Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Masters Day 2

The Masters and Augusta National probably do more to inspire golf around the United States than any other entity associated with the game. The sheer beauty of the golf course, along with its meticulous maintenance practices makes it attractive on television even to the non-golfer. Most experts are saying that the 2012 version of Augusta National might be the best ever and that is a strong statement.
The uniqueness of Wednesday’s par three tournament is unequaled in professional golf. Tennis star, Andy Roddick, caddied for former Masters’ champ, Zach Johnson. Keegan Bradley, winner of last year’s PGA Championship, asked his mother to tote his bag during the par three contest and included one requirement- she had to hit a shot. Some of the younger players suited up their small kids in the traditional white caddy bibs.
Many former Masters’ winners return to Augusta each year even though they don’t compete in the tournament. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player won a combined 11 Masters and they serve as the honorary starters by hitting the first tee shots on Thursday. The Big Three also played together in Wednesday’s par three tournament.
Chairman Billy Payne has done a lot to promote golf in new and different ways. One example is the new EA Sports version of a Masters video game. Several years ago that probably would not have happened. Each year The Masters Foundation raises millions of dollars for many worthwhile charities.
No event honors its champions like The Masters. This is truly the most royal gathering of golf figures in the world.
On Wednesday I lunched at an umbrella table on the clubhouse lawn next to Palmer. The King of Golf has won here three times beginning in 1958. Hundreds of spectators gathered at the ropes near Palmer’s table and deluged him with photos and autograph requests. Palmer not only obliged everyone, but did so with his infectious smile.
I suppose you can describe the thrill of attending your first Masters with all kinds of adjectives. Excitement, spellbound, awestruck, surreal and captivating are some that come to mind. This year I was pleased to help some local folks such as Larry Light, Ron Pio, Dave Naragon as well as Susan and Drew McCarty with their first chance to see the Augusta National Golf Club. Hearing the excitement of those first time attendees will be one of my biggest thrills of the week.        
Saturday night I stopped in Chattanooga, TN on my drive down to Augusta. My waiter was a delightful kid named Justin King. When he checked me out, Justin asked what brought me to Chattanooga. I told him I was on my way to Augusta and he replied, “The Masters? Wow. I love golf and have always dreamed of going to The Masters.”
King got a text from me on Monday and his dream came true. After he waits his last table on Saturday night he will be making a solo drive to Augusta. King will be enjoying the final round of the 2012 Masters in person. He will never forget Sunday and I am glad to be part of that.    
This week I join two other Hoosiers, Chip Essig and Dave MacAtee, on the Masters’ rules committee. There are approximately 75 golf officials from around the world administering the rules of golf at the 2012 Masters. The PGA of America, USGA, PGA Tour, European Tour, Royal and Ancient along with many other international golf associations join Augusta National GC members in this task.
Each morning we attend a 7:30 a.m. rules committee meeting. Thursday I worked the par five, 8th hole. Today, I will be on the par three 16th hole. Saturday finds me on the par 3, 6th. Sunday I will join Essig on the par 4, 11th which many label as the toughest hole at Augusta National.
I have often said that making any ruling at The Masters is ten times tougher than doing the same at any club event. Over the years, I have given rulings to many tour players including Padraig Harrington, who lost a ball in the top of a tree on the 9th. That was probably the most bizarre ruling I have been involved with here. Nick Watney, Boo Weekley, John Merrick and Phil Mickelson have also crossed my Masters’ rules path.
As Rules Officials we are told to be invisible. Sometimes this can’t be avoided, but hopefully you won’t see me until late Sunday afternoon when I sit in the front row, right behind the champion, at the Green Jacket ceremony. For this guy from Logansport who got his start at the Rolling Hills GC (Par 3), that few minutes behind the winner on Sunday is certainly exciting, awesome and surreal…………… that really describes my whole week.    

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