Let’s start with this: I love golf. I love everything about golf, whether I’m playing it, watching it, talking about it or writing about it.
Whether I’m on good courses or so-so courses, it doesn’t matter. I played nine holes Tuesday with Stevie, one of my 10-year-olds, at Twin Rivers in Fall City. It’s not the best course in the world and the greens were being sanded, but here’s what mattered more: I was playing golf with my kid. The guys who work there are really nice. Plus it’s affordable, $30 for both of us to play. Twin Rivers is so perfectly casual they allow you to take dogs on the course, and Willie was running all over the place and even took a dip in the pond in front of the ninth tee. I could not have had a better morning.
This is how I feel about the Masters, too. I don’t even care if Danny O’Neil and Dave Wyman mock me for getting goosebumps every time I hear the Masters music. I love the Masters far more than any other tournament, and I pretty much watch them all from week to week. It’s the only major tournament where we know every hole, and it adds to the excitement. If someone tells you something happened at the 13th hole, you know it’s the reachable dogleg left par-5. No other major tournament uses the same course every year.
In the 26 years I worked at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, nothing topped the “assignment” of going to Augusta National four times to cover The Masters. The first time I went, I flew to Atlanta and drove to Augusta. I drove past the exit for my hotel and went straight to the course. It was getting dark, but I couldn’t wait to see the course I’d seen on my TV for so many years.
I walked the back nine and remember how thrilled I was to see No. 10 and how sharply downhill it is, No. 12 and walking across the bridge that spans Rae’s Creek, and every other hole where the drama plays out every year during the final round. I was all by myself, aside from the maintenance crew making last-minute preparations, the lights on their carts getting brighter and brighter as it grew darker and darker.
They have a lottery for media members, and if they draw your name, you get to play Augusta National the Monday after the final round. My name was drawn twice, and I still thank the golf gods for allowing me to play the course once, let alone twice.
I had the wrong perception about the members who wear green jackets at Augusta National. I thought they’d be stuffy, but they weren’t. I lost the keys to my rental car once, and one of those green-jacket guys gave me a ride to my hotel.
I also appreciated the lack of company logos and signs and advertising everywhere. You’re there for golf, and that’s all you get, no bells and whistles that dominate other sporting events in between innings and quarters. And concessions are affordable, too. Beers as I recall were $4, and sandwiches were cheaper. It’s an expensive ticket if you can even get one, but once you’re in, they don’t gouge you like other sports do.
If you give me a choice of which I’d rather watch: the Super Bowl, the World Series or the final round of The Masters, give me Jim Nantz and David Feherty and that syrupy music that gets me every time.
Usually when an announcer says something corny, I cringe and mute my TV. But when Nantz tells us for the 1,304th time that The Masters is “a tradition unlike any other,” I turn up the volume and rewind the tape so I can hear it over and over again while nodding my head, saying, “Yes, Jimmy, you’re right.”
I can’t believe some of the things I see from football, baseball and basketball players, but I marvel more often at professional golfers. What they have to do for four consecutive rounds to beat other professional golfers and win a tournament is beyond amazing to me.
This year’s Masters has story lines galore, starting with Tiger Woods. The last time we saw him – at Torrey Pines in February – he was awful, flubbing chips like you and me. Two months later, he says he’s ready to go, but oddsmakers aren’t buying it; he’s 34-1 to win the tournament.
Rory McIlroy, the top-ranked player in the world, is the favorite at 5.5-1. The Masters is the only major he has yet to win. Jordan Spieth and defending Masters champion Bubba Watson are 10-1. Meanwhile, I’ll be pulling for Puyallup’s Ryan Moore like I always do, but he’s a longshot at 100-1.
Almost guaranteed, there will be five or six golfers who can win The Masters on the second nine come Sunday. Someone will eagle 13, someone else will eagle 15 while someone else will double bogey 12 when he misjudges the wind and knocks it into Rae’s Creek.
And when it ends, I’ll be front and center, soaking in the green-jacket ceremony at Butler Cabin from my crimson-canvas Cougar chair.
If you’re like me, you can’t wait.
Programming note: Tune into 710 ESPN Seattle Sunday morning from 9 to 11 for a special Masters edition of “The Golf Show” with Jim Moore and Shon Crewe.