There isn’t a whole lot to look forward to during early Spring in Southeast Tennessee. The Vols have already been eliminated from the basketball tournament and football still seems like it’s a year away. The weather was supposed to be better, yet it feels like the ’93 blizzard might hit any day. But my luck changed when my friend Danny Peck called me one afternoon on his way from work.
“Perry, you like golf, don’t you?”
Danny had caught me playing golf by myself a couple Saturdays when there was some game we could have watched at the bar. He couldn’t understand while I would spend four hours in a collared shirt sweating outside when I could have been indoors drinking beers and watching sports.
“Well you won’t believe what I got,” Danny said. “Our receptionist Marsha gave me four tickets to the Masters. Her dad had signed her up for the lottery thing and she won. Well her daddy died like two months ago. And she can hardly walk to the break room to refill her coffee so there was no way in hell she’d go to a golf tournament. So she asked me if I wanted them. Four tickets. For the final three rounds. You think you can go?”
I played golf in the same way that someone who only knew how to play “Smoke on the Water” played guitar. I’d driven by a couple courses here in Chattanooga that looked like they were pretty nice. There was The Honors that one of my buddy’s caddied at in high school. I applied to work there too, but you have to know someone to even be allowed to carry some rich asshole’s bag. I heard the course was nice though. And I heard about this course that the internet seems to love down in South Pittsburgh which didn’t make too much sense to me because it evidently was owned by my backdoor neighbors growing up. When they moved in the kids around my age knocked on our door, introduced themselves and said, “we’re from South Pittsburgh, you know where that is?” As a 12-year-old born and raised in Chattanooga the only south Pittsburgh I’d ever heard of was in Pennsylvania.
The only course I ever played was Moccasin Bend Golf Club. In high school we used to drink beers in the park behind the course. After a couple we’d start making animal noises at the golfers teeing off trying to mess up their shots. The guys playing wore jeans and cargo shorts and I think I saw someone wearing baseball cleats one time, so I knew it must not have been too fancy. The course is right on the river but it’s next to the water treatment plant, so it smells like shit and you can see the processed turds floating in the streams on the course, so you can’t really pick your balls out of the water. And there’s a looney bin on the other side. There was a rumor about mental patients running out on the golf course, but I never saw one. There were still high school kids drinking in the park barking at you when you teed off on number two. But it was cheap and since the tornado a few years back it’s really cleared it up, so you don’t lose a bunch of balls.
“The only thing is that Daddy, my brothers, cousin Marcus, a couple other guys from work, their brothers, are all coming too. But I figured we could just take turns passing back tickets. They don’t really give a shit about golf but they want to see Tiger. All in all there’d be like twelve of us going.”
I tried explaining to Danny that you couldn’t just pass back tickets there. That security is tighter than the Silverdale Detention Facility. That they don’t even allow cellphones on the course.
“Well I already booked a couple rooms at the Clarion Inn. You want to come or not?”
Even if the opportunity to see Augusta National for the first time meant sharing tickets and a motel room with eleven others, most of them strangers, I couldn’t pass it up. My dad who only stepped foot on a golf course to poach the fishing ponds would comment that his yard looked like Augusta National after spreading pine straw.
I had spent the majority of my work weeks leading up to the Masters researching and planning. We were set to leave out of Chattanooga at 5:00 AM on Friday morning. That would put us in town, parked, and inside the gates by the second wave of tee times. When Danny texted me Thursday night that something came up and they wouldn’t be able to leave until after work on Friday it felt like someone had ripped out a quarter of my soul. I tried to convince him to let me drive on by myself and for them to meet me down there but he wouldn’t go for it. He needed my car to help carpool. All day Friday I watched on TV what I should have been watching in person. By the time Danny, his daddy, brothers, cousin Marcus, his coworkers and their brothers had arrived at the parking lot of the Walmart it was already half past six before we left out of town. A five-hour car ride with Danny, his daddy, and cousin Marcus later we had arrived in Aiken, SC at the Clarion Inn.
