500 miles, 36 hours, 1 US Masters Ticket – Lucking into watching Scott win the US Masters

On the Thursday of the 2013 U.S. Masters, my friend Mel sent me a message via twitter – “got a spare ticket for Sunday at the Masters if you want to come”.

This was a tough proposition, certainly tougher than it initially appeared to be. The location meant a significant drive (to the middle of nowhere relatively) and with little planning time, plus family and other commitments including but not limited to work. It sounded great, but daunting and more than a little stressful. Needless to say, the internal angst consumed me, but I was thinking about it. I decided to run it by my wife and get both the consulting and approval taken care of in one hit.

“If you want to go, you should go, you’d be crazy not to.”

But it is a long way (9 hours) solo, money, time, logistics. I am thinking that I can’t pull it off – I am probably not going.

Speaking to a client, on the Friday, I decided to share my pain.

“If my husband had tickets, I would tell him he would be !@#$% insane not to go”. Damn Right. Insane.

Fueled by the apparent agreement and support of the more reasonable of the species, I was clearly not giving this the courage or effort it deserved. I decided that I would be going.

Saturday morning, I took care of some business, met a mate for a coffee down town, then hit the road. It was a lovely day, good for driving a big stretch. I hit the road about 11am, which my excellent calculations (google maps) told me should get me there around 8pm.

I drove up through the center of Florida, pretty much freeway all the way. I had my radio tuned into the golf, courtesy of Masters streaming radio on my phone, and it couldn’t have been going better. Day was in the box seat, Scott and Leishman not far away, it looked like they will all be there come Sunday. I finally stopped to eat about 5pm (shaking hungry) in one of those places you imagine when you think of Georgia, and received the hospitality us Aussies should be so grateful for here in the US. I quickly eat my body weight for a sum total of seven dollars, then prime myself for the run in to the famed city of Augusta, Georgia.

Augusta, is… unimpressive. Unsurprisingly, it is not, in fact, the golf equivalent of the Wonka factory, and instead I found a dreary, working-class southern town. I shoot straight for the small street across from Augusta National where Chubby Chandler has the whole street booked out. I am planning on getting my tickets from a rather well known English soccer player, a hero of mine, and I am excited about that.

I get to an amazing compound (getting pass the road block was easy enough, thank you Georgia Troopers) and pull up. It is the amazing place I dreamed all of Augusta would be, and upon deeper thought, it is obvious that such an amazing place simply can’t be rolled out at scale.

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It is here that I have my only (relative) disappointment. Said international football star is unavailable, but has, thankfully, left my ticket with the event manager for the Chandler Posse. Never mind.

Stoked to the point of blurriness.

Stoked to the point of blurriness.

I now have my ticket to the last day of masters. Wicked.

Now what to do. First things first, I checked in to my hotel. As you would expect, finding a hotel in a podunk town like Augusta on Masters weekend (and with a budget) is not a simple task. The fact that I found something online at all surprised me, especially only 10 minutes or so from the course. You will then find it unsurprising that my hotel (motel) was a serious dump; wrong side of town and right on the highway. One of the many issues with a crappy hotel is a crappy location and little in the way of walking distance entertainment, and so I found myself back in the car and off to the legend that is Hooters in Augusta Georgia on Masters week.

I planned on getting up very early on Sunday, I had one shot at this and wanted to get out as early as possible – and so it was. Driving in is pretty busy, as you would expect, but there is no big hurry, it is going to be a long day. I hear that Augusta National has purchased over $80 million in property around the club, over $15 million just to make a new parking lot. Also, the club is funding the move of several intersections nearby, to help ease the traffic, to the tune of another $60 million. I personally can handle the extra 10 minutes in traffic, but I suspect that the Masters committee feels this is not acceptable.

The first thing that really struck me is that the club itself is actually not a huge piece of property. Further, it has normal suburbs around it, like Royal Melbourne for instance. Nothing surprising about this, it just doesn’t show like that on TV, not in a golf fan’s minds-eye. They do a great job of hiding it, that is for sure.

