I played golf at Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters, two or three times in the 1990s. If I recall, my pals and I played the par-3 course first – the course The Masters' participants play the day before the tournament for kicks – for kicks ourselves. Then we ate lunch in the clubhouse, then played the same 18 holes that Jordan Spieth just conquered. I didn't pay a cent for anything, including – I think – lunch. (I might be mistaken on that.) In fact, I got paid my normal (read: low) daily salary for spending a day playing golf.
I didn't save my scorecards. That was a huge mistake, not because the scores were any good, but because, duh, they were scorecards of my rounds at the Augusta National.
I'm not much of a golfer – as you've probably figured out by now. The first telltale sign is that I honestly cannot remember if I played the course twice or three times. The second? Yeah, the scorecard thing. The third is that I don't lead every conversation with a new friend with this little nugget of my life's history.
My golfing friends, and my dad, will never forgive the fact that I – a non-enthusiast who has probably played 25 rounds of golf his whole life and has never once honestly broke 100 – played Augusta National and they didn't.
The reason I got to play is so boring that I'd leave it out entirely if not for the gaping hole it'd leave in this story. I worked for six years at The Augusta Chronicle, and I – along with almost every other reporter – covered the tournament every year I worked there. Then, the week before the Augusta National closed its course for the summer, the news media got to play. And the course, while it was the same, didn't exactly play the same. The greens were grown out a little, making them much less like a sheet of ice and much easier to navigate. Or so I'm told. And we played from the men's tee box as opposed to the champions’ tee box, if I recall that correctly.
I remember precious little about my performance. I know that I hit decent shots off the No. 1 tee both times (or was it all three times?). By decent, I mean it went a couple hundred yards, and I could find it. Much, much better players than me got much, much more nervous than me and shanked the first shot badly – in front of a fairly large contingent of their peers.
I remember on No. 9, I'd score something like a 13. For those who know the course, I kept hitting the ball to the front of the green, and it kept rolling back to where I was standing. I always cleared the water on 12, in the middle of Amen Corner, and always played some of the worst golf known to man on the (relatively) easy No. 13, a par-5. Come to think of it, I was pretty horrible, even by my standards, on the back nine as a whole, except for 18, which I seem to remember playing OK-ish, I guess.
I was 27, 28, maybe 29 when I played there. I'm about to turn 50. While I don't play at all anymore, I'm fairly certain I'd appreciate the moment more today than I did then. I'd probably hear the playful voice of God talking about his creation and my ridiculous swing, more now than I did then. And I be so much happier for colleagues who were out there, soaking it in, than I probably was.
I see the glory of God at the Masters every time a winner hits his last stroke into the hole on 18 and is overcome with emotion. Some – Bubba Watson and Bernhard Langer come to mind – knew they were shining because of the gift God had given them. I'm sure plenty of other winners knew that, too. But even for the ones who didn't recognize it, I did.
I'm trying to recognize and appreciate God moments more today than I used to. Not just the big obvious ones, but the little ones that were orchestrated just for me.
As a quick aside, right now, I'm appreciating God for the basketball season the Atlanta Hawks just had. Sounds insane, I know. This season wasn't planned for me. It has no spiritual relevance that I can figure out. And God doesn't care more about the Hawks than the rest of the NBA. But I've enjoyed the season immensely while not worrying about the potential playoff failures that Atlanta sports fans know of too well. I've soaked it in, in the moment, and appreciated it for what it was – 82 nights of a break from my real life and 82 chances to text Stan or John and enjoy a little fellowship while rooting on the home team.
I'd have never recognized that 20 or 25 years ago, when I about to step foot inside the Augusta National. I guess, though, if I had, I might have really shanked those drives off the No. 1 tee.