For ultimate sports weekend, Part One, click here.
For ultimate sports weekend, Part Two, click here.
Monday morning came bright and early. The drive from Charlotte to Augusta takes a little over two hours, especially when those driving are running on very little sleep. If you thought $2500 a ticket to a Monday practice round at Augusta was steep, you can only imagine how much local hotels were charging if you could even find a room. It’s not uncommon for Augusta residents to vacate their houses for the week and put them up for visitors willing to pay an amount that might equate to an annual salary for some. As there’s not much else to the town, Augusta’s economy spikes infinitely when the masses come to visit in early April. For all intents and purposes, the tournament subsidizes the city.
This would be my third trip to Augusta and I can assure you, it never gets old… but it has definitely gotten busier. Lines were long, the course volunteers were uncomfortably hospitable, and the gift shop was elbow-to-elbow with golf fans eager to whip out their credit cards and drain their savings. The internet will have you believe around 50,000 fans attend the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday practice rounds. I’m here to tell you there were a lot more than that, all of us bombarding the course, wearing our favorite sports-related attire and jockeying for position around key holes to see the most elite golfers in the world do things we could only dream of doing with a golf ball.
The sport’s biggest names were there, including those golfers who had left for LIV, like Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. It’s the Masters so many, like Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson and of course, Phil Mickelson, all former champions, were invited back. Greg Norman, who helped spearhead the LIV movement not so much. While the PGA Tour still holds a grudge, those at Augusta play by their own rules and answer to no one.
The course itself, as I’ve described in the past, is its own museum, a track that’s been around for 90 years and hosted the tournament for almost 80. The grounds are religiously and meticulously manicured for the week’s festivities with greenskeepers scolded for a single blade of grass being out of place.
The weather opening Monday was cool and overcast but that did not take away from Augusta National’s unrivaled beauty. That Monday, as you’ll soon see, we soaked it all in. We caught the unmistakable roar of a hole in one and an early morning pairing that included Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Fred Couples. As Brotha E most accurately put it, even to this day, when Tiger Woods is on the course, you know exactly where he is. His cult of personality runs strong as crowds still flock to see the world’s most famous golfer. Throw in a side of Rory McIlroy and you can follow less-famous golfers around without being mobbed by fans.
Key spots at Augusta always garner attention, such as Amen Corner, Augusta’s 11th, 12th and 13th holes where fans, from a single gallery, can catch players attempt birdie on the 11th green, face the intimidating par 3 12th, complete with Hogan Bridge, then tee off on the 13th, which was pushed back another 35 yards this year just to make things interesting.
Another famous gathering spot is the par three 16th where players are asked, if not demanded, to skip their tee shots across the water. This is a Masters’ practice round tradition. One of Monday’s most memorable moments came when I watched Collin Morikawa hit his tee shot onto the green to the delight of the fans. As he walked off the tee box with his caddie, the crowd chanted “SKIP IT! SKIP IT! SKIP IT!” Playfully ignoring them at first, Morikawa stopped suddenly, turned around and smiled at the crowd, which roared as he soon granted their wish. Morikawa set his ball on the grass in front of the lake, skipped his golf ball across the water and onto the green. He then handed his wedge to his caddie who did the same thing. The crowd went nuts.
When Tiger, Rory and Freddie hit the 16th green, they all lined up alongside each other and gave those in attendance a memory they’ll never forget, all of them yelling “SKIPPING IT!” in unison.
I could go on for hours discussing the history of the course and the fun time I had with my closest friends but it’s probably best that some of these stories don’t make the website.
Instead, at long last, a view of Monday’s practice round through my eyes. Thanks again, boys, for a trip to remember. Here’s until we do it all again.