The first time I
played in the Masters was in 1996, a few weeks after I won at Bay Hill. That
was a long time ago, so this year, when my plane landed in Augusta on the
Saturday before the tournament and the reality of playing in my second Masters,
11 years later, finally began to hit home, I had chills. Not goose bumps, real
chills. And a fever. Some virus was messing with me, and I was sick. Great
timing, but for me that figures. � Upon my arrival, memories of my first
Masters came flooding back. In '96 I played a practice round with Arnold
Palmer, Fred Funk and Woody Austin. Arnie took us to the champions' locker room
after the round, and I saw four green jackets hanging in his locker. Sam Snead
was there having a beer, and Arnie introduced me as the guy who won his
tournament. Snead looked at me quizzically and said, "You did?" You
can't have a better day. Snead was one of the few men in the world who could
needle Arnold Palmer. He asked Arnie, "So when are you going replace me as
the honorary starter?" It was funny, but it also kind of pissed Arnie off.
The irony is, I'm back 11 years later, and guess who finally agreed to be the
remember Byron Nelson. On Friday, Byron sat at a table right behind the 1st tee
and watched everyone play away. Since I had won Bay Hill, that got me into a
couple of the invitationals--Colonial and the Memorial--and the schedule I'd
mapped out for the spring didn't include the Byron Nelson Classic. So I walked
onto the tee, went over to shake Byron's hand, and Byron said, "Hi, Paul.
Great playing. Are you coming to my tournament this year?" I didn't
hesitate. "I am now," I said. If Byron Nelson asks whether you're
going, you're going. Then I went out and shot an 83.
This week will
also be memorable, but for other reasons. At 42 I'm at a different place in my
life. I played my way into the top 50 of the World Ranking--and thus qualified
for the Masters--by winning the Sony Open in January, but realistically I'm a
full-time single parent and only a part-time golfer now. My daughters, Chelsea,
16, and Courtney, 14, are with me, and they're now old enough to know what the
Masters means. (Plus, they're not unhappy about missing three days of school.)
I also have an entourage that includes my ex-wife's sister and her family--Amy
and Jay Skenderian and their children, Bradley and Ashley. I gained custody of
the girls in my divorce three years ago, and Jay and Amy help take care of my
kids when I travel to tournaments. Without them I wouldn't be here. Not many
part-time golfers play in the Masters. I consider myself very fortunate.
I had bad chills
all night on Saturday and took some medicine on Sunday morning so that I could
play a few holes.
It's nice and
quiet on Sunday at Augusta. My friend Bob Summers, a money manager who was a
senior at Long Beach State when I was a freshman, walked inside the ropes with
me. This was his first trip to the Masters, so it was a near-religious
experience for him. Augusta National is one of the few places that lives up to
the hype. I was feeling weak, so we cut over from 14 and played up 18.
I got a preview
of how difficult the course was going to play on my second shot on the 1st
hole. I hit a four-iron that landed a few steps onto the green but then bounced
completely over. I turned to Bob and said, "Uh-oh, it's going to be a long
Skenderian, my nephew, is 10 years old and my caddie for the par-3 contest.
This is his second trip to the Masters, but he doesn't remember the first one.
His mom, Amy, was pregnant with him here in 1996. I like the symmetry of