The Masters Experience

Zachary Turcotte
By Zachary Turcotte April 7, 2020 01:01

The Masters Experience

Most of the time when I plan a big trip, it fails to live up to expectations for one reason or another. Usually, the enthusiasm of the planning process gets me so excited with anticipation by the time whatever adventure I have planned rolls around, I have built it up so highly in my head that the actual trip itself could not possibly live up to the one I imagined in my mind. I think this happens to all of us as we look forward to things in life in a way that helps us to deal with day to day grind of our normal lives. Fortunately, The Masters managed to exceed my high expectations this time around.

As I sat in my office back in April of 2015 during the first round of The Masters, I knew I would not have a very productive day. With a Slingbox account and the amazing coverage that The Masters does with their app and website, I was enjoying wall to wall coverage of the event in a far less annoying manner than the commercial stuffed coverage that we have all become accustomed to each weekend on the major networks that cover the PGA. My business partner walked into my office that day and looked at me and we more or less decided around the same time that we were going to find a way to attend the tournament the next year with our dads.

It is one thing to decide to attend The Masters, it is another thing to actually make the arrangements and put the dollars down to do it. Getting tickets is no easy task. If you go to the website for The Masters, there is a process where you can apply for tickets for the practice rounds and tournament rounds through a random drawing that allows you to win the rights to purchase a ticket for one day during the week. However, going down all that way for one day on the course is quite a hassle. We really wanted to do the full experience of going to the event for all four days. There is something special about being at the tournament from the first shot to the last and feeling the story of the event unwind each day as the players chase down the green jacket.

We started our search by looking at companies that book all-inclusive packages for the tournament. If you have never attended an event like this before (this was our first on this scale), the prices are going to be a quite a bit higher than most people would imagine. We wanted tickets for all four days and accommodations for four. The agency we used ended up being able to get us a house in Augusta from Wednesday night through Sunday morning, badges for all four rounds for each of us, transportation each day to and from the course, fully stocked bar for the week and snacks all for one big chunk of change. If anyone is really curious on the numbers, you can e-mail me directly and I will give you additional information on the company and the pricing.

I felt very fortunate in having selected the company that we used for the week. In looking at the pricing of other event planning companies, they were a good value and the guys in charge have clearly been doing this for many years so every detail was taken care of for us and they were easy to communicate with from the initial communication up through our departure. The house that we stayed in was first class with four bedrooms and was well kept up in a beautiful neighborhood full of old brick houses. Although everything was all on one floor, the woman who lived there had a television obsession and I kid you not, there were eight in her house. They had a grill, huge kitchen and they cleaned out the entire fridge before they left and stocked it with beverages for us for the week. We spent the majority of our time around the kitchen and the family room where they had a fireplace with a big screen television and a soft plush couch where I fell asleep two different nights with a gin and tonic in hand.

The first morning of the tournament came early for me. Anything prior to 7am is early for me so I was a little tired at 6am while finalizing my Millionaire Maker lineups and throwing on some FGI swag in the hopes of running into a subscriber or two on the course. The first morning is pretty chaotic in getting to the course. Everyone wants to arrive for the moment when Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player tee off on the first hole to kick off the tournament (Arnold was unable to take part, much like the API last month).

Augusta National (or The Augusta National, as locals like The Tour Junkies refer to it) rises from the very nondescript (that is putting it nicely) city of Augusta. There are some nice neighborhoods in the area, but the town itself has plenty of poorer areas. When the van dropped us off in the morning next to a CVS parking lot, I did not initially feel like I had arrived at the Mecca of the golf world. We walked up to Washington Avenue, crossed into the parking lot and then through the gates. At that point, the realization of entering the course finally hit me. Dozens of security personnel were on site, welcoming us to the course and providing instructions for going through security. Everywhere you go around the course, the people working are amazingly friendly and typically greet you with — Good Morning, sir, welcome to The Masters.

If you are wondering if the cell phone policy is as strict as it sounds, I assure you it even tougher than you think to get a phone through the gates. Every patron must go through a metal detector at the security checkpoint upon arrival and get swept over by a metal detecting wand once you have emptied your pockets. However, I will say that everything is done in a very smooth and orderly manner so the wait time is always fairly short. Once inside, the person who scans your badge hands you a booklet on the tournament for the year. Usually, I would not have a lot of interest in things like that, but at The Masters, everything is done with style. The booklet has all winners, their scores and the runner(s) up for every year of the tournament. It also lists out a short biography for every player in the field as well as how they qualified for the event. Within the pages you will find interesting trinkets on the tournament, etiquette and the best way to view the event from on the grounds…written by one Robert Tyre Jones Jr (Bobby Jones, legendary golfer and founder of Augusta National).