Saturday started off where Friday was left off. The two brothers that slept in the full-size bed next to Danny and me took full advantage of the non-Non-Smoking Room. While the rest of our party loaded up on dispensable pancakes and microwaveable bacon at the continental breakfast, I showered, dressed and waited for everyone at the pool. The future patrons in my party filed out in a combination of either an orange Tennessee nylon polo or performance fishing short sleeve button-up, and either cargo shorts or jeans. One or two may have been wearing UT fishing shirts and jean cargo shorts but I couldn’t keep them all straight. The plan for the day was to draw straws for the time slots of the day. Four would go out from 9 AM to Noon, four would have the noon to 3 PM slot, and the last would go out from 3 PM to close. Danny’s coworkers and their brothers filled up the first two slots, leaving Danny, his Daddy, Cousin Marcus, and me with the final tee time. We decided to meet at the Publix across from the North Gate at the time of our shift change.
While the first wave of hillbillies struggled to navigate transportation without Uber, I went back to the room to rest and kill time. Around 10:30 the eight of us left our phones in the room and caught rides away from the Clarion Inn and into Augusta. The four that were due up to enter the grounds stopped off at Publix to swap out their tickets. Danny, his Daddy, Cousin Marcus and I decided on World of Beer across the street.
The four of us watched the broadcast as golfers like Tyrrell Hatton, J.B. Holmes, Thobjorn Olesen, and Hideki Matsuyama sat at the top of the leaderboard. Players like Freddy Couples and Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods were finishing up their rounds. There wasn’t a lot of meat left on the bone-in ribeye of the Masters for us. The first round ticket holders had made their way back to us. They had heard from some better informed hillbillies that John Daly throws a party at the Hooters down the road every Saturday at the Masters. That’s where they were headed and that’s where they would be until they caught herpes or sexual assault charges.
When my foursome finally stumbled into the Publix parking lot, I could see the glow of Augusta National through their glazed over eyes.
“That place is so nice I couldn’t even put my cig-ret butts out in the grass. I just put them into my pockets,” one of them told us while opening his cargo pocket showing off a pack’s worth of Pall Mall butts.
“The prices are better than two-for-one’s at Chili’s. I had about fifteen of them Domestics they was selling,” another one said showing off his tower of green and clear plastic masters cups.
“Lotta foreigners though,” the least drunk one said. “Egg salad sandwich wasn’t bad.”
The anticipation overtaking me, I cut the conversation grabbed the tickets and started my perfected, Masters-approved, speed walk towards the North Gate. While handing out the tickets I started telling them the rules that I’d read about the week leading up to this moment: Keep your ticket visible at all times, no running, y’all left your cellphones back at the motel right?, don’t yell anything, if we get kicked out we can’t come back tomorrow, you sure you don’t have your cellphone?
I spotted the North Gate in the distance. Crowds of semi-drunk, sunburnt, grinning, satisfied patrons were reluctantly walking against our direction. I overhead fragments of incredible, best day of my life, I can’t believe we saw him. The sky was growing darker by the step, but the only way weather would keep me out of Augusta National would be if a tornado picked me up and dropped me back on Washington Rd. The gate lanes were all open and we strolled up to volunteers and metal detectors without any delay. The lady who scanned my ticket seemed to have been there all day yet was still smiling and excited to have the privilege of scanning my entrance to the greatest day of my life. Even the grass right outside of the entrance gate looked perfect.
“It looks like you’ve already used both your entrances today, sir. I’m sorry but I can’t let you in,” she told me in the most pleasantly disappointing way possible. When I told her I didn’t understand and that it must be a mistake she let me know that the policy changed a couple years ago that only two entrances were allowed per ticket per day. “You know to keep people from passing back a few tickets for twelve people a day.”
Fittingly the rain started what felt like only over my head, as if I was in some Charlie Brown Masters Special. The three others couldn’t understand why we weren’t allowed in and when they started to grasp the concept they couldn’t understand why I didn’t know that was a rule.
“I thought you were supposed to be the golf expert,” Danny’s Daddy said.
“You know Daddy can’t walk for this long,” Danny told me as if they would be put on moving sidewalks once inside the gates. “It didn’t tell you online that they only allow two people to a ticket? I wouldn’t even asked you to come if I knew that. Come on we’re going to Hooters,” Danny said directed at everyone but me.
