A FAMILY TRADITION LIKE NO OTHER

26 Apr

Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to once again go to the Masters Tournament. This golf nut (and occasional golf journalist) can’t get enough of the incredibly beautiful, dramatic and unrivaled sporting event that takes place every April in Augusta, Ga., the place of my birth.

My first Masters experience took place in 1989, and my father’s first at Augusta National Golf Club was 30 years before that… which also happened to be the competitive debut of a 19-year-old amateur named Jack Nicklaus.

This year I invited my golf-addicted brother-in-law-to-be just 15 days before he tied the knot with my wife’s sister. Josh, my parents and I braved the cold that Friday morning, but eventually things warmed up, allowing us to focus solely on the inspired play on that heavenly plot of land. As if to welcome him to the Masters, within a minute or two of Josh first laying eyes on Amen Corner, Kevin Na holed out from the fairway for eagle on #13. Near the end of the quite entertaining day, after many miles on foot but also many (refreshingly inexpensive) visits to the concessions tent, we were standing along the 14th fairway when Tiger Woods’ mother sat down right next to me.

Of the multitude of memorable moments I’ve experienced at the Masters through the years, I can say that I saw with my own eyes Tiger take his first ever lead at Augusta with an eagle at #13 in Round 2 in 1997. He’d go on to lap the field that weekend, setting the tournament record score of 270 (18 under) at the age of 21.

On the other end of the spectacular scale was a shot I witnessed Fred Couples attempt from behind the 10th green one year. His ball had come to rest under a bush, forcing the ’92 Masters champ to his knees to chip his third shot. He proceeded to advance the ball maybe only a foot or two. There are not many chances for me to relate to professional golfers, but that was one…

In 2008, my father-in-law and I went to the final round. From the stands at Amen Corner, we witnessed a successful marriage proposal and almost immediately wondered if that meant the proposer had to take his soon-to-be wife to the Masters every year from then on (In 2006, I took my wife-to-be to her first Masters just a couple of months before we wed). We also witnessed the leader, Trevor Immelman, dunk his tee shot into the pond at #16 and still win by three shots.

One of our fondest family traditions was driving down to tiny Sylvania, Ga., after our day at the Masters to stay with my dearest Great Aunt Anna, she of the sweetest heart, golden shoes and a pint-sized poodle named Lilly. There, over a hearty steak dinner, we’d share exciting tales from the day in Augusta, and our relatives from Atlanta would tell us which players they wanted to follow the next day when it was their turn to take the Masters badges. All together, everyone enjoying each other’s company and, like children on Christmas morning, soaking up a special event that is both a sporting and family staple.

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