"Covering the tournament, I'd think about how I'd play each hole. I knew we'd play the members' tees, so I thought I could shoot in the 80s."
--Mark Cannizzaro, New York Post
One day a year Augusta National Golf Club overflows with an unforgettable mix of drama, tension, pressure and excitement. On that day there is a display of golf that will live on in memory for years to come. The back nine on Sunday? Nah. We're talking about the Monday morning after the Masters, when a handful of writers drawn by lottery, an assortment of CBS employees and a select few hangers-on get to sip from golf's Holy Grail: They are allowed to play the magnificent course. Even the most cynical wordsmiths are thrilled to trod the National's legendary fairways and greens, if for
no other reason than the Masters is the only major championship that does not allow writers or photographers inside the gallery ropes during the event. Ira Miller, a longtime San Francisco Chronicle writer, said it all when he played one Monday in the mid-1970s. As he and a caddie searched for his ball in the trees right of the 8th fairway, Miller said, "I finally get to play this course, and I still can't get inside the ropes."
Whether it's Miller or the Japanese writer who, in 1984, somehow dribbled his opening tee shot between his own legs, there is one universal truth about the press that play Augusta National: We are not worthy.
"I played Palmetto Plantation on Saturday morning and had the dead shanks. I couldn't get the ball airborne with my irons--any of them. I was mortified. On the drive back to Augusta, I called the pressroom, and lo and behold, my name had been picked in the lottery. I was finally going to play Augusta National, and I was in the throes of the shanks."
--CANNIZZARO The range at Augusta National isn't open on Monday morning, the greens haven't been mowed, so they're a notch below Daytona 500 speed, and the pins are still in their impossible final-round locations. Nevertheless, NBC reporter Jimmy Roberts says getting to play the famed course after covering his first Masters, in the early '90s, was "impossibly thrilling." His highlight was stopping to call a friend at work in New York City. "Guess where I am?" Roberts said. "I'm making the turn at Augusta!" The response was a predictable expletive. "It was sweet," Roberts says.
Toronto Star columnist Dave Perkins was about to replace a big divot he had taken in the 10th fairway when his caddie told him to simply leave it, the mowers would cut it up later. "It was a tremendous pelt," Perkins says, "so I took it, roots and all, and put it in a plastic bag." As soon as he got home, Perkins planted the divot in his backyard. "I had a little piece of Augusta National in my yard all summer," he says. "Every 10th person I told would bend down and kiss it. The other nine would say, 'Are you crazy?' The divot didn't survive the winter, but it was good while it lasted."
Another thing about Monday: The TV people are dismantling all of their equipment. "You're playing Augusta National, you expect orchestra music as you arrive and bluebirds to land on your shoulder," says SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's Rick Reilly. "Instead, you're hitting on 12, the moment of your life, and some teamster spools cable past you. It isn't quite the cathedral experience." Reilly reached the par-5 13th green in two and declared it the greatest moment of his life. "Then I three-putted," he says.
"I got to the course at about 6:30 a.m., and all I could do was roll some putts. I was petrified. A range pro once gave me a tip on what to do to beat the shanks--keep your heels together as you swing. Well, I absolutely stung my drive over the right bunker on the 1st hole. I had 128 yards to the pin, and as I pulled an iron, I told my caddie, 'Listen, you're going to see some unorthodox things today.' I clicked my heels like Dorothy and topped one underneath the trees and made a double. The caddie was probably thinking, What is this imbecile doing?"
For many, the experience is all about Amen Corner, especially the famed 155-yard, par-3 12th hole. Glenn Sheeley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution pushed his second shot from the 11th fairway so severely that his ball nailed a scribe on the 12th tee, about 75 yards right of the 11th green. "He went down like he was shot," Sheeley says. "I think he had PRECEPT 2 tattooed on his back. He was O.K., but I was pretty shaken." After Sheeley chipped on and made bogey, his caddie said, "Boy, you wait your whole life to play Augusta National and then you almost kill somebody."
