Year after year, I sent in Masters applications. Year after year, I was rejected. Hopes diminished. Paradise lost. Then like a trumpet call from Gabriel I was found - chosen if you will - by Bobby Jones before I was born to attend his creation, his heaven. I received notice of my acceptance for one day's worth of practice-round glory in Augusta, Ga., 10 months ago, and I awaited my trip to Jones' visual paradise with insomnia Tuesday night. It's called the Masters. It's the one major tournament that is solidified on the one course that all people want to play or see, Augusta National. For me it was like a dream to attend the Masters on Wednesday. It was as if I was reading some Biblical book. It went a little like this:
In the beginning, there was Bob (Jones). And the course was with Bob. In the first year (1931), he created Augusta National. And it was good. (Very good.) In the second year, Bob beautified his land. It too, very good. In the third year, he opened his creation to man and golfing heaven opened its gates. The world of golf changed forever.
In 1934, the Augusta National Invitational was established, but something went wrong. No one wanted to play. Bob gave tickets away, but "sinful" rejections by golfers led to problems paying the bills. Bob's angels were falling away. Only a few remained.
His tournament was then dubbed the Masters and all came to witness this thing that had been born. Wiseplayers brought bountiful gifts of graceful swings, ultimate competition and desires to win.
When Gene Sarazen hit his "shot heard around the world" in 1935 (a double-eagle at the par-5 15th), the Masters and Augusta National were immediately accepted as the most prestigious golfing venue on earth.
Okay, you get the picture. This place was heavenly. However, the good players don't wear wings here. They wear green jackets.
Bob's design is nothing short of a work of God. Bunkers are carved out the ground as if God himself used huge, bean-shaped cookie cutters to form them. The grass-cuts were immaculate. No blade of glass misplaced. No blade longer than its neighbor. No grain of sand strayed from its bed, and no debris slept on the grass.
Chills spilled across my arms as I entered the hallowed grounds, and its history flew into my spirit from the blades of green under my sandals. Faint shouts from the year when Jack Nicklaus once won his sixth green jacket at the age of 46 entered my soul, along with a painful loss by Greg Norman in 1996. I shut my eyes and imagined the scene of the Golden Bear raising his putter high in the air with his right hand in a water-to-wine changing victory at the 18th. I felt the sinking heart of "The Shark" as he lost a six-shot lead in the final round of the Masters, only to lose by seven to Nick Faldo. When I came to, only golf's new savior was in front of me, Tiger.
Tiger Woods performed golf miracles at the 7th hole, and his followers believed and were amazed. I loaded my camera to record his work. I watched my golfing messiah, through my zoom lens, bring a lifeless putt to its breath again as he aimed his putter seven feet right of the hole, and the ball mysteriously drifted at the cup. No mere player could see what he saw in Bob's work. Only the chosen one could do such, and only at golf's heaven, Augusta.
The Masters wasn't just great golf, it was fun, too. Santa Claus knows. He was there. Well, it was just a large man with an uncanny resemblance, but it might as well have been jolly ol' Saint Nick. (And no, I didn't sit on his knee).
Augusta's "Amen Corner" hosted the loudest cheers of the day. Fuzzy Zoeller, having been forgiven by the messiah of golf for his racial comments at the Masters in 1997, pulled a spectator out of the crowd from behind the famed 12th tee. A senior-aged man (let's call him Lee, because I can't remember his last name) was thrust into the spotlight on one of the most famous par 3's in the whole world to hit a tee shot, which even the pros have trouble tossing on the putting table.
Fuzzy handed Lee his club. Lee practice-swung the wrong way. Zoeller, jokingly to the crowd, embarrassed Lee and pointed him the right way. Right before his backswing, Fuzzy reminded Lee of the awaiting water in front of the green - as if he wasn't anxious enough. The fans were soaking it in with every chuckle from Zoeller's plump belly.
Lee released his nervous energy downward at the ball, and the round, white-wonder took off tracking at the hole. Everyone stood in hopes that this heavenly hole would grant a humble golfer one true blessing. Then all of a sudden, the ball turned towards the trees to the far left of the green.
The ball hit multiple tree limbs. Multiple sighs were heard.
But Hark! An angel sat in that tree. Could it be that Bob forced his hands on Lee's shot? The ball bounced out of the trees toward the green and stopped a foot short of the minuscule putting surface.
Fans yelled and cheered. Zoeller laughed uncontrollably with his partner John Daly at the fans' applause as if both players' pasts were now forgiven by the fans. And they were.
Lee was blessed. Zoeller and Daly were blessed, along with the fans. Bob's countenance was upon us all that day. His former partners, such as Lord Byron Nelson, felt his radiant spirit on the course. His current disciples felt it too. They practiced their talents in a game in which Bob flourished. On a course in which he created. They followed his footprints across the Sarazen Bridge at the 15th and up the infamous 18th fairway in thanksgiving to the man who brought them there. Bob watched from up above. We watched from below. And it was good.