AUGUSTA, Ga. — At least I can say I beat Jordan Spieth on one hole of golf in my life.
With the winds down low and the pins at Augusta National in the same position as they were on Sunday, I debated with my caddie, Rett, about hitting either a 9-iron or a pitching wedge into the devilish par-3 12th that not 24 hours earlier had cost the 22-year-old Spieth the 2016 Masters.
I was leaning pitching wedge, but Rett said for me to go 9-iron, as the winds are known to pop up, unannounced.
I stood on the tee, thinking, “Just don’t ‘Spieth’ this,” and I swung away. It was my best swing of the day, and, somehow, I had about a 15-footer left for birdie.
I made it.
It was just another highlight in a day full of them playing the famed golf club on Monday after the Masters.
Each year, the assembled media that cover the event have a chance to enter their names into a lottery. The folks who are part of the television crews from around the world have a separate draw that takes place as well.
If you’ve played the course within seven years, you aren’t allowed to enter again until you’re out of that seven-year window. One well-known Canadian golf journalist waited 19 years before his name was drawn. Meanwhile, a Canadian sports columnist from Vancouver has been covering the Masters for 24 years and has played three times, getting picked, basically, on his seven-year anniversary each time.
I was told to bring my clubs by some colleagues, so I did. And while I was out following Spieth and Rory McIlroy on Saturday, I returned to the media centre to overhear a hullabaloo near the front reception desk.
The names had been drawn. Mine was one of them.
In a crazy coincidence, both the gentleman immediately to my right, a journalist from New Zealand, and the gentleman one spot to my left, an online reporter from Sweden, were also drawn.
We had a meeting scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday where an Augusta National representative let us know more about the process for Monday, and then we were left to our own devices before Sunday’s final round.
Arriving at Augusta on Monday was fascinating, with numerous people treating me like a member for the day. I really didn’t know what to do as two men grabbed my golf clubs, another two grabbed my luggage, and another was welcoming me inside the clubhouse.
I was directed to the Champions Locker Room, and called “Mr. Stanley” a lot more than I’m used to, where I was shown my locker for the day. Each media foursome shared one locker.
Mine? Jack Nicklaus’s.
Could this day have started any better?
Proceeding to the driving range (yes, the same driving range the professionals use—usually Augusta National members and guests have a separate range), I was introduced to Rett.
Rett is a late-30s southerner with some grey sprinkled in his beard who enjoys digital race-car driving (seriously—he is in a racing league, online, with 70,000 other people. “The height of nerdom,” he says) and who left a job in sales to become a caddy at Augusta.
He admitted that although he is not allowed to tell me who he’s caddied for in the past, he has caddied in the Masters once before, for a player “about 10 years ago.”
Rett watched me as I proceeded to hit my first six warm-up shots, with two different clubs, all extremely thin.
Over to the putting green, I hit my first three practice putts a combined 45 feet past my intended target line.
There wasn’t much time to get settled, though, as I was on the first tee before I knew it.
I hit my opening drive into the trees on the left, but I was off. I was playing Augusta National.
Most of the day was a blur after that. I managed to make a seven on the first hole (a triple bogey), then a six on the par-5 2nd, then a five on the par-4 3rd. I was getting the hang of it.
It was funny how often I caught my mind wandering off, like any other round of golf.
I began thinking of the emails I had to check when I finished, how my wife was getting on with her day at work, and what my mom was doing for her birthday that day.
But then I realized that I was playing Augusta National, and I’d better be paying attention.
When I reached the 18th green, I couldn’t believe that my round had come to a close.
I had walked in the footsteps of immortal figures in the game of golf (“A lot of famous asses have sat on this bench,” said one of the other caddies when we got to no. 12). I shared a locker with arguably the greatest golfer of all time and I managed to beat a past Masters champion by five shots on one of the most iconic golf holes in the world.
I hope these next seven years go by quickly, because I can’t wait to do it again.
I had only ever seen Augusta National with thousands and thousands of others around. To see it Monday so silent and so empty was fairly eerie… My favourite hole to play was no. 11… All the caddies had nicknames: “Honeybun,” “Brick,” “Babe,” and “15” were ours… I had 39 putts on the day… The sixth hole has the craziest green that you cannot see on television… I had to putt away from the hole (like, the opposite way) just once… I have a tattoo of Ben Hogan, dedicated to my grandfather who passed away in 2009, on my leg. To be able to take a picture next to the Hogan Bridge was unbelievably cool… And overall? Augusta National is everything you think it is, and more.