Before you enter the course itself, you will pass the enormous store that sells all types of Masters related memorabilia. Make sure that if you want to buy things you do it during the earlier rounds of the tournament. I picked up a bunch of items of Thursday afternoon, but by the time I went back on Sunday, most of the hats that I liked best were sold out as well as most sizes of the shirts that I looked at. Everything is pretty pricey, but the quality is high and it is the only place where you can buy Masters related gear (outside of the inflated prices on Ebay). We elected to wait until after the first round on Thursday to buy anything so at that point, it was finally time to make our way onto the course.

Walking through the gates, I took my time to look around and observe all the details to try to remember what I would not be able to capture with my phone. To my right a large manually operated scoreboard with all of the players names and hometowns stood announcing not only the field, but also all past champions that were alive, but not playing in the event. The flags af every country represented at the event waved wildly above the scoreboard, our first indication that the weather forecast for the week looked to be accurate in calling for high gusty winds through the first three rounds of play. Walking through the first fairway, I was immediately struck by the elevation changes on the first few holes that came into view. The first hole is downhill into a wide fairway which bottoms out and rises so highly that the green is not visible from where I crossed it. The second hole, a par five, looks like a long, curving hill that would rank as a blue square back home on a Minnesota ski slope.

We took time to walk through a few of the first holes along the front nine before seeing the manual scoreboard post the first two names of players coming down the second hole. Steven Bowditch, who I had enjoyed listening to with The Tour Junkies podcast on the plane ride down, had already posted a bogey on the first hole while Jim Herman, who had qualified just days earlier by winning the Shell Houston Open, had birdied the first hole and proceeded to birdie the second hole to take a brief two shot lead. Immediately, my right hand reached for my right hip pocket, only to realize with sadness for the first of many times, that I would not be able to check my DraftKings scores all day and would just have to live with the idea that at that moment, my two Jim Herman Millionaire Maker teams were looking strong out of the gates!

I would like to say that I walked all over the course immediately and took in every breathtaking view, but at that moment, we had stumbled onto one of the best spots for watching the action. Once I start watching an event, I am transfixed and we were in a spot where we could take in quite a bit of the action. If you can get a spot just behind the 7th green, you have an amazing view of four different holes. The 7th hole is a straight shot, par 4 from the tee box all the way to the green, giving you a perfect view of every shot if you are positioned behind the green. The tee box for the 3rd hole is located just to the right of the 7th hole and is short Par 4 where you can see the green in the distance. To the right of the 3rd tee box is the Par 5, 2nd hole where from the 7th, we could see the players come around a dogleg to the left and set up for their second shot and additional approach shot if they did not get onto the green. Typically, the crowd gathered around the hole prevented us from seeing the players putt, but judging by the applause (birdie), groans (bogey), polite clapping (par) or loud roar (eagle!!) we could generally judge the results of each player. Finally, to the right of the 7th hole, we could view the landing area for tee shots up a long gradual incline for the Par 5, 8th hole and the resulting approach shot or layup.

Since fantasy golf and fantasy sports in general have turned me into a ADD child when it comes to watching sports (note my Twitter rants each Sunday afternoon at the slow, commercial laden approach to TV golf coverage), our spot was perfect as we had non-stop action once play started and groups began to move through the early holes. The early pairings provide a nice buildup as the early groups are filled with lower ranked players who qualified by winning an event within the last year, and former Masters champions who receive a lifetime exemption to play in the tournament as long as they like.

It was fun to see some of the older veterans out on the course. Larry Mize stepped up to the third tee and hooked his drive to the left. The ball sailed towards a group of bunkers and the crowd groaned before the ball, by the luckiest of margins settled on a slim strip of grass between the bunkers allowing for Mize to grin and shrug to the amused applause of the crowd. Sandy Lyle later approached the third tee wearing what appeared to be a parka while hitting his tee shot. Though most of the older players are not terribly competitive, what makes The Masters really unique compared to other majors is that each year, one or two of these veterans will make a run at some point of the tournament and become a huge crowd favorite. This happened early on for Tom Watson, who was making his final start at Augusta.