Four groups were backed up on the 12th tee when Len Shapiro of The Washington Post arrived there five years ago. A member of his foursome pulled out a camera, so Shapiro grabbed a four-iron and posed for pictures by the Ben Hogan Bridge, which crosses Rae's Creek to the left of the 12th green. Forty-five minutes later Shapiro launched his tee shot way long and right, scattering the writers on the 13th tee. "Somebody said, 'Was that a seven-iron, Len?'" Shapiro says. "I looked down--it was the four-iron I had grabbed for the pictures. I had forgotten to change clubs."
"There was a backup at the 12th. My turn finally came, and I remember that swing as if I took it a minute ago. I know all those people on the tee were looking at me and thinking, What is this jerk doing with his heels together? Those were my thoughts in mid-backswing. I shanked a six-iron so far right it landed in the 13th fairway. I wanted to slink into the woods and disappear." --CANNIZZARO
Bruce Berlet covered his first Masters for The Hartford Courant in 1977 and played on Monday. Back then the club's policy was that writers were allowed to play only once--the policy has since been revised to once every seven years--so Berlet was happy that he would live out his days with a 78 to his credit. Two years later, though, Berlet was hanging out at the course on Monday morning when another writer came off the 9th green and said he had to leave to catch a flight. Did Berlet want to play the back nine in his place? Berlet sprinted to the parking lot to get his clubs. He parred the first three holes, but then collapsed in pain as he tried to reach the 13th green in two. He had dislocated his knee. "I'm rolling around, my screams are echoing through the pines," Berlet says. "The other guys in my group are up by the green going, 'What's wrong with him?'" Berlet hobbled to the green, chipped on and finished the hole, but he was unable to go any farther. A cart hauled him to the clubhouse, and he spent eight weeks in a cast. "I think Clifford Roberts struck me down," Berlet says.
Newsday'sShaun Powell was a lottery winner two years ago, even though he had never played a round of golf in his life. Powell hurried out on Sunday morning to practice at a local course, but the next morning at Augusta National his opening shot flew way right, over some trees and close to the media center--"Where I should have stayed," Powell says. He didn't try to keep score but, remarkably, did have a chance to par 12. (He missed a six-foot putt.) "People love to brag about playing Augusta National, but I'm the opposite," Powell says. "I don't want to tell anyone. When they find out I'm a neophyte golfer and I've played Augusta, they hate me."
"I hit an amazing drive around the corner at 13 and decided to be smart and lay up. I shanked a six-iron into the 14th fairway. Now I was afraid of every club in my bag. I shanked the next one into the creek. It was all over. I had 49 on the front and ended up with 113." --CANNIZZARO
CBS announcer Jim Nantz once went for the 15th green in two and unleashed a nasty rope hook. "Helen Alfredsson was on the 16th tee, and I let out one of the alltime bloodcurdling screams," Nantz says. "She turned and--whoosh!--my ball went right past her head and into the lake. I almost eliminated one of the best woman golfers in the world. That was the last time I tried to play on a Monday."
Nantz still comes to the course on Mondays but only to say goodbye. "I'll stand on the 1st tee, almost prayerfully, and bring closure to the week," he says. Last year CBS producer Lance Barrow bumped into Masters champ Phil Mickelson on the grounds early on Monday. Mickelson signed a Masters flag, folded it and asked Barrow to give it to Nantz, who would arrive a little later. When Nantz unfolded it, "Phil had written, JIM, THANKS FOR ALWAYS BELIEVING--PHIL," Nantz says. "It was pretty special."
For the lucky few who get to play, Monday at the Masters always is.
"I'm rolling around, my screams are echoing through the pines," Berlet says. "The other guys are going,
'WHAT'S WRONG WITH HIM?'"
TWO COLOR ILLUSTRATIONS
Illustrations by John Cuneo