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A Dream Come True at Augusta National

Posted April 15, 2005, 05:39 PM | Stories For Life | Comments (2)

0413124644_001_6 In 1997, I was lucky enough to watch the Masters Golf tournament in person when Tiger Woods destroyed the field by 12 shots. My dad was with me and it was an awesome experience. When Tiger sunk his final putt on the 18th hole, I resolved to find a way to someday play the incredible Augusta National golf course.

It was a great goal to have, but as I found out, it is one of the hardest things to do in all of sports. The hallowed ground there is hallowed for a reason, and a big part is the mystique and difficulty involved in receiving an invitation to play.

So, as I traveled around the country speaking to various audiences, I began to “put it out there” by telling people about my dream and asking for their help. I received dozens of offers from people who claimed to be able to make my goal a reality, and none of them were successful… until a year ago, when in early April I received a call from Jim, a friend of mine who actually lives in Augusta, Georgia.

Jim told me he was working with a gentleman by the name of Mike, who was a cousin of a member. While Jim was talking with him one day, Mike got his cousin on the phone and asked him if he could arrange a round with yours truly. His cousin agreed and they set up a tee time for Friday, April 23rd, 2004! I couldn’t believe it was finally going to happen!

After all of this was set up, I almost didn’t get to go. At the last minute some very big Better Life meetings were called in New York City on April 22nd. Disaster! I couldn’t see how I could get from New York to Augusta for an early morning tee time on the 23rd.

But, here’s how we made it happen.
- I got up at 5am on Thursday, April 22nd to catch a 7am flight from Minnesota to New York.
- My flight arrived at about 10:45 and I caught a cab directly to an 11:30am Better Life meeting
- From there, I went to another meeting that went from 2:00 to 3:30pm.
- After our group debriefed, I went to the airport and caught a 6pm flight to Atlanta.
- I arrived in Atlanta at about 8:45pm and my friend Jim was nice enough to pick me up and drive me the 2 ½ hours to Augusta.
- I finally end up getting to bed at around 12:30am.

Not a perfect situation, but we made it work.

My Day At Augusta National
I got up at 7am and got ready. My brother and sister in law, Norm & Linda Domholt bought me golf clothes for my birthday that I decided to wear. The outfit was a pair of tan Nike slacks and a white Nike shirt (I only mention the outfit because it becomes important later in my story).

Jim arranged a breakfast at 8am at the luxurious Waffle house about a mile down the road from the course. I had hoped to eat breakfast at the Augusta National clubhouse, where I’d heard there was no menu, you could order anything you like and they’d make it for you, but it wasn’t to be.

As we drove to the golf course, I mentally reinforced my three goals for this dream day:
1. To enjoy myself.
2. To soak in the entire experience (that’s why I made a journal of every moment I could remember), and
3. To break 100!

Our host met us in the parking lot, gave us scorecards and led us to the clubhouse and into the locker room. I was trying as hard as I could to soak everything in, but things were already moving fast. When I got into the locker room, I saw that our host’s locker is right next to Jack Nicklaus’s! And guess, what? His green jacket was right there hanging inside (no, I didn’t try it on). A few things I found out about the green jackets… First, they’re never allowed off the grounds with one exception, and that is the current champion can take it off the grounds for one year and must bring it back with him at the next year’s tournament. After that, it stays on the grounds. The second thing is that every non-playing member must wear their jacket for the entire Masters tournament.

Mike asked our host about cell phones and he literally jumped. With a serious look, he emphasized that they are a major no no and it would be better that they not even be in the clubhouse. Even though mine was turned off, I went out to the car and dropped it off just to be safe.

We went out to the driving range and I met my caddie. I have to admit I was a little disappointed to find out that this was his second round caddying at the club. I was hoping for the wisdom of the grizzled, sarcastic, long-term caddie, especially figuring out the greens, but not today.

At the range, I hit 3 or 4 iron shots and 4 or 5 driver shots. Everything seemed to be okay so I headed to the putting area to see how fast the famous Augusta greens really were.

As I walked over there, I was all by myself and I couldn’t believe how different everything looked without the gallery and scoreboards.

