The Masters means something different to everybody. For me, it brings back memories of snow and freezing cold. I grew up in Minnesota, where seeing the Masters on TV meant that winter was almost over.
I come from a golfing family. My grandfather played in the 1934 U.S. Open, and my dad played in the '63 Open. Every spring the three of us would sit in the living room watching the Masters. After a long winter of shoveling snow, just hearing the magic words Rae's Creek and Amen Corner got me psyched to play. Our home course was usually closed in early April, but sometimes we'd find a public course that was open. If not, at least hitting to frozen greens that had no flags was free.
In 1996, fresh off the Nike tour, I won the Honda Classic. Suddenly I was qualified for the Masters, and a month later, boom!—there I was at Augusta National. I'll never forget my first practice round. I hit a ball onto the bank short of the green at 12, and instead of rolling back into Rae's Creek, it stopped. I thought, Hey, this course isn't all that tough. I was forgetting that it would be set up a bit differently when I teed it up with Mark McCumber on Thursday. Sure enough, Augusta's greens were shaved and its fangs were sharp that day. I shot the first of two 76s. Missed the cut, of course. So much for beginner's luck.
I'm no Jack Nicklaus—I have no idea how to "elevate my game for the majors"—but I'm better prepared for this year's Masters. No matter how I play, though, I'll enjoy drinking up the scenery every minute. Here I am doing something I used to dream about, playing golf at Augusta in the spring.
To all you kids up in the frozen North watching on TV, my message is simple: Hey, winter's almost over. Get out and hit some balls.