The walk out of Augusta National and back to Washington Rd. is a lot further than coming in. The rain wasn’t helping either. We walked back past World of Beer, along the other side of the road, until we could see the hoards of people who looked like us spilling out of the Hooters parking lot and their cheap collared shirts. We found the rest of our group who seemed to be shocked not at the sight of us but at the time of our arrival.
“Is it over already?” one of the brighter coworkers’ brothers asked.
“Talk to him,” Danny’s Daddy said pointing to me.
I explained the mix-up the best I could. The others were not as affected as Danny and his dad were. I saw the line of people standing in the rain leading into a tailgate tent where I assumed John Daly was. I heard woo’s from middle-aged women and saw a couple gray haired men pour beers down their face. When our group started in towards the crowd I grabbed Cousin Marcus and told him I was just going to head down the road to the Wild Wing Cafe.
“I gotcha. Maybe we’ll see you down there. Doesn’t look like we’re getting wings here,” Cousin Marcus said, clearly worried about his next feeding.
I walked out of the mass of people down Washington Rd., heading against the flow of people for the second time today. I passed the Tbonz steakhouse that all the golf writers wrote about. I passed the Waffle House that Bubba Watson ate at after he won. I passed another Waffle House that Bubba Watson may have eaten at after he won. When I finally got into Wild Wings and seated the coverage had ended. I had been in Augusta all day and knew less about what was going on in the Masters than anyone else in the country. The replays showed the leaders struggling. It looked like no one in the afternoon shot under par. I still hadn’t seen a leaderboard. Finally the graphic showed up: Tyrell Hatton was still in the lead at 10-under, but Tiger was now only 6 back. There were twenty people between Tiger and Hatton, but it wasn’t out of reach for Tiger to make an unlikely comeback for his first major in eleven years. I turned to tell someone my revelation when Cousin Marcus pulled up next to me at the bar.
“Starving,” Cousin Marcus said, sitting heavily on the barstool next to me without saying hello. I purged my thoughts about how Tiger can come back and win this thing and that we have to get in there tomorrow to watch it and I’m so sorry about screwing up the tickets today.
“Water under the bridge, man. You ever had these China Syndrome wings? You think they’re gonna come out like some type of atomic bomb or something?” Cousin Marcus was reading the menu like he was going to have to give a book report on it. I held back on the second apology. I sat next to Cousin Marcus making the smallest of talk in between his groans and complaints as he put away 15 “China Syndrome” hot wings and maybe as many beers.
The next morning four of the coworkers/brothers couldn’t get out of bed. The other four wanted to get out there and done with by the time the race came on. So Danny, Danny’s Daddy, Cousin Marcus and I were set to go out at noon. The rain had stopped, the sun came out, and it finally felt like a spring day in Georgia with the humidity in the 90’s and the temperature in the 80’s. Despite the weather, Cousin Marcus fell out in his “city jeans.” I tried to explain that between the Tyson plant of hot wings he ate last night and the jeans he was wearing that he was going to be in for a long day.
The morning group was waiting on us when we walked up to Publix at 11:45 AM. The walk into the grounds went off without a hitch. Danny and his daddy wanted to fill up on merchandise first so we walked through the nicest Dillard’s I’d ever been inside of. Danny bought a hat and two t-shirts. Danny’s Daddy bought what had to be his second collared shirt he’d ever owned. I told Cousin Marcus that I bet he could find some shorts but he came back with a green sweater vest that he wore out of the store. I found a belt, some ball markers, and a pin flag. After leaving the merchandise tent, Danny and his daddy were headed to the practice tee while Cousin Marcus and I were going to find the beer and food tents. If we got split up we agreed to meet back at the hotel after the tournament ended.
Cousin Marcus was able to somehow spend a sizeable amount of cash at the food tent despite the prices being below $5. He ordered a BBQ sandwich, chicken sandwich, egg salad sandwich, two “of those Domestics y’all were talking about”, and a peach ice cream sandwich. He stuck the non-frozen sandwiches inside his sweater vest, chugged one of the beers, then ate the ice cream sandwich.