I had a chance to hit about 5 putts and my caddie told me our group was already at the tee box! Man! They sure don’t warm up much!

Hole #1 – 380 yard par 4 “Tea Olive” handicap 9
My USGA handicap is an 11 but since I’m from Minnesota and didn’t play all winter, I felt like a 20. I was very nervous.

As the other guys were hitting their drives, I hurriedly pulled out my camera and asked the caddie to take pictures of me throughout the round and I couldn’t believe it when I realized that my battery had just died! Unreal. And with the hurry the guys seemed to be in, I didn’t have the courage to ask them to wait while I ran to buy a portable from the pro shop. Oh well.

I’m last to tee off. Breath Eric breath. I managed to make contact with the ball, but I ended up pushing my drive into the pine trees on the right.

As we walked down the first fairway (I’m walking down the first fairway!!!), I was shocked to see two women playing on a hole next to us. I thought there were no women allowed at Augusta. I asked our host and he told me there were no women members, but women played there all the time. In fact, he said on average there was a woman in one out of every four or five groups. All this was news to me.

I got to where my drive ended up and had my first experience with the famous pine straw. There was a little gap between the trees and I decided to try to punch a 7 iron through them even though I knew it probably wouldn’t make it to the green. Although my ball hit a few branches, it made it through and ended up about 30 yards short of the green.

Since I was unsure of my wedge, I decided to use my 8 iron to try to bump and run it onto the upside-down bowl shaped green. I absolutely bladed it and it rolled up… and over the green into a swale on the other side. Great. I’m lying 3 and I’m not even on the green yet.

I pulled out my putter and knocked it up the hill and onto the green, with the ball stopping about 5 feet from the hole. Not bad. I made the putt and was thrilled to escape the first hole with just a bogey.

After the first hole, I’m 1 over par.

Hole #2 – 525 yard par 5 “Pink Dogwood” handicap 1
The toughest hole on the course is a pretty dogleg left with quite a bit of room. Instead of pushing my drive to the right like I did on the first hole, I overcompensated by pulling this one to the left. It bounced off a tree and came back into the fairway about 150 yards ahead.

My second shot was a blind, over a hill type of shot. I decided to use a 5 wood and ended up hitting a great shot that left me with about 170 yards to the green.

For my third shot, I used a 5 iron that ended up going just over the green.

Again, instead of chipping, I decided to putt it on and I left it about 10 feet short. But, the good news is I made the putt!

My first par at Augusta National! And the number one handicap to boot!

After 2, I’m still 1 over par.

Hole #3 – 350 yard par 4 “Flowering Patch” handicap 11
I hit a stubby little drive that went about 220 yards, but at least it’s in the fairway. Another first!

I had 132 yards to go and used my 9 iron to knock it over the green once again.

I hit an awful wedge shot about 30 feet past the hole, but at least it was on the green.

This was my first real experience with the greens since the last two holes had relatively short putts, and I learned the importance of the grain. If the grain is going away from you and if it’s downhill at all, it’s really really fast. My first putt was about 30 feet away. My second putt ended up… about 20 feet away. I knocked it that far past! I couldn’t believe it. It kept rolling and rolling.

I hit my second putt to around 4 feet and thankfully made the 3rd putt and walked away with a disappointing double bogey six.

After 3, I’m three over par.

Hole #4 – 189 yard par 3 “Flowering Crab Apple” handicap 15
This is a treat since I spent a good portion of the 1997 masters tournament camped out at this hole with my Dad. Although it’s listed as the fourth easiest hole on the course, I knew how tough the green was after watching the pros try to figure it out.

At 189 yards, it’s a tough club selection for me, but rather than try to nail a 3 or 4 iron, I decided to hit a choked up 5 wood. I hit it absolutely pure but it went slightly over the green.

Once I got up there I saw that it was a terrifying next shot. I had to get it through about 10 feet of fringe and once it got on the green it was going to fly. I decided on the putter and I almost made it in! But even though the ball was almost stopped by the time it narrowly missed the hole, it still went about 15 feet past the hole.

