IT WAS Saturday night at the mottled two-story building in Augusta called Sand Hill Grill, with its two upstairs windows cracked open like sleepy eyes and swing music tumbling out its double doors.
From the sidewalk, where a street lamp flickered, you could barely detect an image on the joint's brick facade. It was a mural. Or was it a mirage?
In white coveralls and a green cap, with a golf bag slung over his shoulder, a black caddie of Augusta National lore—Tommy (Burnt Biscuits) Bennett, said the patrons, many of them his friends and former colleagues—is painted walking into the distance during Masters week. The figure has faded. Or has it vanished?
Two women, regular pro caddies, worked during the gale-force final round of the Masters on Sunday, but not one black caddie remained in the field after Ben Crenshaw failed to make the cut with Augusta National veteran Carl Jackson faithfully at his side for a 31st year.
These days the old Masters caddies are still heard, if not seen. They are still sought by players, if not employed by them.
About two weeks before the tournament each year pros in nice cars roll past Chevys without hubcaps and bikes without tires. They aren't lost motorists in the hard-worn Sand Hill area of Augusta, a meandering two miles from the club gates, but as they pull up to graying caddies who sit outside the Grill in plastic lawn chairs, they do ask for directions: Which way to the pin?
"They've all been here at some point—Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Seve Ballesteros—and they come and pick our knowledge," said Fred (Hop) Harrison, who was on Ray Floyd's bag for his 1976 Masters win. "We show 'em [on the yardage books] how the ball rolls, where the breaks are for the greens, stuff like that."
It's an education in greens literacy from the caretakers of Augusta National's course knowledge. They dispense tips to players eager to learn: Does the ball break like an s as in snake, or a c as in curl or a ? as in who the hell knows?
These caddies are the Da Vinci code breakers of Amen Corner. Men like Hop and Burnt Biscuits and Joe Collins understand the mysterious ways of the only major championship that's fixed on a map, year after year. They know wind direction by looking at pine needles as if they were compass arrows. As Harrison noted, Greg Norman could have saved himself a lot of time, angst and bogeys during his '96 collapse if he'd "stopped tossing grass in the breeze and looked at the trees."
An Augusta National caddie would have come in handy for players suffering from wind damage on Sunday. Could one have kept Brandt Snedeker out of Rae's Creek on number 13? Or saved Woods from a three-putt on number 14?