As he approached the tee box and the green on each hole, Tom Watson was met with one standing ovation after another at his final Masters tournament. Early on, it appeared that Watson would make a bid to stick around for the entire weekend as he approached the 7th green at -1 with his name displayed on the leaderboard. However, the weather soon played a cruel trick on the old professional as he stood over his impending birdie putt. Watson carefully lined up the putt, addressed the ball and then paused. I watched him mouth something to Lee Westwood who stood away from the hole and then leaned in and nodded his head and looked at the rules official who walked towards Watson. Although I could not hear the conversation, I was able to interpret what was going on by observation, which was later confirmed by others. When Watson addressed the ball, it had moved ever so slightly, and Watson being the man of extreme integrity that he is, pointed this out to Westwood and announced that he would take a one stroke penalty as a result. He went on to miss the now par putt and ended up with bogey. He would go on to miss the cut by just two strokes.

Another great tradition of The Masters is the number of amateurs that are able to qualify from around the world to be in the event. Of course, most people are now very familiar with the likes of Bryson DeChambeau at this point, but it was another amateur in particular that our group wanted to cheer on in the opening round. Sammy Schmitz, of Farmington, MN probably had the best story of the tournament as far as how he had qualified for this year’s Masters. Nearly out of golf a couple of years ago, the 35-year-old Schmitz regained his amateur status last season and won the U.S Mid-Amateur where in the match play final he hit a hole in one on the Par 4, 15th hole and clinched the win by halving the next hole to win 3&2.

My dad, a graduate of St. John’s (the Minnesota St John’s) like Sammy himself, broke out his red Johnnies hat in a show of support for Sammy and followed him early on the front nine holes on Thursday. During those early holes, it looked like a Cinderella story in the making as Sammy birdied two holes to offset two bogey and carded an even par, 36 over the first nine holes of the event. As he finished the 7th hole, we rallied the crowd for the amateur enough to draw a small grin and a tip of the cap from Sammy. Unfortunately, following the 9th hole, the rigors of the back nine of Augusta brought reality back into focus and Sammy would shoot nine over par between the 10th and 16th holes that morning to finish the day with an 81 and a dream of making the cut look relatively out of reach.

As the day wore on, the ‘made for TV’ groups teed off late in the morning with the most interesting group being that of defending champion, Jordan Spieth, NCAA and US Amateur champion, Bryson DeChambeau and Paul Casey, always either a lingering Top 10 contender or potential candidate to withdraw depending on his temperament and fragile physical state. I had read about DeChambeau prior to the event and had seen him play in events as an amateur over the last year. As a first time player at The Masters, I was interested to see how he would handle the pressure of playing in a group with Spieth and came away really impressed with the 22-year-old, who already has a distinctive look with the old fashioned golf cap that he wears while playing.

DeChambeau is a model of confidence on and off the course. The physics major from SMU has dedicated himself to perfecting his golf swing, which included modifying his irons to all be the same length of 37.5 inches in order to try to keep his swing exactly the same for every shot. In contrast to many first time players at Augusta, DeCahambeau carried himself with the air of a player who expected to be in contention over the weekend. I thought that after shooting even par that he would fade back over the next day, but he surprised everyone as he approached the 18th hole on Friday at -3 and tied with Rory McIroy for second place with a chance to be paired with Jordan Spieth in the final group on Saturday on the line. However, as is often the case at The Masters, it takes just a split second to derail a championship run and that moment came for DeChambeau on the last hole on Friday afternoon. He crushed his tee shot into the woods on the narrow 18th fairway and by the time he had gotten himself out of trouble and finished the hole, he was forced to take a triple bogey and finished the round at even par, derailing his momentum for the week.

This same story can be repeated over and over for each player who contended for the green jacket, but could not hold their ground. Whether it was Scott Piercy hitting his chip shot into the water on the 15th hole Saturday, Jason Day hitting a triple bogey on the 16th hole after racing into the lead on Thursday or Bernhard Langer running out of gas in the final round and falling from 2nd place to 24th after posting a 79 in the final round, Augusta has a way of wearing down even the best players in the world at one point or another.

Of course, during those first couple of days, one of the things I most looked forward to was to hit the concession stands to try out the food and to marvel at the low prices for everything from sandwiches and chips and even the beer. It makes me laugh that people get excited to only pay a couple of dollars for a sandwich and ‘only’ $4 for domestic and $5 for exported beer. Yes, it is a little (a lot) cheaper than what you would pay at Yankee Stadium for concessions, but considering the wallet crushing prices of just about every other detail of the trip, it was a minor consolation.

