AUGUSTA NATIONAL GOLF CLUB, AUGUSTA GEORGIA | Moments in life often turn into memories. And we hope that the moments of our imagination will one day become reality. When these two cross paths and we experience the moments we only imagined before, it becomes a movie highlight of our lives – one of many shorts that we will play over and over again in our minds. as long as we live.
This week, a long-awaited moment is now a memory. My first trip to the Masters.
I have many memories of Master. As a golf lover, this is a week in April that I look forward to every year. In the nearly fifteen years I’ve been in golf, all the special moments I associate with the Masters have been from afar, always staring through a screen, jealous of the players, patrons and broadcasters who have trod the greenest grass in the game.
In the spirit of a “Tradition like no other”, I have created some of my own. In middle school, I sat in class with my phone perched on my backpack hoping my teacher wouldn’t see the pink azaleas reflecting in my eyes. I never wanted to miss a minute of Masters coverage. Throughout the week, the green was a constant in my outfits on and off the golf course. And Masters Sunday was an uninterrupted day on the couch with my dad, my brother, and my grandfather. Watching the 2012 Masters is one of my last vivid memories I have with my grandfather weeks before he passed – my most important Masters moment until the other day. I can only say that because I know my grandfather wished he had the chance to take a trip to Augusta in his 73 years of life. As far as I’m concerned, he could have been there with me on Tuesday because it’s the closest thing I’ve seen to heaven.
After all my prayers, God had answered with a trip to the corner of Amen. Just a few weeks ago, UNC head coach Aimee Neff, my former assistant and a good friend, called me to ask what I was doing on April 5th. Not knowing why she was asking, I told her it was a week off and I had no plans. She quickly said to me, “Do you want to go to Augusta?” It was a “yes” almost as natural, excited and without doubt as the one I had said to my fiancé when he proposed to me a few months ago.
Once I parked, went through security, and scanned my ticket, I had my first spike of Augusta weed. Yes, in this case the grass is greener on the other side. I was finally going to witness this green jacket championship with my own eyes.
All my questions about the mystical place would find an answer. I would walk the hills that everyone says are understated on any camera. I’d snack on a pimento cheese sandwich, pair it with a sweet southern tea, and finish on a peach note with an ice cream sandwich. A few simple things I’ve always dreamed of. However, after a few minutes through the doors, I realized that the experiment was not going to be about those hardware issues. This was something that would outlast the Augusta wraps, hats, photos, and souvenir bags that every customer returned to their car with. Instead, it was about moments. The moments of the master.
On Tuesday, the weather forecast was something storm chasers dreamed of, but for Masters participants it was a nightmare. With a 100% chance of rain, thunderstorms surrounding the area, a tornado warning, and the possibility of hail, I knew my first trip to Augusta would be cut short.
When I got there, Aimee and I started our brisk walk to see as much of the luscious land as possible. We weave our way through the herd of customers thronging the golf shop and snack bar. We arrived on the first tee with eyes wide open and in the same awe that I imagine Christopher Columbus had when he landed in America. In perfect timing, we got to see current Tar Heel Austin Greaser throw it during his practice round with Coach Dibitetto carrying his bag. As I watched the two of them descend the first fairway accompanied by three other PGA Tour players, I could only think of the moment they shared. Coach Dibitetto had been demoted from head coach to caddy in the elusive white jumpsuit, a demotion every head coach dreams of.
From there I saw the eighteenth hole. Most tunnels are dark with a light at the end. The narrow shoot that is the final determinant of the Master’s champion was the first tunnel I saw twinkling with light. With childish imagination, I swung my umbrella and hit the perfect cup of butter. I prayed on the corner Amen – prayers of thanks. On the 16th, I watched the players stuff it next to the pin and jump it across the pond. In times of crisis, we would ride the last few holes and head to the shop for a few treats. Without a phone, I made my best judgment on a Masters gift for each member of my family. After a few minutes of stressful shopping, I walked out of the golf shop to see customers walking in the wrong direction. The rain hadn’t hit yet, but the bodies were pouring out. Over the loudspeaker, in the most pleasant tone, a voice spoke words that all the customers dreaded. The game has been suspended.
I immediately made a mad dash for the nearest snack. Breathless but hopeful, I asked the workers if I could come in to get some food. They quickly informed me that this one was closed along with all the other stops there. Chili cheese and peach ice cream wouldn’t fall in my mouth. I was as devastated as a child on Christmas morning who didn’t get the one present he had wanted all year. I wasn’t the only one sitting in this type of devastation. To my right, two men were rummaging through the trash in search of the elusive sweet cup of tea. They weren’t homeless, but they didn’t come home without one. We stood outside the snack station chatting about defeating an unclaimed chili cheese sandwich. One of the guys was a teacher from Texas who won the lottery in 2019. For him, it was a three-year build up to that point. We swallowed the fact that our taste buds would not receive a touch from the tradition of the Masters. However, this moment could have been sweeter than Georgia’s mix of holy fruit, sugar and cream. It was a master moment.
Eventually, I would rejoin the herd and head for the exit. On my way out I would get another view of the immaculate training facility. With each step I imagined another shot I would hit on one of the practice greens. I got a glimpse of the broadcast setup that was perched at the back of the lineup. Just before leaving, I watched a little girl being interviewed by a local TV channel about her first Masters experience. In a deep southern drawl, she said, “We have a golf course back home, but it’s nothing like that.” It was so simple, but so well said. nothing was
like that. I couldn’t help but think what a moment of mastery this was. She was so young, but it’s an experience she will carry for the rest of her life.
If she is a student of the game, she may find herself in the hallowed grounds as a competitor. In my youth, I never dreamed of competing at this prestigious show, but now young boys and girls can plant those seeds in their brains. Maybe one day those dreams will blossom alongside the azaleas at Augusta National. If you’ve watched this year’s Drive, Chip and Putt, you’ve witnessed plenty of Masters moments. My favorite has to be when Autumn Solesbee saw her “dream come true”.
After the Women’s National Amateur Championship ended in August this year, amateur star Rach Heck told little girls to keep dreaming. A gesture that playing on the hallowed ground of golf as a competitor was all she had ever imagined.
Come Sunday afternoon, there will be great moments. The moment of the Masters, every player on the pitch hopes to live. An interview in Butler Cabin, with the most comfortable green jacket hugging their backs.
It is in fact “a tradition like no other”. Yes, for all the things that make the place special, but for something else – for the fact that avid golfers, bandwagon fans, patrons and players can all share in the big and small moments on offer by this historic tournament. Thank you, Augusta National, for creating this common ground in which all of humanity can marvel and derive some kind of meaning.
I am grateful for all the moments and now the memories that I will take with me from The Masters.