In fact, I would even venture to say that it may be my favorite sporting event of the year, overall!
I wasn't fortunate enough to obtain passes for this year's tournament, so I'm currently on an 0-2 streak there. But that's okay, these are tough, tough tickets - and very expensive, particularly this year with Tiger's return to strength.
I can't wait to make it back, though. I love Augusta National. Last year's tournament was a true treat, as my old high school and junior golf circuit nemesis Bubba Watson earned himself his own green jacket. When it comes to amazing "what ifs" and vicarious athletic dreams from high school glory days, I can't see how it gets much better than last year's experience.
But the tournament is THAT great - it marches on, creating new history and legends each year. When I DO get back, my first stop will undoubtedly be the "spot" in the woods on #10 where Bubba fashioned that hooked wedge onto the green, securing his place in history. Good stuff.
One of my favorite memories from my two trips to Augusta was when I was able to attend the Wednesday practice round and Par 3 competition. I believe this is THE best day to attend The Masters other than Sunday's final round (which I haven't attended, yet). The mood is festive, friendly, anticipatory and pure. And let me tell you - for us memorabilia & autograph hounds, Wednesday at The Masters has no equal in the game of golf. The best in the sport are THERE and they are, traditionally, in a very good, generous mood. The Par 3 competition allows patrons to get very close to the players for an up-close look at our heroes and even some great signing opportunities. It's practically a tradition, which is what Augusta is ALL about.
When I visited, I had a tremendous autograph experience during the Par 3 competition. Historic. Epic. Once in a lifetime kind of thing......I'll definitely share the results of that experience at some point on here, but not today. No, today, I want to share a great moment that occurred after the competition was over. In fact, it happened after all play was done for the day and the Augusta grounds crew had begun to swarm the course for final preparations before the opening round.
I was with my dad, brother and cousin. My brother and I were enjoying a couple of cigars that a fellow patron had offered to share (he was nearby for a part of my epic moment) and we were quite content. "Life was good" as we strolled by the pines and azaleas, heading back to Amen Corner for a final gander and moment of zen before heading for the parking lot. We sat there in the shade, sending soft puffs of aromatic goodness into the pine-coned canopy above. We recounted the day's experience, comparing notes about what we saw and what we liked. At some point, I got up and walked towards the edge of the woods at the actual "corner" boundary of patron access. This was the closest point to #12's green, my favorite part of the course.
It was then that I heard the voice.
THE voice of my sports-watching childhood. Whether is was the NCAA men's basketball Final Four, The Masters telecast itself or just the weekly PGA tourney......this guy delivered the shot-by-shot recaps, summaries and glorious introductions.
Mr. Jim Nantz.
He was speaking to a young man in a golf cart - HIS golf cart, as the name plate explained - recounting some great stories of individual shots at Amen Corner and tales of tournaments gone by. Barely above a whisper, I stood nearby and listened to the master weave his tales. His voice was just as it sounds on TV.
After a few moments, I couldn't help myself and decided to give it a shot. I didn't want to impose myself into a private moment, but hey - I was there and so were they and, well, we were all "patrons" to some extent.
"Mr. Nantz? I hate to bother you but I couldn't leave without introducing myself and thanking you for all of the memories you have provided over the years. I'm a huge fan of yours and a fan of the game. This is my first time at Augusta. My name is Ryan LaMonica."
"It's great to meet you, Ryan," he said as he shook my hand. "Thank you very much for your kind words - it's been my pleasure."
"Could I trouble you for your autograph?" I held out my Masters Guide Book and a sharpie (of course!).
"Sure thing. Thanks again and enjoy the tournament."
"Thank you, Mr. Nantz."
|"A tradition like no other....."|
Awesome experience that really capped off an amazing FIRST time at one of my favorite sporting events! Augusta National is a special place and I look forward to our chance as fans to 'visit' every year, in person or on TV.
This year is no different. Thank you again, Mr. Nantz. Enjoy the Masters, everybody!
Thanks for reading.