The various sandwiches are all just as tasty as advertised. I picked up an egg salad sandwich, a pimento cheese sandwich and BBQ sandwich along with a cup of beer on the first day as I walked with Smylie Kaufman’s group from holes 3-7. Again, the elevation changes really are a lot of fun to see up close from hole to hole. I was a picture of elegance trying to balance my beer, hold onto two sandwiches and chewing on the other as I moved with the crowd downhill on the 4th hole and uphill again on the 5th. Throughout the weekend, I listened to dozens of old people proudly announce the number of steps taken as indicated by their Fitbits. For me, my workout was measured in the number of sandwiches I needed to consume to offset all of the calories I was burning from doing so much damn walking! The answer on Thursday: 6 sandwiches and 3 beers.

By the end of the day on Thursday, I was wiped out. We had arrived before the first group teed off and stayed until the last group had finished. We would repeat this pattern for all four days in wanting to take in as much of the event as possible. I wish I could tell you about the nightlife around Augusta during the tournament, but by the end of each day, we were all so tired that we elected to simply hit the grocery store in the parking lot where our van dropped us off and picked us up each day and grilled burgers back at the house each night, where I would race back to my phone to check my DraftKings scores and get caught up with Twitter followers. It was a really fun way to end the day as we would flip on ESPN or the Golf Channel to watch all of the highlights that we had heard about, but not seen live during the day. Normally, I am the type that stays up late into the night to work on my writing or to do research for events, but during the tournament, I was so tired that by the time I finished dinner and two cocktails, I would fall fast asleep on the very soft and comfortable couch in front of the fireplace.

Over the next couple of days, we made a very concerted effort to take in the whole course and to watch the action from a few different spots. We bought chairs at the shop on the course and placed them in different locations on Friday and Satruday. We spent time on the 7th hole for much of the weekend, but also took time for Amen Corner (11 & 12) and also around the green on the Par 5, 15th hole and the Par 3, 16th hole where a lot of the action happens, particularly on Sundays. We ended each day up near the 18th hole where I would cheer on the players who were doing well and shake my head at those that were fantasy poison to my rosters. After being on the course for a few days, I really started to get a good feel for how to enjoy a day viewing the event and also how to pick up on the roars around the course in terms of what hole they were coming from, and who they were most likely to be cheering for at a given moment, which served us well by the time the action rolled around on Sunday.

I really thought the highlight of the trip was going to be the pairing of Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy as the final group to tee off on Saturday afternoon. Spieth started the day with a one shot lead over McIlroy, but Rory had stolen the momentum on Friday by closing the gap and looked poised to do further damage in the third round. However, as he has done so often this season after playing well for a round or two, McIlroy could not find his game at all and failed to make a single birdie while shooting a miserable 77 to fall out of contention. With the way the winds were howling that morning, it would not have surprised me to see some players lose ground that day. However, by the time the last group teed off, the winds had died down to the point where they were a minimal factor to the players still out on the course.

I think part of what happened for Rory had to do with the style of play that Spieth is becoming infamous for over the last year. Jordan Spieth, like a renowned chef or noteworthy musician, refuses to be forced to play at anyone else’s pace except his own. It is less noticeable on television where the camera crews can change from player to player and jump to Spieth just before his shot, but watching in person can be a real test of patience. He steps up to the ball, takes about six practice swings, steps back, talks to his caddie, picks out another club, takes more practice swings, steps back again, crouches down, visualizes his shot, steps back up to the ball and hopefully, he finally hits his shot. As Spieth was playing in the final group without anyone behind him to push him at all, he seemed extra deliberate. I can’t say for sure one way or another, but I feel like Spieth’s tortoise like approach certainly did not help Rory to stay locked in that day.

Rory had one moment on Saturday where things could have broken his way, but then backfired and sent him spiraling downward. With a chance to pull back to within a stroke with a birdie on the 7th hole, Rory pushed his putt just an inch or two outside of the cup. The ball rolled several feet past leaving a little work for par. When he missed his par putt at that point it seemed to take the life out of him and he would never be close again. He hit his tee shot into the bunker on the Par 5, 8th hole and then followed it by hitting the top of a mogul in the middle of the fairway on his second shot which then rolled back down towards the bunker, barely traveling 50 yards from where he stood. After making par on the 8th and 9th hole, he bogeyed the 10th and doubled bogeyed the 11th and looked disgusted with himself walking off the 18th green that afternoon. The amazing Saturday pairing had turned into a blowout.

