It’s Sunday, April 7th, just days before the Masters tournament is scheduled to begin. After 12 years of entering my name into a raffle that I never thought I would actually win, I was lucky enough to get tickets to the Monday practice round at the Augusta National Golf Club. I was beyond excited, and I honestly thought someone was playing a joke on me when they told me I won. My parents and I loaded up and drove from Chattanooga and were destined for heaven on earth, Augusta, GA.
We finally pulled into Augusta before the sun was even up, and at this point, it’s just me, my parents, and about 200 other cars heading for the course. The excitement was unlike anything I’ve ever felt for a sporting event that I wasn’t actually participating in. I had butterflies like I was about to ask the cutest girl in my class to the dance. We walk through the north gate to the chipping area that sits beside the driving range, which led me to the two Justin’s – Rose and Thomas. I could see Tiger Woods in the distance at the driving range and after only seeing him swing twice, I was in awe at his skill level. Now for the sake of context, I’ve been to the FedEx St. Jude Classic several times in Memphis, TN, my hometown, but I’ve never been to a practice round at the Augusta National. It’s a completely different level of prowess that I’ve never witnessed, and it’s one thing to hit a good shot, but it’s an entirely different thing to hit the same shot over, and over, and over again and have the exact same result. I couldn’t tell this on TV but these guys were putting all sorts of english on shots OUT OF THE BUNKER. If this was golf, I don’t know what I’ve been playing for the last 25 years but it wasn’t anything resembling what I was witnessing in person. It seemed so effortless and casual to these guys. Over walks Tiger and he begins to practice with the Justin’s. I’ve never seen Tiger in person, because the tournament in Memphis usually fell directly before one of the majors so he never came, and let’s be honest – during that time of the year in West Tennessee it’s as hot as two rats screwing in a wool sock, so I get it. Tiger was never my favorite golfer, but he’s my generation’s great and it was surreal to be 20 feet from him. The opportunity to watch him in person was one I would not allow myself to pass up.
After watching them practice for a while, I took my time and walked down the sidewalk, went past the pro shop, and arrive at the putting green. There stood my favorite golfer – Bubba Watson. I watch him putt for a bit and up walks Tiger. I’m 1 of 50 people surrounding the putting green at this point, and can hear the hilarious banter between them and their caddies. Tiger asks Bubba, “where’s pretty boy?” Bubba says he doesn’t know and he thinks he hasn’t shown up yet. Tiger tells Bubba, “you can go off first,” but Bubba insists Tiger should go first. At this point, I am probably looking like a complete goon as I admire these guys talking about who is going to walk off first, but I have zero shame about how I looked as I admired these two icons – I was in freaking heaven! Tiger asked Bubba, “where’s the old man?” Bubba responded, “he’s on the 10th tee waiting” and pointed past my shoulder. “Oh shit,” Tiger replied, and walked over to the 10th tee box. Bubba asked Tiger, “can’t you tell by the smoothness of that swing” in typical Watson tongue-in-cheek fashion. Now as I looked over, I learned that “the old man” is the legend, Freddie Couples, and “pretty boy” was actually, Brooks Koepka. Brooks is my second favorite golfer and paired with Bubba and JB Holmes. Tiger was paired with his good friend Justin Thomas, and Freddie Couples. I got to be one of the first ones on the course and they’re the first group to tee off. Apparently the bigger names were there Monday because they are expecting rougher weather Tuesday and Wednesday. If I had come in through the south gate, I’d likely have missed all of this, but luckily, I got to follow Tiger and company to Amen Corner and then later got to see Bubba, Brooks, and JB on the back half of the back 9. These guys only play 9 during the practice rounds and there are no schedules announced for their tees time, so I consider myself lucky to have seen these guys. I got to witness Tiger, Freddie, and Justin do the skip shot across 16 at the same time. The crowd had been chanting “skip it,” and man, they did not disappoint. I got to watch Bubba, Brooks, and JB do the same right after. This was the first 2 hours of my Masters experience and I was beside myself, as was everyone around me. The shots these guys are hitting were hard to believe and they all seemed way more relaxed than they’d be during the actual tournament.
My dad had the biggest grin on his face all day, and it meant so much to me to be there with him and check this off his bucket list. My mom could care less about golf, but was amazed at how beautiful everything looked. Looking back, It still feels like a dream and I’ll likely never get to relive it. Every inch of that campus is perfect – nature and facilities alike. There is nothing out of place, and just like everyone says, every single blade of grass is manicured to perfection. There are attendants in the bathroom to constantly clean and direct traffic in and out. Everywhere you go workers tell you “Welcome to the Masters” or “Enjoy the Masters.” The lines looked like amusement park lines in size, but moved way faster. It didn’t matter if it was the bathroom, clubhouse, or concession stand. I got in line to get one of these famous pimento cheese and an egg salad sandwiches that I’d heard about for years, and believe me, they’re just as good as advertised. The line was over 300 people long leading into the pro shop and I was in-and-out in 30 minutes. The pro shop itself was huge and I had never seen such a frenzy than the one for this highly sought after Masters gear. It looked like Black Friday all day outside the pro shop. To use the term “well-oiled machine” wouldn’t even come close to describing the science and precision with which this event flowed; it was a real spectacle to see in person. The amount of staff and security running this thing was unlike anything I could’ve ever imagined. There are people speaking all kinds of languages and dialects around me, each of them look like a kid on Christmas.
In closing, I will never forget my experience at Augusta National. Frankly, I don’t care if you absolutely despise golf, if you have a chance to go to the Masters, you absolutely must go. It truly is a “tradition like no other,” and I can’t wait to see who comes away with the green jacket this weekend.