Writing a column about Augusta National admitting its first women members got me to thinking about my only trip to Augusta to cover The Masters. The following isn't crafted too well, just stream-of-consciousness to share the experience of covering a tournament with a tradition unlike any other ...
Even if you don't love golf, Augusta National is special.
I covered The Masters once. I went down from the Final Four, where Rick Bozich and I had been stalking Billy Donovan for The Courier-Journal because he was expected to be the next University of Kentucky coach. Tubby Smith had left, and it was a high-pressure time as far as reporting goes.
I drove to Augusta, where I was sharing a rental house with Joe Biddle of the Tennessean, Rusty Hampton of the Clarion Ledger and maybe one or two others. The first day I got to Augusta, I was shocked that I parked about 100 yards from the gate. I was even more shocked when I walked through the gate with minimal hassle.
And there I was, on the hallowed grounds. Jerry Brewer, who had gone to work for the paper in Seattle, also was covering the event for the first time. We made a pact. We talked about how everyone who covered the event waxed poetic about the beauty of the place, and went on and on about the azaleas. Whatever we wrote, we vowed, we weren't mentioning the azaleas.
Right away, I got bad news. As part of a "team effort" of Gannett writers, I'd been assigned to cover this little-known pro from Iowa and file updates back every day to the Des Moines Register. Great. Tiger and Phil are battling it out, and I've got to write about this guy. Fantastic.
A day in -- another distraction. Word came from my editor, Harry Bryan, that UK had made an offer to Michigan State Tom Izzo, and that Izzo had left East Lansing for a while to get away from it all and think it over. And our source, presumably a good one, said that the place Izzo had "gotten away" to was, where else, Augusta National.
"See if you can find him," came the order.
Sure. Middle-aged white guy, at Augusta National, Masters week. Should stick out like a sore thumb. I'm on it. I spent hours searching for Izzo. This is journalism. We didn't know if an offer had been made, or if Izzo was in Georgia. But you have to look. I checked with the Nike reps, asked the Michigan writers. I never saw Tom Izzo.
I did see Dave Kindred. He was receiving a lifetime achievement award. I had been thinking about Kindred often in those days, because I'd only recently been promoted to columnist at The Courier-Journal, and not a week went by when I didn't get an email informing me that, "You're no Dave Kindred." The answer was always the same. "No kidding. Who is?"
Inside note: The Masters is the best-run event, from a media standpoint, in the U.S. Maybe I should say, from a writer's standpoint. Augusta National values the writing about The Masters. Every year, it compiles a hard-bound, beautifully photographed, collection of the best writing from the event. It goes day by day, with excerpts from writers who were at Augusta. I'll never be a member at Augusta, or any golf club. But anyone who goes to that trouble is my kind of people.
So the tournament starts, and everything is good. The first day, I'm not really paying attention to leaders or scores, I'm just walking the course, taking it all in. I come back to the press room and see Jerry Brewer and ask him, "Still Azalea free?"
"I'm strong," he answered.
Then UK hired Billy Gillispie. I'd been following Gillispie for a while. I had some anecdotes from his Texas A&M practices. And then-UK sports information director Scott Stricklin was good enough to get me on the phone with Gillispie for a short bit before the coach got on a plane to California.
On Day 1 of the Masters, I wrote UK basketball.
On Day 2, I caught back up with my Iowa guy. And on Day 3, things got interesting with my assigned Iowa player. His name was Zach Johnson, and he went into Sunday at the Masters just two shots off the lead.
More information than you want, but on Sunday at the Masters I was very ill. I spiked a high fever. I spent most of the final round sitting outside the dining area with a contingent of Japanese journalists watching on television. It was, actually, my first experience with high-definition television.
And Zach Johnson, who I'd been talking to every day, won the tournament, which gave me a bit of insight for my final column.
There's no moral to this whole story, just one writer's memories of Augusta. I haven't had the chance to go back and cover the Masters' since, but in some ways that's all right. I don't know that another trip could be anywhere close to as eventful as that one.
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