After Spieth had moved to -6 following the 16th hole on Saturday, I picked up my chair and told my dad, ‘well, this thing is in the books’. We walked back along the 17th hole and then on to the 18th to see the last two groups finish up for the round. As we reached the crowded green on 18 we saw Spieth’s score drop back to -5. After he blundered on his tee shot on 18 and following his three putt, he finished with a double bogey and his score dropped to -3, just one shot ahead of Smylie Kaufman at the tournament entered its final round on Sunday.

After three amazing days of golf, our group was prepared to do whatever it took on the final Sunday to secure seats near the pin on 18 to be in position to see the last groups finish that day. We were assured by our driver that if we arrived by 5:30am at the outside gates and waited until 7am to get onto the grounds and then at 7:30am to get onto the course that we should have a good chance to get our chairs into position to watch the final round from a good view on 18. The rule at Augusta which everyone abides by is that if you put your chair down somewhere in a viewing area around a hole, that nobody will then move it during the entire day.

While each person is only allowed to bring one chair through the gates with them, our plan that final day involved us getting through the gates, racing to 18 with two of our chairs to hold four spots while another person raced to the 7th hole with the other two chairs to hold four spots. The two folks without chairs would then each purchase two more chairs and make the quick walk out to the held positions to place the other two chairs.

We arrived at the gates outside at 5:30am and the weather, as it had been throughout the week, remained unseasonably cool that morning. In my infinite wisdom, I had elected to remain comfortable….once the sun came out, and wore shorts and a light pullover. Since I am battle tested, having endured many harsh winters in Minnesota, I decided to brave the 37 degree temperature that morning by shivering for the first few hours of the day. By the time the players teed off and the sun was out, the weather was perfect, but I did stand in the cold shaking like a jackass for around 3 hours.

When the gates finally opened, it felt like we had entered our own chaotic version of Black Friday meets the Running of the Bulls. Security did its best to slowly herd the crowds towards the gates by the course in as orderly of a manner as possible, but once people started to move onto the course, it was every man for himself. Most of the crowd hurried towards the 18th hole and and began to stake out as much territory as they could hold with their chairs and in Mark’s case, a football stance challenging anyone trying to evict him from the two open spots he was protecting for me when I returned with additional chairs. Black lines painted on the grass mark where chairs are allowed or not allowed and as Mark put down our last two chairs, one leg stood just outside the line. Mark asked security, ‘Are we playing college rules here or NFL?’ Fortunately, they let it stay in position as they had no problem throwing chairs aside that were not placed within the proper boundaries. Mark had managed to get us excellent seats looking right at the pin on the west side of the green so that the sun would be at our back and not in our eyes at the end of the day.

After walking back down to where Mark’s dad had set up seats for us on the 7th hole, we walked the course and grabbed breakfast and made a final shopping trip through the now very picked over store where limited sizes and selections of items remained that final day. As the final round began that day, the winds had finally died down to just a few miles per hour. It looked like the type of weather that would give a few players a chance to put together a big round so even those players who had fallen behind by a few strokes were not out of the running yet.

As the first few groups started to play, we took some time to watch course officials place the pin on our hole for the day. It is an incredibly involved process and very precise in terms of the placement. A team of around 15 folks worked to make sure that the location was just right and that the hole was located in a position where it would create a very specific strategy for each hole. On the 7th hole, depending on where the pin is located, it can either be a scoring hole where most approach shots are funneled to the pin or it can be a hole where players are simply trying to save par as most approach shot will either end up in a bunker or roll away from the pin. That is the real genius of Augusta. The greens are already tricky, but the course can be set up to be merciful or it can be set up to make every approach shot a headache.

As the players worked their way through the first few holes, we could see on our score card that Kevin Na was listed as being alone to start the day. However, at Augusta, they never allow for a player to be on his own, so every time an odd number make it through the cut, a marker is assigned to play with the first guy out of the gates. In the case of Augusta, that player is always a man named, Jeff Knox. If you have not heard the story of Jeff Knox, go check out some articles on him online. He plays as the marker each time one is needed and knows Augusta National perhaps better than any other player and holds the course record (member tees…not pro), a 61 he shot back in 2002. His story is well known enough by now so that people cheer him on as much as the golfer he is playing with, in this case, a floundering Kevin Na.

