When 44-year-old Danny Yates went back to work at his insurance office in Atlanta on Monday morning, he couldn't be blamed for dropping names. After all, how many golfers get to experience a fantasy weekend playing with Jack Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros at Augusta National Golf Club during the Masters?
Yates participated in this year's Masters as a marker, a noncompeting player who is called on to give a contestant somebody to play with. As a U.S. Amateur finalist in 1988 and the U.S. Mid-Amateur champion in 1992, Yates competed in the '89 and '93 Masters. He missed the cut both times, though he did get to play with Arnold Palmer and Ben Crenshaw. But Yates has made a virtual career out of serving as a Masters marker. In that role he has played with Tommy Aaron, Gay Brewer, John Cook, Jeff Maggert, Gary Player, Howard Twitty and now Nicklaus and Ballesteros.
A marker is supposed to keep pace with his partner, speak only when spoken to and pick up when told to. He should be all but invisible. Yates handles the job well, but he's had trouble being inconspicuous. The Masters's own Forrest Gump, he keeps finding himself center stage when history is made. Last Saturday he was paired with Nicklaus when the Bear scored his second eagle in three days on the difficult par-4 5th hole. Last year he was playing as a marker in the final round when his partner, Maggert, holed out from the fairway on the par-5 13th for only the third double eagle in Masters history.
Yates, whose father, Dan, is an Augusta National member, plays three or four times a year at the club, where he has shot rounds as low as 66. But everything changes in the Masters. "The course is so much different than it is the rest of the year," he said Sunday. "It takes a little bit of time to get used to the big crowd. This is different than playing with your buddies. You want to try to play as well as you can." With Nicklaus, Yates shot a loosely scored 76, picking up on several greens to speed up play. On Sunday with Ballesteros he didn't break 80.
Nicklaus, who is known for playing slowly but walking fast, wore Yates out. "I was going to try to slow my game down because I figured I'd be a little nervous and play too fast," Yates said. "But Jack walks so fast, I was totally out of balance. He's hard to keep up with." Nicklaus didn't seem to notice, which means Yates was fulfilling his duty. "I enjoyed Danny very much," Nicklaus said after shooting 70. "He did not play badly. He's a nice young man."
There was less banter with Ballesteros, who shot 75. When Yates was in the midst of playing the second hole badly, he offered to pick up. "I said I just want to move on so you don't have to wait," Yates said after the round. "He said, 'Relax and have a good time.' We talked a little bit, but I think he was just into his game."
Yates played another round at this year's Masters. On Friday he was paired with U.S. Public Links champion Guy Yamamoto, who holed out from the fairway on 10 for the fourth eagle on that hole in tournament history. See a trend?
The streak ended on Sunday, but not without a close call. "Seve almost kept it going," Yates said that afternoon. "He knocked it stiff on 16. That would have really been something."