This is written as I’m setting off to the one sports event I enjoy most of all. More than a regular “sports event”, it’s the premiere event that sets the South aside from the rest of the world. People live for the day they can become one of the favored names on the list of preferred badge clients. In fact, people have died to get there; one fellow reportedly slew himself when he sold more badges than he could come up with.
You must have guessed by now—the Masters.
This will be my 59th trip down Magnolia Lane. Although actually, only special guests drive down Magnolia Lane anymore. It’s for invited players, members of Augusta National, high dignitaries such as past champions, and Billy Payne. William (Billy) Porter Payne is the chairman of Augusta National, as well as the Masters, a gentleman of many splendors. He played football at Georgia, at a level above the norm. He was All-Southeastern Conference end, offensive and defensive. He was the dynamic force behind the movement that brought the Olympic Games to Atlanta in 1996. He currently plays golf at about a handicap of 6 to 8. He is vigorous, personable, can tell a story and get a laugh.
It was 1950 when I got to go to my first Masters, quite by accident, in fact. I was on the road with a minor league baseball team traveling home from spring training. The Charlotte Hornets stopped over in Augusta for an exhibition game, and having free daylight time, I drove out to see this golf tournament. I drove up to the gate, showed my handy press card and was invited right in. They were glad to have you back then. I filed a column to the Charlotte News—two weeks later I would report to my new job in Atlanta—on Johnny Palmer, a North Carolinian. He was known as “that hot Palmer “then. Arnie hadn’t come along yet.
Jimmy Demaret won the championship, his third Masters, mainly because Jim Ferrier, a tall Australian, crashed rounding what would become known as “Amen Corner.” Memory may be a traitor, but as I recall it, Demaret picked up five shots on Ferrier on that treacherous turn.
Well, that was the beginning. Once in Atlanta, naturally I covered the Masters every year. It was our “home” game. It became this state’s crown jewel, mainly because of Bobby Jones, who had become Georgia’s most famous citizen. Of all the Masters I have seen, two stand high above the rest: 1954, when Billy Joe Patton almost became the first (and only) amateur winner; and 1986, when Jack Nicklaus came out of the twilight of his career and won his sixth.
I can’t say I’ve ever had any conviction about who might wear the Green Jacket, nor have I this time. Zach Johnson and Trevor Immelman, who won the last two Masters, have each won only once before on the PGA Tour. Don’t look for another winner to rise from the shadows this time. Just to make a guess, (what else?), I like the way Geoff Ogilvie, the Australian, has been playing this year, and he does know how to win on American soil. We’ll see! I’m off to Augusta and will be getting back to you.