Once at the gate, I decided to shop before I go in. I had every intention of going a little crazy, and didn’t fancy the idea of be hauling green merchandise around all day. I had even mentally strategized for it on my long drive up. Fortunately, you do not actually need a ticket to the Masters to take advantage of their merchandise and can shop just outside the gates. In I went, and there is everything you can think of, it really is like Disneyland for people with bad backs. I buy pretty much one or two of, well, everything. Interestingly, there are NO brands on the merchandise – or on the sandwiches, drinks – even the chips are ‘Masters” chip packets. The prices of Merchandise are, under the circumstances, very fair thankfully, and so I am pleased, very pleased indeed. Back to the car, unload, then head in for real. Through the gates of golfing heaven.

Top Gates at the US Masters

Top Gates at the US Masters

The place is breathtaking. From the moment you walk onto the grounds the grooming is impeccable, even compared to tour events, and the level of detail is of the standard you could only achieve when time and money are irrelevant.

The Range at Augusta National

The Range at Augusta National

The first place I came to was the range. If I could sacrifice every round of golf in my future just to have access to this range, I would in a heartbeat. It is basically the most impressive, complex and detailed range I have seen by some distance. The image below is taken from a golf digest article (no cameras allowed, so borrowed images form here on) titled The Augusta National Driving Range is Like Perfection, Only Better. I  saw Phil hitting balls, then wandering through the crowd toward the first tee. He is off early and out of contention, but very much the marquee player in the morning, if not the whole day.

I was not there to watch guys warm up though, so I headed down into the course. There are many entrances, but I had made it my business to go through the main entrance, for maximum effect. It certainly achieved the desired  result.

foodThe first thing you come to when entering Augusta is a large, impressive and ridiculously packed spectator area. Because there are no corporate boxes and few on-course stops, this is a mecca for both hungry spectators and, of course, merchandise buyers. The queue for the merchandise shop was enormous. I was very glad I went to the one at the front gate, my elaborate purchasing plans may have come to a grizzly end otherwise.

I was however hungry, so I jumped in for food. You may well know that The Masters is legendary for both the menu and the price, and neither disappointed. Coffee, a buck. Sandwich, $1.50 or so. I think I had a Sausage Biscuit and a coffee, grand total $2.50. Again, not a brand name to be seen; I loved it.

I quickly ate, knowing that time is ticking away, every minute counted. I called my wife from the free phone booth (nothing to say, but a free phone booth? No mobile phones in Augusta.) then in I went.

1st Tee at Augusta National

1st Tee at Augusta National

I wandered from the refreshment area to the first tee, and this early it could have been quite, except Phil had just teed off and it was mayhem.

Initially, I followed a few groups in the morning, Phil (though that was basically impossible) Thompson and Isikawa, Immelman and Rory, but really floated for the most part. The place is not easy to get around, and some parts you simply can’t keep following a specific group, especially as the crowd grows. But for me, I just wanted to wander the course. There were actually plenty of Aussies, and we were all pretty pumped as you would expect. I ran into a few guys who knew a few of my golfing mates, which was a nice touch. golf dudesThough I saw them a few times during the day (they were hard to miss) we were all enjoying our Masters experience too much to spend time chatting, and I wasn’t looking for company. I have done plenty of solo travel and it is liberating on a day like this – you determine your own destiny. For the record, those guys didn’t smell great, it was a bit warm for a blazer and pants. I imagine they wouldn’t have had much fun in the afternoon rain either, but you can only admire their effort.

After walking the course to the 12th, it was time for a rest, and there were good spots in the grandstand next to the 11th green/12th tee, so in I went. Quite by accident, I happened to sit next to an older couple from Asquith Golf Club, 15 minutes from our old place in Sydney. They were lovely, on a golf tour, and having the time of their lives.

