done and we were back from the course, we would cook out.
On this particular year, when we went to buy a grill all we could find was a small "picnic grill." The charcoal went in what looked like an oven pan, which slid into the grill portion. Since they were small, we bought two of them. One of my roommates, having finished work before the rest of us, went out on the wooden deck to light up the charcoal. In his infinite wisdom, he put the pans flush down on the deck, filled them with charcoal, doused the charcoal with lighter fluid and light it. Bad mistake.
As I was in the middle of a sentence, another of my roommates got up, stretched and gazed out the window. As calmly as you please, he said, "I'll be damned. The deck's on fire." Sure enough, smoke was billowing into the air. We raced out with water to put it out, but three of the boards were blackened. A few weeks later, we got a bill. That man must have repaired his deck with gold plated wood.
My absolute funniest Masters memory also involved another reporter. On Monday after the tournament, a limited number of media members were allowed to play the course. My friend fancied himself quite the golfer. He bought new clothes, new shoes, new everything for his chance at playing in golf's cathedral.
Since I couldn't break 100 on a Par 3 course, I had no interest in embarrassing myself. Instead, I followed my friend around. As he stepped to the first tee, he certainly looked the part. His first shot went over the press building, far to the right. He blushed and moved on.
One caddy was carrying the bags for him and his playing partner. Somewhere on the back nine, my friend looked at the caddy and asked, 'What do you think I ought to hit here?' The caddy, having watched with disgust most of the day, just shook his head.
"Buddy," he said, "it don't matter."