We walked down the first hole, up the second, alongside 8, back down 17, over to 6 and 16, hitting the food tents whenever we found one. We saw the azaleas and didn’t see a single blade of pine straw out of place. We saw golfers up close. We saw crowds of people cheering for golf shots. We heard roars from around the course. Then we heard a roar that was louder than any other on the course. Tiger had eagled 8 and birdied 9. Tyrell Hatton started his first couple holes one over and was in danger of snapping every club in his bag. Cousin Marcus and I made a beeline up 15 to catch Tiger on his way to Amen Corner. We pushed through crowds, speed walking and running when we thought we could get away with it. We popped out through the pine trees up along the ropes as Tiger was finishing his 10th hole. We could barely see the tee box to our left. It looked like Tiger had just stuck his tee in the ground. I saw the massive swing that I had not seen since I was a kid, heard the crack of the ball and driver what felt like ten seconds later, then a thousand people stared towards my direction, and then came the shout. “Fore right!”
Tiger’s drive hit me square in the forehead, propelling the ball back into the fairway, and my skull into the front of my brain. I stumbled over to Cousin Marcus, grabbed at his sweater vest spilling gut-warm sandwiches out onto the pine straw. My legs gave out and I began rolling backwards down the hill. My first full backflip popped me back on my feet, if only for a moment. I turned towards the green, my now lumpy head leading the way with my legs trying to follow, gaining ground towards the pond in front of Rae’s Creek. My momentum caught the best of me just short of the pond leading me into a dive with my head dunking into the pond, the rest of my body staying dry.
There was a blur of white jumpsuits, green jackets, white jackets, and blue shirts carrying me through the woods and onto a cart and inside a building. I think I saw Cousin Marcus running after me, beers in both hands. When I came to my senses I was inside the clubhouse locker room, outstretched on the padded seats, alone. There was an ice pack on the floor next to me. I groaned and sat up.
“Perry, you up?” Cousin Marcus yelled from around the corner. “I’d tell you to come in here but the smell might knock you out again.” I looked around to see that he had found himself in the Amen Corner of bathrooms.
“Should’ve warned me about those wings. Thank the Good Lord above that you got carted off to this place or else it would’ve been me they keep showing on TV.” Cousin Marcus flushed, walked out of the stall and over to the sink counter. He grabbed the Gold Bond and dumped a cloud of powder into his city jeans.
“You think Tiger’s nuts ever touched this? You’ve been out for while man, we missed the whole tournament. But I met all sorts of people in here that came in to check on you. DJ Sing, that German fella Bernie Landers, even Jack Nicholson. Hell, Verne even came down here. He said he likes what the Vols are doing and is even thinking about coming back to calling football games,” Cousin Marcus rambled on.
“Marcus, who won the Masters,” I finally got out.
“Tiger. Won by a single stroke. Said in his interview if he hadn’t hit you in the head with his drive on 11 that he’d still be out on that hole.”
“And I missed it. Probably the biggest moment in golf history and I missed it.”
“Missed it? Shit man you were in it,” Cousin Marcus corrected me. “They keep showing that clip of you barrel rolling down the hill as the highlight of the tournament. All these green jackets love you here. But I don’t know how they feel about me especially after what I did to this bathroom. So you feel alright to walk? We should probably get out of here.”
Cousin Marcus helped me up the stairs and out into the main lobby. All the green jackets were set up outside for the trophy ceremony. I tried to take in as much that my throbbing head would let me, but the security staff had caught wind that we were on the move and helped us make our way out as quickly as possible.
“Hey man wait a minute,” a guy in a non-green blazer yelled to us. “Sorry about what happened out there. Mr. Woods wanted me to give this to you.” He handed me a signed glove, filled with a roll of 100-dollar bills. “Mr. Woods feels terrible and sends his sincerest apologies. Please let me arrange a car for you home. Where are you staying?”
“The Clarion Inn. In Aiken,” I let him know.
“Well maybe next year we can put you up somewhere a little closer.”