The great thing about the grandstand on the 12th is that you can see balls come into the 11th green (pin back left, no one sane going at it) and the whole of the 12th (back right, likewise), so it is a great spot to hang out. I watched the groups come through for about 2 hours and noted that A) The greens were quick and that B) The players were playing safe, I expect the result of years of mental punishment courtesy of Amen Corner. The number of balls in the water on both holes showed that even safety only works in combination with execution. Ishikawa dumped tee shot in the water on the 12th on the fly, one of the worst shots I have ever seen, and really showed just how much this place plays with the players minds. Also interesting was watching the number of different places guys then took their drop, and generally, how scared these guys were – with good reason. The only guy to go at the pin and pull it off on 12 was David Lynn and he was flushing it.

It became time to head back up the hill, the Boys were due off soon.

On the way back up, I went to the general scene of Bubba’s miracle wedge in the playoff on the 10th. Depending on the actual site, it was either pretty good or freakish, but no true indicator exists of the real location, which is a shame.

By the time I got back to the first, Tiger had just teed off and I got to watch him hit his second into the first from a reasonably close distance, but the crowds were massive and that was more or less the last I saw of Tiger. I figured I would have much more luck with my guys (Scotty, Jason Day and Leishman), and so it was.

I watched Day make a miracle birdie on one, then tee off on the second, then hung back to watch Scott butcher the first for bogey. On no.

A quick detour and I was lucky to make the crosswalk on the second while the group behind was looking for Adam’s drive. I was standing in the middle of the cross walk, on my own, and turned left just in time to see Day hole is bunker shot for eagle. He certainly looked every chance of running away with it, truly amazing stuff, and it is fair to say I was super excited.

Both Scott and Leishman were shaky, I was going to be disappointed if they both blew out early. They got it together somewhat on the front 9 though, and with Tiger making a good run and Langer going lights out, it is getting really interesting.

At the turn, it was becoming likely that it would rain. In a rare moment of inspiration, I jumped in and bought a rain jacket – it is a masters rain jacket after all, it won’t go to waste ( though I have actually only used it for one hole in the intervening 12 months), and I didn’t want to get stuck out there wet.

The most notable occurrence of the early afternoon was watching the previously unflappable Bernhard Langer blowing any chance at a miraculous win by hitting it into the left trees a couple of times on the 13th hole. His second foray into the flowers was accompanied by the humiliation of playing “warmer, colder” with the crowd while searching for his ball, with the inevitable cheer when found. Very few guys hit the green on a hole that often plays comfortably within the two shot spectrum. The rain that was getting a little heavier and the conditions in general had changed from comfortable and overcast to damp and challenging.

At this point in the afternoon Jason Day looked in charge with Scott and Leishman thereabouts. The most critical moment of the tournament happened right there in front of me on the 13th shortly thereafter, with Cabrera dumping a ball in the water, while Scott made a great birdie. The whole tournament and leaderboard was pretty fluid at this point, but the birdie got Scott back in it, and gave Day the lead. He looked a big chance, given his experiences over the prior couple of years.

Being at the Masters is frantic and hard so it is hard to recall everything that happened in exact order, and I am not sure it matters. What makes Augusta special in my opinion is that the back 9 is so ‘crammed’ compared to most courses, that everything feels like it is happening right there, it envelops you. It feels like a stadium, and you are walking on the field watching golf history unfold.

Day and Scott both made great birdies on 15, which is WAY tougher than it looks on television, though neither player had much club in. At about the same time we had our first Australian fall from contention, and it became clear who would be making the charge down the final straight. The winner would come from Day, Cabrera or Scott.

After watching Day make Bogey on the 16th, I decided the best move would be to go up the 17th with his group and hopefully watch him wrap up victory. Unfortunately he made a massive tactical mistake and instead threw away any real chance at victory. Wrong club, wrong line. The bunker shot was near impossible. It may not look too bad on Television, but the shot remaining was 60 feet, up a 6 foot tier at 40 feet, with run-off on all sides. I would have been petrified, and maybe he was too – though he hit a pretty good shot, just not quite close enough and his hopes were largely dashed.

