Last August we were in a restaurant celebrating my victory in the Greater Vancouver Open, my first win on the PGA Tour, when a man came over to congratulate me and said, "You're going to Augusta!" We all looked at each other—me; my wife, Karen; my caddie, Andy Portilla; and his wife, Betty—and it hit me: After 10 years on the Tour and at age 36,1 was finally going to play in the Masters.
I can't honestly say that playing the Masters was a lifelong dream. Growing up in Irving, Texas, my brother Bill and I planned to be rodeo cowboys. After I fell off enough horses, or after enough horses fell on me, I switched to golf. I knew if I played well enough, I would get to Augusta sooner or later. Turns out it was later. Now that my first Masters is behind me, I have to admit, it was worth the wait. Here's how it went.
Instead of going home to Scottsdale, Ariz., after the Players Championship, I went to Orlando to practice and work with David Leadbetter. I had a couple of different ways to get to Augusta. I could've driven with Karen and our two-year-old, Brandel Jr., whom we call Little B, but seven hours in a car with a two-year-old is not an option. Or I could've flown commercially to Atlanta, changed planes and gone on to Augusta. Considering the mountain of luggage I had to deal with, that wasn't a pleasant prospect either.
David gave me the idea for option number 3. He suggested a private jet. The flight would last an hour and a half and cost $4,500.1 figured I was going to Augusta for the first time and was already down about 10 grand for tickets and the two houses I'd rented for the week, so what was a few thousand more? Karen couldn't believe it when I told her I had chartered a jet. "Honey," I told her, "you can't take a pocket knife into a gunfight."
FRIDAY, APRIL 2: We got to our rental house about 9 p.m. I made a run to a grocery store for essentials, which included a 12-pack of Guinness. I'm going to Ireland in a couple of weeks with my best friend, Jack Harden, to play some of the great courses there. I needed to start training for the trip, so I turned on the TV, poured myself a Guinness and drank a toast to our arrival in Augusta.
SATURDAY, APRIL 3: I was halfway down Magnolia Drive almost before I knew it. It wasn't quite the way I envisioned my first visit to Augusta National. What happened was, Little B was throwing a fit in the backseat. Karen was trying to quiet him, and I was trying not to drive the courtesy car—a Cadillac Escalade, which is more like a courtesy tank—into one of the magnolia trees. My son was upset because he hadn't wanted to leave our rental house. The owners obviously have children. There were toys in every room, and Little B had gotten pretty excited: "Daddy, toys! Daddy, cars!" He had found a plastic hammer set that he loved. It got to be noon and time to go to the course, which meant that we had to take him away from his new toys, and he started wailing. Forget Augusta National, Daddy, there's a hammer set upstairs.
It was quiet at the club, and nobody was there to greet me. As I walked into the locker room I noticed a plaque that read, GENTLEMEN ONLY. You see those in other places, but here you get the feeling they mean it. There were three or four waiters in the men's grill, and they must've been studying the Tour's media guide. "Mr. Chamblee," one of them said, "would you like lunch?" I thought, Man, these guys are good. They ought to know a Nick Price or a Greg Norman or a Davis Love, but me? There are 90-some guys in the tournament, and even I probably don't even know 15 of them.
After eating, I ran into Tom Watson, who was going out for a practice round. He wanted to know if I'd like to join him, but I had to take a pass so I could regrip my clubs. I had changed the grips the day before, but they were too thick. Later I kicked myself. My first Masters, and I turn down a chance to play with Tom Watson, who has won here three times. What was I thinking?
I changed the grips myself in a back room. It was looking as if my first round was going to be just me and my caddie when Bob Estes, another Tour player from Texas, asked me to play. Bob is a nice guy who likes to talk. When we got to the 1st tee, he said, "This is it! Your first tee shot at Augusta National. What do you think? What do you feel?" I was just trying to relax. I knew it was my first tee shot, and, yeah, I was juiced. For the record, I drove into the left rough.
The front nine at Augusta National is pretty good, but the first time you play the course you can't help but think about the back nine. When I reached the 11th fairway, where you can see the 11th green, the 12th tee, the 12th green, Rae's Creek and the 13th tee—Amen Corner—I thought, Somebody please take a picture. I hadn't been playing well up until then, but I hit a seven-iron to six feet at the 12th, then ripped a drive around the corner at 13 and hit a five-iron to the middle of the green.