The trip starts, as it always does, with a good-natured difference of opinion. "They hate me coming," the old man says. "They can't stand to see me drive up that Magnolia Lane."
And his son, a tall man of 50 with a sand-colored mustache, gives his practiced response: "It's just the opposite, Dad, if you ask me. They treat you as if you won the tournament last year."
The crunch of gravel underfoot and the retreating storm clouds in the eastern sky are the harbingers of dawn. The son is holding the keys to the old man's car—a 1977 Cadillac with rust spots on the trunk and a National Rifle Association decal in the rear window. Shoe boxes and clothes cover the backseat, but the 51-year-old green sports jacket is safely stored in the trunk. "Where's the jacket?" the old man asks.
"I packed it," says the son.
Minutes later, with the younger man at the wheel, the old Caddy pulls away from Keiser's Golf Range, in Copley, Ohio, outside Akron, and onto Cleveland-Massillon Road, heading south.
The old man insists it's about money. Every April, he says, he has to drive down to Augusta and attend the champions' dinner. Otherwise, he won't get the check for $1,500. "Can you believe they make an old man drive all that way?" he grouses.
The son says it's not about the money, which is given to every past Masters winner who goes to the dinner. And if you had seen the old man the day before, trying on the green jacket and proudly showing off the Herman Keiser sewn inside over the wallet pocket, you would have had to agree. But the old man remembers the Great Depression, and at 82 he's not comfortably fixed. As the Cadillac passes the Loyal Oak Golf Course, just minutes up the road, he looks longingly at the silky fairways and frost-covered greens. He sold his partnership in the course some years back, in 1961. The proceeds dwindled. Now he lives on income from some investments and a small Social Security check, sleeping winter nights at his daughter's house and summer nights in a dormer apartment above the range office.
When he slipped the jacket on, his son asked, "Do you remember who put it on you when you won?"
The old man frowned. "Was it Hogan or Snead? Who was it?"
"Nelson," said the son. "It's always the winner from the year before."