I waited on the 18th tee for Adam, and was lucky enough to watch him bomb it up there, a little left in the first cut, certainly not an ideal place to reach the now traditional front left pin placement on Sunday. I made a charge up the right side of the fairway, though I am not sure what I expected to see. There are no big screens at Augusta, and frankly it is poor for the patrons. The Masters has moved from stodgy to progressive in the past 10 years or so and I look forward to them addressing this massive flaw in their presentation.

I found myself a spot about 100 rows back on the right side of the 18th green. I had something resembling a glimpse of the green, provided no one moved…

18th at Augusta National

18th at Augusta National

But they did.

The golfing population of Augusta, Georgia went into a frenzy. I think I saw Scott make contact but didn’t see it go in – and it didn’t matter.

Because I was at the back of the gallery I used the heightened senses that had magically appeared to me that day (and for that day only) to take advantage of my previously second-rate position. I steamed over to the walkway and formed a small part of Australian TV folklore as Scott left the last green, with victory apparently in his grasp.

I was over at the clubhouse talking to some Aussies, we were over the moon. Jason Day came out and congratulated Scotty, a nice touch given he had just blown his own shot at it.

Then cheers. Loud ones.

Cabrera birdied the 18th. It was raining hard, it was getting dark, and we had just watched Scott celebrate victory, not a good thing until you have actually won. Top that off with the weight of a potential Masters victory, the first Aussie, the weight of a nation… The Aussie contingent was concerned.

I managed to get a great spot on the 10th tee, which turned out to be my last glimpse of the Masters action. Scott drilled a 3 wood, Carbera hit the single most impressive iron I have ever seen in my life straight after. I start down the hill, but it simply isn’t going to happen, not even close. Trees both sides, and spectators filling every last inch of ground.

No TV’s, not one.

Well, one.

The boom camera on 18 has a 10 inch monitor for the camera operator to keep up with the action. 500 people gather as close as possible around the screen, but the screen has sun shields on all sides, and no sound for obvious reasons. What the hell is happening…

“He’s about to putt… YES!!!!!!!!”

There is no point trying to convey it, ecstasy followed by a little let down. The presentation is in the Butler cabin, and we couldn’t watch it on TV of course. Most people, nearly everyone, leaves.

I had no where to go, and I am sure they do a media call after. I asked where but no one really knows, not even the Masters officials. I found out it is up on the putting green – but is cancelled due to the late time and the rain.

I went up there anyway. It is raining hard but many of the Aussies and most of the international press photographers are there.

Nope, not on. I ran into an Australian Golf Union representative, a guest of Augusta. He told me he is on his way out, the members have been told there will be no further events.

I decide that given my home base in in the hood, my best bet is to hang out at the club until otherwise dragged from the grounds. I saw no point in leaving until the press leaves. Of course it was still raining, and had since become dark though not unpleasant and besides, no one from the Aussie contingent wanted it to end.

The Troopers come, and clear the footpath. We know what that means.

Bubba was driving, Scotty the passenger, and they were both really pumped up. They shoot around the corner in a golf cart, probably faster than is considered gentlemanly at Augusta. The Cheers go up, it was pretty amazing, very rowdy and totally unforgettable. Out they get, with the press core on the far side of the green, so I was facing toward the press gallery. Then the moment I will take to my grave happened.

Adam Scott, Putting Green on 18th at Augusta.

Adam Scott, Putting Green on 18th at Augusta.

Sometimes the most amazing events in life don’t appear amazing at the time, it is only when processed that the moment becomes apparent. In this case, I knew I had to absorb something that would likely never happen at a similar scale again to me. I took the mental picture as best I could, and have been lucky to have that supplemented by shots like that above taken from exactly where I was standing.

It was all over quickly from there. Graciously, Adam completed a short lap of the putting green to thank those that had hung around, then he and Bubba shot off to the next event. I am sure he had a busy evening, we all did.


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