Thursday, April 7, 2011

Masters Day 2

This week, one of my hats (as I've mentioned in my earlier post) will be that of a Rules Official.  That role officially kicked off at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday. It was there in the Magnolia Suite, located behind the #1 fairway, that over 100 officials from all over the world convened with Fred Ridley, Tournament Chairman, in preparation for the start of the 75th Masters.  It was there that we received our assignments for the week. We all agreed it would be a week of great golf and great times. It always has been.

My assignments for the week will be as follows: Thursday, Hole #3; Friday, the green on Hole #13; Saturday, Hole #8 and then on Sunday, Hole #10. I will be working with David Price, PGA Rules Committee Chairman on Thursday and Saturday. Price is one of the top rules experts in all of golf. I know that between us, and especially with David's comprehensive knowledge and classy demeanor, we're prepared and ready.

Working rules at The Masters is a far different than giving a ruling in the club championship at The Legends Golf Club! You always want to get it right, but especially when the entire golf world is watching.  Plus, every golf fan seemingly thinks they are an expert on the rules. so the fans and players expect you to know and they won't relent if you don't.

It's funny how this works, but in my previous two years I have actually had to give five rulings. As luck would have it, John Merrick and Padraig Harrington have each surfaced twice. Truthfully, when a Rules Official reports to his or her assignment, the hope is for no rulings and no controversy. That being said, we all know anything is possible in golf.  And we'll be ready for anything.

But regardless, it's going to be one of the best Masters ever. The weather this week promises to be picture perfect. It will be sunny and hot by the weekend. The course will play hard and fast, which will mean that experienced players should have the edge. That's my call anyways.

The City of Augusta shuts its school system down for Masters' week. It is certainly like a holiday in the golf world, especially in these parts. I can't blame them. Though, not all the locals stick around to celebrate. Many in fact, will rent their homes to players, officials and spectators. And just guessing, I bet they get a pretty good rate.

As for me, my schedule for the week is crazy. After spending all day at the course on Wednesday we attended the Golf Writers' Dinner, which is actually a favorite of mine. Thursday found me at the course by 6:30 a.m. until approximately 5 p.m. that evening.  The PGA of America hosted a late-night reception as well.

Then, after a long day at Amen Corner on the 13th green on Friday, I will head to a dinner party at the ESPN house. Saturday and Sunday evenings are actually times when we can relax at night and have some guests over to the house where we are staying.

But my favorite spot is still on the grounds of The National, as the natives call the Masters' venue. It may well be the huge live oak tree on the back of the clubhouse lawn. This is a meeting place for many that attend the tournament. The view from here is spectacular. It is the highest point on the property and you can look all of the way down into Amen Corner, which is officially defined as  #11 green and Holes #12 and #13.

It is here that the players walk from the clubhouse to the putting green and then to the tee at #1. It was great to renew some Ryder Cup acquaintances with Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker and their caddies. I also had a chance to meet Peter Uihlein, defending U.S. Amateur Champion and son of Wally, the CEO of the Acushnet Company. Uihlein and Fowler were teammates at Oklahoma State.
Davis Love III, our 2012 Ryder Cup Captain is in this year's Masters' field by virtue of his sixth place finish in last year's U.S. Open. He stopped and talked briefly. Love looked over his shoulder at Fowler and Uihlein and said, "That could be two of my players!"

The Masters is always a reunion of sorts. For me it was a chance to hook up with the legendary Jack Burke, 1956 Masters Champion. I had first met Burke 30 years ago when running the Phil Harris Golf Course in Linton, IN. He and Jay Hebert had come to play in Phil's tournament and they conducted a clinic prior to the event.

Burke is truly a golf icon. He and Jimmy Demaret founded The Champions Golf Club in Houston, TX. Burke has been a Ryder Cup player and captain. He is an expert in the business of golf. As a young PGA pro back in the 1980's, I had a chance to spend the better part of ten years being around Burke. His influence on my career was profound.  Wednesday's meeting under the oak tree was a chance of fate for me.  I had that rare opportunity to say thanks to Mr. Burke.

Obviously, The National is full of history. Where else would legends like Nicklaus, Palmer and Player return every year to play in a nine hole par three tournament? Where else would former champions such as Burke, Billy Casper, Doug Ford and Tommy Aaron come to just hang out on the lawn underneath an umbrella table?

Interestingly enough when Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones founded The National in 1932 it was not without challenges. Mired in the Great Depression, the state of the economy made it tough to sell memberships. Horton Smith won the first Masters in 1934 and had to wait several months for his trophy because the members had to pool their funds together to get one made.

It's been documented several times that in the 1930's, the club was on the verge of bankruptcy. But, the tenacity of Roberts and Jones saved The National. A television contract with CBS in the mid 1950's brought the nation's eye to this beautiful place. Aren't we all glad that happened.

The Masters constantly reminds viewers of tradition, but this can be a very progressive championship as well. It was here, they invented gallery ropes, the scoring system seen today at every PGA Tour event (over/under par) and the first ever televised golf tournament in living color- just to name a few.

Mere words cannot express the beauty and magic of this place. Amen Corner is haunted in a good way and as you read this on Friday, I will be stationed somewhere behind the 13th green among the azaleas and dogwoods. For approximately eight hours I will be in golf Heaven.  

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