As the morning progressed, there really was not a lot of scoring taking place, even with the winds lower than expected. The course was set up to challenge players and kept most from going on any extended runs to close the gap between themselves and Jordan Spieth. A player would make his way onto the leaderboard, linger there for a moment, and then quickly fall off after a couple of poor holes usually beginning around the back nine. There were so many big names in the mix going into that final round and yet I just could not envision any of them overcoming Spieth that day. I almost felt bad for Smylie Kaufman in a way as he was thrust into the limelight of a big event for the first time. The fact that he ended up shooting an 81 did not come as a complete surprise.

As the final group teed off, the crowds gathered around the early holes swelled as some folks tried their best to keep pace with the final pairing. They each started off with a par and a birdie on the first two holes, but beyond that it was never close the rest of the day with Spieth methodically working through the difficult early holes while Smylie crumbled. While most players struggled to score on many of the holes in the front nine, Spieth looked locked in from the beginning. He played steadily through the first five holes, shooting even par and then went on a tear that looked like it would send him running away with the title again.

What is fun about being at Augusta on the final Sunday is that after a few days, you can tell what most roars mean and where they are coming from. While sitting on the 7th hole that Sunday, it sounded like a party over on the 16th hole all afternoon. Naturally, there were three holes in one that day that we missed seeing. Amazingly, none effected the outcome of the tournament or the Millionaire Maker event. You could hear groans from holes where players were in trouble and roars for birdies for players working their way up the leaderboard. Although it is trickier to follow without access to a phone every ten seconds to give you an update, if you listen close enough and keep an eye on the scoreboard between groups, you can get a pretty good idea of everything that is going on around the course.

We knew from the roar on the 6th hole that Spieth had knocked in a birdie on the Par 3 hole with the huge hill running from the base of the tee and all the way down the short fairway to the hole. Six is not really a birdie hole so to stretch his lead there was a huge bonus. Watching Spieth play the 7th hole, I thought, there is no chance this guy can lose today. He ripped a perfect tee shot down the middle of the fairway, followed it up with a precise approach shot to about 7 feet and then drained his birdie to the roaring approval of the crowd. As we gathered our things and began our march up to 18, we watched Spieth hit a perfect looking first couple of shots and then again heard the roars from 18, knowing before the numbers even changed that Spieth had just birdied his third hole in a row. By the time the final group approached the 9th hole, just behind us at this point, the deafening roar for Spieth’s 4th birdie in a row seemed to be like the bell tolling for the tournament. I looked at Mark and told him at that moment, the back nine is going to be a victory march and we will be waiting here on 18 for the coronation. I had cast my black magic spell once again.

We sat on 18 and watched the last 12 groups come through to finish their rounds. Between each group, the manual scoreboard operator would update each player’s score so as not to interrupt the players on the green. It was mostly just humorous initially to see the numbers change. Mark and I treated every score change like a long pitch shot with our ooohhs and ahhhhs rising until the moment that the new numbers were unveiled. When a bogey was posted for Spieth on the 10th hole, we shrugged a bit and sarcastically suggested that there was trouble ahead. When he bogeyed on 11 and Willet birdied on 14, what had been a five stroke lead just moments before had turned into just a stroke and suddenly we had a race for the finish line.

We knew where Spieth was at the time the collapse took place. We could hear the crowd all the way out on the 12th hole and it was loud enough so that we thought there was a chance that perhaps he had birdied the hole to rally back the way he had done the day prior. By this point, the crowd on 18 was buzzing with energy. Members in green jackets sat all along the front row just behind the ropes and looking around, you could see many notable faces looking on in anticipation. Mark’s dad, Bill, had just made a quick run to the bathroom and had walked past the CBS tower and had seen what happened to Spieth at the start of the 12th hole. He sat down next to us and told us that Spieth had gone into the water on 12. We knew immediately that this meant at a minimum that he would lose one stroke and probably two and that his seemingly insurmountable lead was now gone.

We waited with excitement to watch the numbers turn over on the scoreboard, thinking a double bogey seemed like a probably result and though the red five would now become a red three. As noise built up when the placard was removed from behind his name the crowd waited nervously to see the result. When a red number one turned over, signifying a quadruple bogey on the 12th hole, the crowd erupted with a mixture of cheers and groans. Englishman Danny Willet now held the lead and Spieth had fallen back behind several other players. I now felt myself trying to figure out if there was any possible way for Spieth to claw his way back into contention. Unfortunately, for Spieth, Danny Willett caught fire at just the right moment and ran with his opportunity.

