I think the pencil was some kind of sign. My caddie found it on the ground at the John Deere Classic last summer during my rookie season. It was an Augusta National pencil.
I started using it every week as a little bit of inspiration, and not long after, I won at the Greenbrier Classic. My first thought when that last putt dropped was, I'm in the Masters!
My lifelong dream will become a reality this week. I've visited Augusta National four times since December. My first trip there we had a two-hour frost delay. Waiting was torture. When it warmed up, a group of guys walked up right as I put my tee in the ground on number 1 and a voice said, "Let's see what you've got, son." I turned around. It was Arnold Palmer! That was my first shot at Augusta, and luckily I hit it pretty well.
During another round, I was on the 9th tee when my caddie said, "No worries, but a guy who has won a few green jackets is behind you." I turned and saw Jack Nicklaus, on the way to the 2nd tee. I was happy to hit that one well too.
I've missed a month of golf in 2012—I hurt my rib at the Humana Classic—but finally I'm healthy. And rusty. My friend Kenny Perry called while I was out and said, "Get your butt down to Augusta and at least chip and putt. The year I almost won, I did that for two or three days." So even though I couldn't play, my coach and I went there, like Kenny said, and tried to figure out where to miss the greens and where not to.
It's a special place. The clubhouse doesn't necessarily blow you away, but what it represents does. The service is great. John, who works in the dining room, always asks me, "Banana pudding today?" I had some on my first visit and said, "All right, this is my new go-to." John remembers. I've always said my grandmother's banana pudding is the best ever, but where you're eating this banana pudding—at Augusta National—puts it over the top.
It's going to be exciting. I planned to play a practice round with Zach Johnson, a Masters champion. My four-year-old nephew, Pete White, was to caddie for me in the par-3 contest.
By the way, a clubhouse guy heard my pencil story and gave me an entire box. I have 400 of them now, and every time I visit I seem to accumulate more. The original pencil? I still have it. I'm taking it home.
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Should Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM, be invited to join Augusta National?
DAVID WALBERG (STALLINGS)
TIP O' THE CAP Stallings's scouting trips to Augusta have provided familiarity with the course and a few of its heroes.