Monday at Augusta: The Masters without the formalities
My sister, who lives in Augusta, got me tickets and, after a three-hour flight, I was laying on the pristine carpet of grass that is Augusta National. Tom Watson walked by with a solemn face. Tiger Woods stayed on the putting green most of the day. And Sergio Garcia was busy grabbing little kids for photo opportunities.
If you have the chance, check out a practice round at the Masters. It’s golf wearing a tank top and sipping a margarita.
After wandering down to the 16th, I caught a few thousand people chanting, “Skip it! Skip it!” to Stuart Appleby and his threesome. Unsure of what they were chanting about, I watched Appleby oblige. He plopped his ball down close to the water on the short par 3 and skipped it across the water. Like a pro, he watched it roll onto the green.
By the time Darren Clarke arrived, I was enthralled at the lack of posture most of these pros exemplify on national television. They were not so focused on scoring well. Most played two or three balls on each hole.
Darren Clarke, for one, showed me the meaning of a mulligan.
After plunking a tee shot on 16 well short of the hole, he grabbed an extra club, teed off again and put his ball on the back tier. As it began to creep back toward the hole, it curved and curved and curved and, with the few thousand people on their feet, the ball rolled straight into the cup.
After a huge roar, the crowd continued its “Skip it!” chant, and Clarke hit a few for kicks that cleared the water.
Forget azaleas and magnolias. The hole in one was as beautiful as it gets.
It’s hard to explain the experience of being at Augusta. Think about being at church and hiding a belch. Cheap beverages, sandwiches and comfortable seating makes it seem more like an outdoor movie theatre than a top-rate golf tournament.
Because Hootie and company have mastered the art of crowd flow, I was able to walk up to the famous grassy knoll between the 11th and 12th hole and get a front row seat to the covered bridges.
I saw wealth. A woman with a diamond the size of a Titleist Pro V couldn’t help but coo at Vijay Singh’s long, curling putt.
I saw desperate men on the side of the road begging for tickets. And, best of all, I saw people giving away lemonade to those of us with long treks to the course from our parking spaces.
The community wraps itself around this event and, if you ask the locals, it falls asleep shortly after.
The biggest secret to tourists is a little dive just down the street. Rhinehart’s Oyster Bar trades the collared shirts and pristine layout of the most famous golf club in the world for paper plates and fried shrimp. You break the crab legs with your hands and, if you ask for a mug with your beer, you get a plastic cup.
But it’s packed. Always. Long wooden benches serve as tables and prices stay under $15. And, as people walk in with golf shoes and collared shirts, the whispering begins.
“Is that someone famous?” they ask.
Most likely, it’s not. Most likely, it’s just another fan with a grass stain on his seat and a mindset of one who just returned from fantasia.
Ryan Slabaugh can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 257, or at email@example.com
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.