BY BRENT NORMOYLE
A few months ago, my dad’s partner, Pat, called to say she’d won the lottery – the Masters lottery that is, and had four tickets. Did I and my wife want to fly with her and my dad, George, to Augusta, Ga.?
Without hesitation, I said, “yes”. Without hesitation, my wife said, “no”.
The Masters limits the number of spectators, not only for the four-day tournament, but also for the practice rounds. For common folk to get any ticket requires entry in a lottery. It took Pat five years to win our tickets, but those tickets weren’t to the actual tournament, or even to all the practice rounds. They were tickets to only one day of watching golfers practice. Perhaps that’s why my wife said, “No way are we spending several thousand dollars in air fare and exorbitant hotel rooms (over $400 nightly for a Holiday Inn room near the golf course, which normally is around $80), just to watch one day of golfers practicing.”
But then Pat said that she and dad were paying for the plane tickets, and my wife realized how important it was to my 88-year-old dad that we join them. So off we went, the Sunday before the tournament.
On Monday, I drove us from the Atlanta area to Augusta, about 180 miles. It rained like one of the Seattle area’s worst November storms. Driving was almost white-knuckle, with semi-trucks passing me at 75, overloading my windshield wipers. That night I, a strict vegetarian, had to eat at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. I had a potato.
It was a long day for me, but far worse for the tens of thousands of lottery-winning ticket holders for the Monday practice round. Rained out. Go home, losers. Come back next year. Your Monday tickets are only for Monday.
When we arrived in Augusta on Monday night, it was still pouring, but reports were good for Tuesday morning. I had my doubts. But the rain stopped. The sun came out. The grass dried. The mourning doves sang, azaleas bloomed and off we went at 7 a.m. (which was 4 a.m. Pacific time).
Augusta National looks beautiful on television. It’s even better in person. It’s more green than green should be. My wife asked, seriously, “Is this real grass?” I told her it wasn’t putt-putt golf grass, even though it appeared that way. There are no weeds. People smoke, but I never saw a cigarette butt. There’s never any litter. We were told that there were 800 cops and security people. The fairway is like green carpet. The rough is as good as the fairways on our best golf courses. In short, Augusta is the golf course equivalent of a Monet.
Georgians, as a whole, are gracious and friendly. The Masters staff goes beyond that. Simply put, they were all on happy pills. It’s regimented like Disneyland.
During both practices and the tournament, you are allowed to wander most anywhere on the course to watch any players. We started at hole No. 1, where Rory McIlroy happened to be, and followed him for two holes. All of the golfers, except Kevin Stadler, are thinner in person than on television. Rory, smaller than I thought, hits it a mile, seemingly effortlessly.
This is where my story starts to go south. No cellphones are allowed on the course. Get caught and you are evicted. The first two holes we walked, like many there, are U-shaped. That is, the tee shot is down but then the fairway goes severely up. After going down, then up, then down, then up for two holes, Dad needed a break because he uses a walking stick for two reconstructed knees. All of us (except Tre, my wife, who was still trying to figure out if the grass was really grass, and as a psychologist was already beginning to worry about the emotional harm to golfers hitting poor shots) wanted to go to famed “Amen Corner”, holes 11, 12 and 13, where the Masters is often won or lost.
Pat and dad said to go ahead, and they would catch up. I emphasized we’d wait for them at the 11th green. There Tre and I found front-row seats in the stands overlooking both that green and the 12th hole, which is arguably the most famous hole in golf. We waited. And waited. After more than an hour I decided to go look for them at the rendezvous spot we had agreed upon if anyone got lost. So up and down a hill I went, to the beginning of the course. No dad. No Pat. I went to the information booth and had them check to see if he was at First Aid. He wasn’t. So it was back up and down the hill to the 11th green. An hour later I finally spotted them coming out of the large crowd down by the 11th green, where they had been sitting comfortably in their chairs the whole time without seeing us in the front row of the stands – DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF THEM AT THE 11TH GREEN.
During my trek looking for them, I missed these golfers at 11 and 12: Mickelson, Dufner, Els, Fowler, Garcia, Jimenez, two Johnsons, Kuchar, Mahan, McDowell, Puyallup’s Ryan Moore, Rose, and Watson, among others. I did see, though, Jordan Niebrugge, Thorbjorn Olesen, Garrick Porteous, and Joost Luiten, and got a brief look at the top of the head of the eventual winner, Bubba Watson.
But you can’t get mad at your 88-year-old dad, so I just said, “Let’s not get lost again” as we all walked to the 18th green. Pat and Dad found front-row seats for their chairs, practically on the green. It was now about 2 p.m., and Tre and I needed to sit down (we hadn’t bought chairs) and get something to eat.
The agreed-upon meeting time for all of us, 3 p.m., came and went. Tre stayed at the rendezvous spot. Up and down the hill I went to No. 18. Dad and Pat were not there. So down the hill I went, back to the meeting place, where I finally spotted Pat. She was heading to the gift shop to ship the two umbrellas, eight golf hats, two golf chairs, six shirts, two sleeves of golf balls and maybe a Masters memorabilia golf cart (all of which they had bought and stored there on our way in). ‘
Pat told me two important things:
1) Dad was waiting for me at the 17th and 18th greens because he’d heard that Fred Couples was nearing 17. I told her I had just seen Fred’s head as he teed off at the 10th hole;
2) “You can’t miss your dad.”
So guess what? Down the hill I went to the 17th. No Dad. Up and down the hill I went to the meeting place. And finally I found him at the Lost and Found, with Tre and Pat. He was grinning, happy as a clam at high tide.
Where the hell have you been?” he asked.
Next up: the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in Tacoma. I’m buying a chair.
Brent Normoyle is an attorney from Olympia who was the editor of the Shoreline Community College Ebbtide, where he supervised a young sports editor named Jack Broom.
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