"Covering the tournament, I'd think about how I'd play each hole. I knew we'd play the members' tees, so I thought I could shoot in the 80s."
--Mark Cannizzaro, New York Post
One day a year Augusta National Golf Club overflows with an unforgettable mix of drama, tension, pressure and excitement. On that day there is a display of golf that will live on in memory for years to come. The back nine on Sunday? Nah. We're talking about the Monday morning after the Masters, when a handful of writers drawn by lottery, an assortment of CBS employees and a select few hangers-on get to sip from golf's Holy Grail: They are allowed to play the magnificent course. Even the most cynical wordsmiths are thrilled to trod the National's legendary fairways and greens, if for
no other reason than the Masters is the only major championship that does not allow writers or photographers inside the gallery ropes during the event. Ira Miller, a longtime San Francisco Chronicle writer, said it all when he played one Monday in the mid-1970s. As he and a caddie searched for his ball in the trees right of the 8th fairway, Miller said, "I finally get to play this course, and I still can't get inside the ropes."
Whether it's Miller or the Japanese writer who, in 1984, somehow dribbled his opening tee shot between his own legs, there is one universal truth about the press that play Augusta National: We are not worthy.
"I played Palmetto Plantation on Saturday morning and had the dead shanks. I couldn't get the ball airborne with my irons--any of them. I was mortified. On the drive back to Augusta, I called the pressroom, and lo and behold, my name had been picked in the lottery. I was finally going to play Augusta National, and I was in the throes of the shanks."
--CANNIZZARO The range at Augusta National isn't open on Monday morning, the greens haven't been mowed, so they're a notch below Daytona 500 speed, and the pins are still in their impossible final-round locations. Nevertheless, NBC reporter Jimmy Roberts says getting to play the famed course after covering his first Masters, in the early '90s, was "impossibly thrilling." His highlight was stopping to call a friend at work in New York City. "Guess where I am?" Roberts said. "I'm making the turn at Augusta!" The response was a predictable expletive. "It was sweet," Roberts says.
Toronto Star columnist Dave Perkins was about to replace a big divot he had taken in the 10th fairway when his caddie told him to simply leave it, the mowers would cut it up later. "It was a tremendous pelt," Perkins says, "so I took it, roots and all, and put it in a plastic bag." As soon as he got home, Perkins planted the divot in his backyard. "I had a little piece of Augusta National in my yard all summer," he says. "Every 10th person I told would bend down and kiss it. The other nine would say, 'Are you crazy?' The divot didn't survive the winter, but it was good while it lasted."
Another thing about Monday: The TV people are dismantling all of their equipment. "You're playing Augusta National, you expect orchestra music as you arrive and bluebirds to land on your shoulder," says SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's Rick Reilly. "Instead, you're hitting on 12, the moment of your life, and some teamster spools cable past you. It isn't quite the cathedral experience." Reilly reached the par-5 13th green in two and declared it the greatest moment of his life. "Then I three-putted," he says.
"I got to the course at about 6:30 a.m., and all I could do was roll some putts. I was petrified. A range pro once gave me a tip on what to do to beat the shanks--keep your heels together as you swing. Well, I absolutely stung my drive over the right bunker on the 1st hole. I had 128 yards to the pin, and as I pulled an iron, I told my caddie, 'Listen, you're going to see some unorthodox things today.' I clicked my heels like Dorothy and topped one underneath the trees and made a double. The caddie was probably thinking, What is this imbecile doing?"