“You’re not supposed to be out here,” the man said.
No, we were not.
But not even shrinking daylight and burly Pinkerton security guards were going to stop me and then-sports editor John Bridges from walking the grounds that tournament co-founder Bobby Jones walked although he never won the Masters.
And so we intrepidly did.
>>COMPLETE COVERAGE: Get the latest Masters updates at augusta.com
When we arrived on that Monday back in 2007, my boss wanted to tour Augusta National before play got serious. So John and I walked the lush property, took in the azaleas and the dogwoods and recreated in our fertile minds the images of Gene Sarazen’s double eagle on the par-5 15th hole in 1935.
The week broke cold and blustery that week, but that day we embraced all that was the historic golf course. Just before dusk, the two of us left the media center then just to the right of the first fairway and strolled by the slanted green on No. 9, which is more see-saw than golf green.
We then checked out the 18th green where the two-story-high media bleachers used to stand before they were removed to improve the aesthetics. It’s all about the look and feel of the place.
We headed down the downhill 10th hole where Bubba Watson would years later escape the pine straw and miraculously make a par to edge Louis Oosthuizen in a 2012 playoff.
As a mowing crew perfectly aligned like marching soldiers drove in unison up that fairway, we kept on in the opposite direction, undaunted. We stood by the greens at 11 and 12, just taking it all in before heading to the sacred locations better known as Amen Corner.
“It was all like stepping into a painting,” John remembers now.
We were blindly immersed in Masters lore until security rolled up in a golf cart in the Georgia twilight and firmly instructed us that we were not allowed to be there at that time of day. We hooked a ride back with them to the media center — they didn’t trust us to walk back at our own pace — and celebrated our good fortune that we were not incarcerated. Better yet, we hadn’t had our media credentials revoked.
And then we saw history that week.
Of course, we always see history the week of the Masters.
Sure, a Danny Willett will put on the green jacket some less than memorable Sunday nights. And Zach Johnson won that year in 2007 when Tiger Woods went for the green on the par-5 15th hole on the final round and his ball found water as Bridges watched forlornly from the bleachers. Johnson never once went for the green in two on the par-5s but was precise enough to score 11-under on those holes and win by two strokes over Woods, Retief Goosen and Rory Sabbatini.
“I’m pretty sure I’d never heard of him before that week,” John said of Johnson.
Not many had, which is why he introduced himself at the press conference, “I’m Zach Johnson, and I’m from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.”
The Masters will occasionally shine on lesser names like a Trevor Immelman or a Zach Johnson, but more often than not, we’ll be eyewitnesses to big-name champions and one of the greatest spectacles in sports.
If the Masters isn’t on your bucket list, you should put out an APB for your soul. It’s simply the most beautiful spot on earth.
It’s that much of a privilege to be here, which is how I felt when I drove up on a rainy Monday.
There’s not much better than having a peach cobbler on the verandah overlooking the first tee or spending your children’s inheritance at the gift shop.
And nothing better than walking all 18 holes. Or seeing the greats of the game playing them.
I’ve been blessed to cover almost 20 Masters.
I’ve seen Ben Crenshaw win by divine intervention.
I’ve seen Phil Mickelson exorcise demons.
I’ve seen Sergio Garcia get rid of some, too.
I’ve seen Tiger defy gravity on 16 and embrace the legends in four Masters.
I’ve seen Tom Kite finish a distant second to that same Tiger Woods. “I won my flight,” he told me.
I’ve seen Greg Norman melt down.
I’ve seen Bubba Watson heat up.
I’ve seen Jordan Spieth almost win as a 20-year-old.
I’ve seen Jordan Spieth win as a 21-year-old.
I’ve seen Jordan Spieth find Rae’s Creek.
And then there’s the conversations you’ll always remember. Talks in the media center with the late Dan Jenkins, who went to 68 consecutive Masters, starting in 1951, but died last month. Chats with Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson under the oak tree. Run-ins with Aaron Rodgers and Cris Carter on the grounds. Regular visits with the late Frank Broyles, who was an Augusta member.
The first three times I was allowed to cover the Masters, Crenshaw won almost wire to wire the week after his mentor, Harvey Penick, died, Norman blew an unblowable, six-stroke lead over Nick Faldo on Sunday and Tiger Woods won his first with a 12-stroke margin — really? it was 12? — over runner-up Kite. Does it get any more gripping?
Greatness and graveness. Even the disasters are gripping. Just ask Jordan.
That’s part of the beauty of this event. It rarely disappoints. And even if it does ever so slightly, the conversations and the scenery and the memories totally atone for it.
And if you check it off your bucket list, try not to get thrown out.
Oh, by the way, late Monday afternoon the electronic message board behind the reception desk on the ground floor of the two-story media center was very clear about its, uh, instructions.
“No one allowed on the course until the patron gates open in the morning,” it emphatically declared.
I’d like to think in some small part, John and I had something to do with leaving our mark.