I’m a sappy sentimentalist. This week, just like the azaleas at Augusta National, my sappy sentimentalism will be in full bloom. If you’ve been watching NCAA basketball you are probably over Jim Nance pausing during a critical time in the game to remind us of “A Tradition Unlike Any Other – THE MASTERS!” For me that announcement never gets old.
I grew up with a Dad who had an absolute love affair with the game of golf. Like most good fathers, during my formative years, he didn’t play much because he was busy fulfilling his many roles including breadwinner, yard man, gardener, head chef, cabbie, husband, role model and his kids’ biggest fan. I wish he had played more golf but per my Dad there was always something that needed to get done around the house.
Despite his lack of play during those years, sports and golf were part of the family culture. I have fond memories of sitting with my Dad on a Sunday afternoons watching Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf with host Jimmy DeMerrit and color man Gene Sarazin. Dad’s favorite player was Slammin Sammy Snead and Mom loved Arnold Palmer.
Dad encouraged me to pick up the game but I was infatuated with basketball, baseball and football. He’d say, golf is a game you can play for a lifetime. Just like lots of good advice I got from him, I ignored it until I was old enough to understand the wisdom in his words.
The Masters begins tomorrow with the first tee ceremony which will not include The King – Arnold Palmer. That makes me sad. He represents the golf era when my Dad fell in love with the game.
The Masters has always been more than a golf tournament for me. It was common ground for me and my Dad. It brought so much joy to the two of us for so many years. Back in the day it was Arnie, Jack, Gary and Sam. Then Tom, Seve and Ben, followed by Nick, Freddy and Tiger and today it’s Phil, Bubba and Jordan. Arguably Augusta National is the most revered golf venue in the world. There’s just something about it – the atmosphere, the $1.50 pimento cheese sandwiches, the tall whispering pines and a golf course without a blade of grass out of place.
In the early 90’s, I was working in Spartanburg, South Carolina. My colleague, great friend and fellow die hard sports fan, Joe Herrera, was in town for business during Masters week. He had extended his trip through the weekend so we could watch a couple rounds of the tournament together. Our ad agency took us out for dinner and drinks that Saturday night. Little did we know, after a delicious meal and several adult beverages, we were about to have an out-of-body experience.
Gaines Hughley, a nice, laid back southern boy who worked for the agency was in attendance that night. After dinner, on our way out of the restaurant, Gaines taps me on the shoulder and casually asks, “Would you and Joe like to go the Masters tomorrow for the final round?” I thought ole Gaines was pulling the proverbial leg. Once he convinced us this was for real he explained the logistics of picking up the tickets (from Grandma’s mailbox in East Bum F–somewhere between Spartanburg and Augusta). Words can’t describe our elation.
After little sleep, early the next morning, Joe and I headed out on the back roads in hot pursuit of the tickets and a once in a lifetime sports experience. Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we went. It was early and seemed like we were the only ones traveling the back way to Augusta. A glance in the rear view mirror ruined that thought with the flashing of red lights in the distance. We got pulled over for speeding by Buford T. Justice who was willing to negotiate a deal for us to pay $40.00 cash in lieu of a ticket. I chalked it up to an investment in a dream come true. We laughed it off, proceeded to Grandma’s and secured the tickets. That dream was now 90 minutes away from becoming a reality. Next stop – the golf mecca – Augusta National. (or so we thought). Another glance in my rear view mirror and as Yogi would say, it was déjà vu all over again. Flashing lights, cop, paid cash in lieu of ticket. This time it was Buford’s cousin. We were like little kids on Christmas morning only we were giving presents to the crooked Carolina cops. You know they made a bundle that day!
With skinny wallets, we finally arrived at Augusta National. The sensory overload as I walked through the gate caused a rush of adrenaline like I’d never experienced. My expectations were extremely high and the experience exceeded all of them. It was as if we’d stepped inside the pearly gates. Everything was perfect. The smells the sights the sounds. All extraordinary. We walked the entire front nine and most of the back nine then parked ourselves on 16 tee. I’d find out later that night CBS caught a cameo of the two of us during the broadcast. Ian Woosnam won in a tight battle with Tom Watson.
The next year through another set of remarkable circumstances I secured final round tickets again! This time it was my Dad’s turn. Calling him to inform him of our good fortune was the ultimate. After all that he’d done for me, I was finally able to give him something back. It was more than a ticket to the Masters. It was the experience of a lifetime.
That was 1992. My Dad, a victim of cancer, passed away in the fall of that year. I know two things for certain as the 81st edition of the Masters gets underway. I’ll be sentimental mess and my Dad will be watching and loving every minute of “A Tradition Unlike Any Other – THE MASTERS!”