Just weeks prior to The Masters, Danny Willett was unsure if he would be able to play. It had nothing to do with qualifying or any injuries, but something closer to home. His wife was pregnant and expecting their son to be born at any moment. Willett, not wanting to miss out on such a moment had declared that if his wife had not had the baby before the tournament, that he would just skip the tournament in order to make sure that he did not miss the birth of his son. Fortunately, for Willett, his wife gave birth to his son about a week and a half before the tournament and Willett was relieved from having to withdraw from the event.

With his wife and son in his thoughts, Willett showed incredible poise down the stretch. He birdied the 13th hole and then the 14th. After making par on the 15th, he knocked in a birdie putt on 16 to move his lead up to two strokes over Lee Westwood and Dustin Johnson and 3 shots over Jordan Spieth, who managed to birdie the 13th hole. Willett worked through 17 and then approached 18 to a rousing ovation by the stunned crowd. He truly wanted to take in the moment on that final hole and very appropriately, before making his last par putt, he removed his white pullover to reveal a green polo underneath. A picture perfect moment…if only I had had a camera.

Meanwhile, Spieth continued his charge with a birdie on the 15th hole to pull within two shots. Whatever your feeling are about Spieth, it took incredible courage to fight back near the end the way that he did. As we watched for score updates, groups of players continued to finish their rounds on 18. It was amusing to watch more than a few players stare amazed at the scoreboard after Spieth lost his lead. Daniel Berger stopped and froze in his tracks while looking at the numbers before turning and shaking his head while walking to the green. As each group finished, we waited to see if Spieth had two birdies left over the last three holes. When he missed his chance on 16, I knew the odds were slim and when we saw the bogey on 17, that sealed his fate.

As the final group approached the 18th hole, the crowd stood and cheered for Spieth as he walked up to line up his final shots. It must have been a surreal moment for the now former champion as just hours before it seemed that a victory was all but certain. I watched Spieth crouch along on a small hilltop around the green. He seemed to let the moment wash over him in searching for a answer to what had just taken place. It was one of those moments where I felt like I could most relate to an athlete. Most of us have not experienced the highs that the best professional athletes have achieved in their careers. When Jordan Spieth tied Tiger Wood’s record for best score at The Masters the year prior, he seemed so invincible, so far above every other competitor. I’ve never had that feeling in my life. I can admire the success of a moment like that, but I will never truly understand or experience it. But as I watched Spieth crouching over his final shot, I felt a deep sense of empathy pour over me and my heart really went out to him in that moment. It was the same sort of feeling I had when Dustin Johnson crumbled on the final hole of the US Open last June. It’s an amazing feeling, that recognition of both greatness and also humanity. It’s why I love the game as much as I do.

As we watched Spieth make his way from the 18th hole, I was already imagining the anguish of the moments ahead for him. At The Masters, the tradition in place is that the former champion presents the new champion with his green jacket. Imagine this scenario in football if the defending champions lost in the Super Bowl and then had to hand the trophy over to the winning team. We gathered our many chairs up and walked over the the practice green where the ceremony would take place. Danny Willett, enjoying the most exciting moment of his professional career bubbled over with joy at the amazing past two weeks of his life and graciously congratulated the former champion for his efforts as well. Spieth, to his credit, handled defeat with class and we watched him after the ceremony taking time to give interviews and answering all questions thrown his direction. It was nice to see the that the athletes here were able to show emotion, while also showing a certain amount of respect for their fellow competitors and to the game itself.

As we walked out of the gates for the last time, I took a long last look at the course and walked off with my dad. We had enjoyed an amazing trip together and I wanted to take it all in before heading through the gates. It was one of those trips where I know that I will always want to go back if I can someday. As I was writing through this column last week, the news of Prince passing away came across the wire on TV. Being from Minnesota, Prince is an icon here and I had always wanted to see him in concert, but never got around to it. In the same vein, if you are a golf fan and Augusta is on your bucket list, do whatever you can do to make it happen. It was the father/son trip of a lifetime and left us all with memories we will share forever.

Zachary Turcotte
By Zachary Turcotte April 7, 2020 01:01

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