Let me start this off with a confession. I suck at golf. I played pretty regularly before I had a wife and kids. But it didn't matter how often I played. I still sucked. A few years ago, I quit playing. I have two young kids so demands for my personal time changed. Golf was one of the first things I gave up. However, I still love watching the PGA Tour. Probably because I sucked. Watching the best in the world master a sport that confounded me really captures my interest.
For the last 8-10 years I've applied for the practice round and tournament round tickets through the Masters website. This is the lottery system they use to give fans some tickets at face value each year. Last June I received the e-mail that I had won the opportunity to purchase 4 practice round tickets at face value. I jumped on it. I've always wanted to see Augusta National. Once HDTV came around, they were able to really showcase the beauty of the course to the home viewer. But I wanted to see it in person. This wasn't my bucket list. But I knew how much a trip to Augusta for the Masters would mean to my dad.
I talked to my brother first and made sure he was able to go as well. To make this trip complete, I wanted us both to be there. We sprung the trip and the tickets on my dad at the end of the summer last year when we could all be together in person. Immediately he got a little choked up thanking us. That's when it really started to hit me how much this meant to him.
Last week I overheard my dad telling someone how excited he was for this trip. Said he'd been thinking about it since he found out last August. He's 71, and at that age I think we all begin to reflect on our own mortality more. When we're younger, bucket lists are fun to talk about with friends. At 71, those types of things take on a different meaning. He confessed he was a little worried about traveling with 3 guys all about 30 years his junior. I made sure he knew we would take things slower and not to be concerned about that at all.
Its become en vogue lately to take a piss on the Masters. It's a private club. Which means they set the rules however they want. This bothers some people. Personally, I don't give a shit. Whether I'm a guest at your house, or at the Masters, I expect to follow whatever rules of decorum you have in place if I want to be there. At Augusta they don't want you sprinting around and taking your shirt off to sunbathe while on premises. At my house, I don't want your dirty ass shoes on my couch. That doesn't make them, or me, some sort of wealthy elite illuminati set out on world domination. If you want to watch the best golfers in the world play in a much more relaxed atmosphere, you certainly have that option at other venues.
One rule that so many "media" personalities seem to have a problem with is the "No Cell Phones Allowed". How dare they!! These Augusta National bastards refuse to embrace the technology of the 21st century!! This turned out to be my favorite rule. I can't tell you how refreshing it was to be away from my got-damn iPhone for 10 hours straight. I didn't have to worry about checking my e-mail, or responding to a text, or posting a pic of my pimento cheese sandwich on twitter, Instagram, and Snap Chat. And then checking to see how many "likes" it got. Instead, I looked at how green and thick the rye grass is. How tall those pine trees are around the course. The sand traps are Augusta are massive on some holes. As in you could easily park a one-ton truck inside of them. We walked with my dad and he would point out the various different types of trees, shrubs, flowers, and such. He was loving this and he too was seeing more without his phone in his pocket. Once we were untethered to technology we all started noticing amazing details again.
There is no trash on the ground. And its not because Augusta National has evil minions hiding behind trees to grab it. It's because 99% of the patrons don't want to be the asshole that throws down an empty chip bag on such an amazingly beautiful piece of property. I didn't meet a single member of Augusta National. But I met probably 30+ volunteers that worked the event. All of them were extremely cordial and friendly. "Welcome to the Masters, are you having a good day?" "Welcome to the Masters, I hope you have a wonderful time while you're here." And here's the deal, they actually meant what they were saying. It's not that difficult to spot an employee that's being forced to scream out "Welcome to CiCi's Pizza!!!" in fear of losing their job.
My dad and I stopped and talked with a Masters volunteer named Robert behind the 16th green at one point. He answered a few questions we had and then asked us about our trip and if we were enjoying ourselves. This was his 12th year in a row to serve as a volunteer. My dad asked Robert what he enjoyed about it so much. He said he loved seeing first time visitors and knowing what it meant for them. Robert isn't some East Coast wall street billionaire attempting to fabricate fake southern hospitality. Robert is just a really nice guy from Greenwood, South Carolina that enjoys watching people smile.
We took my dad to the spot where Phil Mickelson hit "the shot" in 2010 off the pinestraw that catapulted him to his third green jacket. Standing 20 yards behind where Phil stood we all realized how insane that shot was. It was more than a great shot. It was a once in a lifetime shot. Augusta National is unique in hosting a major championship every year. There are tons and tons of shots and moments that can be recalled as you walk around the grounds. We went to the area where Bubba Watson hit onto the green in the 2012 playoff. Just another ridiculously impossible shot to make from that angle.
We made our way down to Amen Corner and found some seats in the grandstands overlooking the 11th green, 12th hole, and 13th tee box. We all just sat for a bit. Each of us thinking about all the shots over time we'd seen at this exact location. Some of them would propel guys to a championship, others would be the nail in the coffin for their chance at a green jacket. My father patted me on the shoulder and told us "thank y'all so much for this trip." His voice broke up at the end and the emotions hit him. Then they hit me. I hid behind my sunglasses and hoped like hell the tears wouldn't start racing down my cheeks before I could regroup.
I love Jim Valvano's ESPY speech from 1993. I make a point to watch it every year. It has such a great message, and this passage particularly has always stuck with me...
"To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day."
We spent 10 hours that day walking around Augusta National. Talking. Laughing about how high our personal scores would be on each hole. Enjoying a beer and cigar while watching the best in the world try to skip a golf ball across the water at #16. (It's become a tradition during the practice rounds for the players.) As we made our way across the course at the end of the day, walking up and down the massive hills, we all kept stopping to look around one last time and take it in. It was a special day. Heck of a day.