I two putted from there and walked away a bogey. I didn’t feel too bad about it. Tough tough green.

After 4, I’m four over par.

Hole #5 – 425 yard par 4 “Magnolia” handicap 5
My drive missed the fairway and stopped short of going into a trap at the dogleg left, but my next shot was semi-blocked by a tree.

I used a 7 iron to lay up and still ended up hitting the tree, but luckily the ball ended up in the fairway about 70 yards short.

For my 3rd shot I used my 60-degree wedge and didn’t hit it very well. It ended up just short of the green.

For my fourth shot I used my putter to knock it on and then, as I bent over to mark my ball, my brand new pants… the ones I took the store tags off that morning… ripped in the seat… sideways, not up the seam. Unbelievable. I’ve got about a 3-inch rip. Thank God I wore boxer briefs that went down my thigh a bit!

I showed my host and the other two guys and asked them what I should do. My host told me it was no problem. I asked if they had pants for sale in the clubhouse. Guess what? They sell just about everything BUT pants, so I was stuck with this for the rest of the day.

Anyway, I needed two more putts to get the ball in the hole. Double bogey again. Ugh.

After 5, I’m now six over par.

Hole #6 – 175 yard par 3 “Juniper” handicap 17
With a breeze blowing through the hole in my pants, I hit a poor tee shot with my 5 iron and ended up short of the green.

My short game lets me down once again as I stubbed my chip up… and over the green.

I chipped it back on and needed two more putts for yet another double bogey.

The pants ripped a little more so I now have about a 4-inch horizontal tear. God help me.

After 6, I’m now 8 over par.

Hole #7 – 360 yard par 4 “Pampas” handicap 13
I finally hit a good drive that went about 260 yards and then a pretty good second shot that left me just off the green. I used my putter to knock it on and needed two putts for a welcome bogey.

After 7, I’m now 9 over par.

Hole #8 – 480 yard par 5 “Yellow Jasmine” handicap 3
I hit another nice drive about 270 yards and had about 210 left to the green. I used my 5 wood and came up about 20 yards short.

If you can believe it, my short game killed me again when I skulled my chip over the green and into a swale. Once again, I knocked it on and two putted for a bogey.

My pants are now ripped to about 6 inches across.

After 8, I’m now 10 over par.

Hole #9 – 380 yard par 4 – “Carolina Cherry” handicap 7
I hit another nice drive about 260 yards and was left with about 120 yards to the pin. I hit a good second shot that barely cleared the green’s front traps, but I got a little unlucky as the ball found a swale and rolled off the left edge of the green leaving me an extreme uphill putt.

Remember about my caddie being inexperienced? Get this one. I asked him for a read on this putt and he told me “it’s about 8 inches right to left”. One of the other caddies overheard him and told me the putt would be about 10 FEET left to right! Wow! That’s quite a difference. I went with the 10 feet read and he was absolutely right. Even with that it went about 6 feet past, I didn’t make the next putt and ended up with a bogey 5.

So, after the front nine at Augusta National, I was 11 over par with a stellar 47.

My official stats:
- Fairways hit: 4
- Greens in regulation: 0
- Putts: 17
- Skulled chips: 5
- Pars: 1
- Bogeys: 5
- Double Bogeys: 3
- Tear in pants: 7 inches

The good news was I was achieving all three of my goals. I was having an absolute blast. I was soaking it in. And I was still on track to break 100 (barely).

Since we were back at the clubhouse, I ran into the pro shop to get a portable camera and to check if they really didn’t have any pants for sale (they really didn’t). At least I was now prepared to get some photos of my first experience at the National!

Hole #10 – 450 yard par 4 “Camellia” – Handicap 6
0413130337_001_1 What a thrill it was to look down this incredible hole. Television doesn’t come close to showing how beautiful it is.

I stepped up and hit a great drive down the right hand side of the fairway (you can see the tear in my pants if you look closely). Even though the hole slopes severely from right to left, my drive ended up in the first cut on the right side with a perfect angle to the green.

