Wednesday, April 15, 2009

2009 Masters Final day

2009 Masters- Day 4

The drive from Augusta, Georgia to Franklin, Indiana took about 11 hours on Monday. Due to a cell phone malfunction, I enjoyed a pretty quiet ride by myself and had a chance to reflect on one of the most memorable weeks of my professional golf career.

For me, seven days at Augusta National Golf Club came to a captivating close on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in early April. The day started with our daily rules meeting and a brief weather report. Instructions were given concerning playoff procedures (ironic) and closing ceremonies.

My spot for the final round was secluded and serene- at least I thought. The location was the point on Hole 8 and Hole 9. Specifically, my position was approximately 75 yards in front of the green on Hole 8, which also allowed me to follow tee shots on Hole 9. The normal procedure as a Rules Official is to introduce yourself to the Gallery Guards on the respective hole you work. It’s a time to get a review of what has happened on that hole in prior days of competition. The word from Andy Avera, gallery supervisor, was that this was a pretty tranquil spot.

And that is the way things started. Sergio Garcia and Stuart Appleby were the tenth group out on Sunday. As they made their way to the 8th green, I heard this thud to my right and a ball came flying by my head, landing fifteen feet in front of me. I turned around and asked the gallery where that came from. All of the sudden people were streaking up the hill behind me. The ball came from #1 tee!

I walked over and looked at the Nike ball, which had TIGER imprinted on it and at 12:35 p.m. EST, my day was going to get crazy! This tee shot of Woods’ had hooked over the trees on Holes 1 and 9 winding up in the right edge of the fairway on Hole 8! Tiger would later call this the “worst tee shot in his competitive golf career”.

Steve Williams, who is Tiger’s caddy, emerged from the crowd and as he walked to his boss’ tee shot he spotted a grinning Garcia who said, “What’s this!”

Williams gave the safe sign like an umpire and replied, “May we join you?”

Tiger’s shot was at least 100 yards off line, but he was far enough away from the trees that he was able to loft a seven iron back in play saving par. Soon after, Dr. John Reynolds III, the Augusta National rules chairman who is a spry fellow in his mid-70’s, appeared and asked if it was true that there was a tee shot in my area from Hole 1. “I have never seen a tee shot on #1 that far off line,” said Reynolds.

Not long after, Padraig Harrington hit his drive on Hole 9 high and down the left side.  The Gallery Guards and the spectators were peering up into the trees looking for the ball. Soon after, I was summoned on the radio for a ruling. It turns out Harrington’s ball lodged in the top of one the tall pines. The reigning British Open and PGA Champion had to take stroke and distance for a lost ball and re-tee it at 2:10 p.m.

At 3 p.m. I get the call to go to the left side of Hole 8 in the driving area. Nick Watney had hooked his tee shot into a large grove of azaleas. The sight was almost comical. There must have been two dozen people in the bushes looking for Watney’s ball. As I approached Watney, he looked at me and said, “So, if they find my ball what are we going to do?”

His caddy reached in his golf bag and plucked a new Titleist and said, “We might as well go back to the tee and hit it again. There’s no other options.” A dejected Watney went back, but wound up saving a great bogey.

Next up on Hole 8 at 3:15 p.m. were Woods and Phil Mickelson. Both players were making moves, but Phil was on fire. He was 5-under par on the front nine heading to this hole. Mickelson would make another birdie only to be topped by Woods who made an eagle-3. A thunderous roar followed the patented Woods’ fist pump.

Mickelson hit a big hook on Hole 9 that went deep into the woods. Now we are involved in crowd control. Major crowd control with Tiger’s and Phil’s galleries. The drama continues! We get everybody situated. Mickelson makes a great par to finish with a 30 on the front nine.

Things quiet down for me until Kenny Perry and Angel Cabrera come through Hole 8 at 4:15 p.m. Both players missed chance at birdie. The two veterans each made par on Hole 9.

Kenny definitely had the support of the Augusta crowd. Perry is also a part-time drag racer and Whiteland’s Bill Glidden sets up the Franklin, Kentucky native’s race car. Perry fired 62 at The Legends of Indiana in 2008. Kenny is one of the truly nice guys in all of sport. His mother is dying from cancer. His dad is in poor health at age 85. Perry donates 10% of his winnings to his wife Sandi’s Christian bible college. A win at The Masters and Perry at age 48 would become golf’s oldest player to win a major championship.  

So, the Golf Gods were with Kenny Perry down the home stretch, right? Those of us that play the game know better. This sport can produce heartbreaking and cruel moments. That most certainly happened on Sunday when Kenny bogeyed three of his final four holes, losing in a playoff to Angel Cabrera.

I guess most would look at my week and say that it was perfect. Seven great days at the world’s most famous golf venue, topped off by a front row seat on the putting green for the green jacket presentation. When Trevor Immelman helped Cabrera don the green jacket, I could only wish it was my friend, Kenny.

Then, it would have been a perfect week!    

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