I recently entered a writing contest for a golf magazine. I wrote an article on this year's Master's golf tournament. After writing my story I tried to cut it down to the required 800 words. The chopped up submitted entry was just not the same, to me, nor apparently the contest judges. You may not like this article either...
For me it started a few weeks prior when I got a call from a friend that said, "Hey you know anybody that would be interested in two Tuesday practice round tickets to the Master's?" With tickets in hand for Tuesday's practice round, my father-in-law who had never been to Augusta National and I walked in the back gate at Amen Corner.
For the average golfer, walking the fairways at Augusta National is the ultimate golfing experience even without a club in your hand. Seeing the perfectly manicured fairways, greens, bunkers, pinestraw, and elevation changes is incredible. Seeing the number one player in the world within ten yards of you, is icing on the cake. We ooed and awed at Tiger's tee shot on three. Then we looked back at the 2nd fairway and see a lumbering stride that is known by anyone that watches the PGA; Phil Mickelson. "Wow, this is cool!" As the day progressed we saw past Master's, British and US Open Champions. We were star struck.
On Thursday, we were back to watching the tournament from home. Let me try to put that in perspective for you. While you are at Augusta, on the grounds, walking around and seeing the sights, it is like letting a kid play the newest PlayStation for 8 hours with any game he wishes. SUPER COOL. Watching it on TV is like taking away the PlayStation from the boy and giving it to his sister. NOT COOL. Not getting to go to the tournament but once every few years or so is like making the boy watch his sister play the PlayStation for the next few years but telling him he will get to again soon…maybe…if you like win the lottery. REALLY NOT COOL.
I have been to Augusta three times now. My first Master's experience was on Saturday's rain delayed round in 1992. Fred Couples of course won the next day. Seeing his name on the leaderboard at this year’s tournament 18 years later was surreal. My second Master's experience was a practice round in 2006 when my father and I visited. I finally got a chance to repay Dad a ticket for letting me take his place in 1992. This year’s Tuesdays practice round would be my third visit.
Freddy’s lead on Thursday this year did not last long. On Friday the young guns showed up to the party. Westwood and Mickelson played well and climbed the leaderboard. On Saturday, typically referred to as "moving day", was spectacular. Augusta National was treated to shot making it had not seen in recent memory. Phil was within six inches or less from making Master's history with three eagles in a row (hole 13, 14, and 15). But even with this stellar play Westwood was atop the leaderboard.
During the final round on Sunday it is said many times, “the Master's does not start until the back nine on Sunday”. Sunday arrived and for once we saw more great golf on Sunday’s front nine than ever before. On the second hole during Phil's backstroke a pine tree pollen capsule fell directly in the line of his birdie putt attempt. His ball bounced off the obstruction fell off line and he missed the putt. He tapped in for a par. It appeared Phil had been snakebit once again (2006 US Open). Tiger's game was not sharp. He was missing putts, greens, fairways; until he reached number 7. Tiger put his second shot on the par 4 number 7 on the back of the green but spun it back into the hole for a brilliant eagle. The shot brought a smile to his face and the crowd to their feet.
Then, as scripted, the Master's started. Anthony Kim was mid way through the back nine, setting it on fire. Kim closed with a scorching 65. Mickelson had gained a one shot advantage at the turn. But he and Westwood seemed to be getting nervous as their tee shots were going awry. When Phil drained the birdie putt at 12, his fist pump sent a message that he was in control. The memory of his costly double bogey at 12 from last year vanished. Westwood could not match the birdie. Had Mickelson holed his eagle putt on 13 we would be watching the highlight for the next millennium. The dagger finally found its target on 15 when Phil birdied and Westwood was unable to match.
The 17th held a little drama as Westwood birdied and Phil made par. With a two stroke lead on 18 tee, visions of the 2006 US Open flashed across my mind. Back in 2006 at Wingedfoot, Mickelson stood on the last hole with a lead and was in position to win the tournament. Mickelson had struggled with his driver all week. He had no business hitting a driver off the tee. I have said many times if I was Bones (Mickelson's caddy) I would have snapped his driver in half and made him a 3 metal.
Well I got vindication from that nightmare. At this year’s Master’s on the last hole with a two shot lead Bones had obviously learned his lesson and got my letter (joking). Phil hit 3 metal instead of driver. Phil found the fairway. Phil dropped his approach to about seven feet. Westwood needing eagle, landed right of the hole about twenty feet. Phil walked up 18 with a smile. His birdie putt rolled in center cup like a true champion.
As Phil walked off 18 I swear I heard him say "O wow!" Not because he had won, but because his cancer weakened wife and three kids were waiting to give him a victory hug. It was a moment that left Ken Venturri and I speechless.
Couples won after my trip in 1992. Mickelson has won each of my last two visits ('06, '10). Phil, just so you know, I would love to visit Augusta National again soon.