0413130025_001_2 Although it looked much closer, I was still 190 yards away and my group told me it was almost all carry. My 5 wood is about a 200 to 210 yard club. I decided to choke up and swing smooth. Great intentions… bad execution. I ended up hitting a low screamer that bounced out of a fairway trap and luckily ended up about 20 yards in front of the green.

I learned my lesson with my wedge and decided again to putt it from there. I got it on but left it short, and needed two more putts to start the back nine with a bogey 5.

Not what I wanted, but not terrible.

After the 10th, I was one over on the back nine and excited to enter the historic “Amen Corner”.

Hole #11 – 375 yard par 4 “White Dogwood” – Handicap 12
One thing you notice on this hole is how far they’ve lengthened it for the tournament. Those tees are back another 115 yards, making it a 490-yard par four. In addition, they’ve added dozens of new pine trees down the right side of the fairway, taking the preferred angle to the green away from the big hitters. The result is the pros now have to stay left and the pond in front of the green comes into play on their much longer second shots. Great stuff.

0413130142_001_2 I hit a great drive over the trees on the right and ended up about 130 yards from the pin with a perfect angle.

For my second shot, I hit a 9 iron to around 15 feet left of the flag, but on the green! My first official Augusta National “green in regulation”! I almost made the putt, but happily tapped in for a par on the first leg of Amen Corner.

After 11, I’m 1 over on the back nine.

Hole #12 – 145 yard par 3 “Golden Bell” – Handicap 16
0413125740_001_1 It’s hard to describe how cool it was to step up to the tee on number 12. So much history. So great to look at.

They told me it was 145 yards to the hole, but it might be playing a bit longer since we were playing into the wind. One of the wise old grizzled caddies named “Tee” gave me a great tip. He told me that since you can’t fully feel the wind because of the trees, you should watch the flag on hole #11 to see what it’s doing. Judge your club selection based on what you see with that flag. The flag was blowing back in our direction pretty hard, so I decided to be safe (I didn’t want to go into the water) and use my 160-yard club which is a 6 iron. The pin on number 12 was in the middle and the caddie told me to aim at that flag or to the left of it. Since I had a par on the 11th hole, I was first to hit.

I set up and hit one of the most beautiful shots I ever hit. As soon as it left the club, everyone in the group started talking to the ball, saying things like “Go in the hole!” “Be the right stick!” “Oh my God!” It looked like this ball was going to be all over the pin. It came down and… no way… it went over the green and into a trap. I over shot by about 6 feet. It sure was thrilling for a second.

0413124816_001 Now I don’t want to sound sappy or corny, and I know when you put this into perspective with many other things in life it’s not that big of a deal, but… walking across that bridge was a unique combination of honor, prestige, history, tradition and nostalgia. When the tournament is played, that’s one area that is far removed from the gallery. Watching it played in countless tournaments, I’ve thought about how cool it would be to walk over that bridge. That day, I got to do it.

I’ve always thought that the hole didn’t look that hard. Once I got to the other side, I figured out why players approached it so nervously. The green is very shallow and it slopes back hard towards the creek. And to make matters worse, I was in the trap behind the green and I had to hit it out, have it bounce at the very top of the green and stop before it went into the trap on the other side or into the water.

0413131530_001copy_1 I stepped into the trap and, for the first time all day decided that if I was going to do it, at least I should go all the way. I couldn’t be timid and afraid of making a bad shot. I hit the shot I was most proud of during the entire round. It came out absolutely perfect, landed on the edge of the green and rolled to around 5 feet. Everyone, including the member, gave me a round of applause.

I wish I could say I made the putt, but it hung on the edge and I had to settle for a bogey. Still, it was quite a thrill.

After 12, I’m 2 over on the back nine.

Hole #13 – 470 yard par 5 “Azalea” handicap 4
0413131700_001copy
The third leg of “Amen Corner” was quite a site from the tee box. How many times had I watched people try to negotiate the big dogleg left?

I hit a good straight drive almost through the fairway and walked back over the second bridge, hoping I get a chance to do it again some day.

Because of the angle I had about 260 yards to the pin. On my best day, I don’t have that shot in my bag, so I decided to lay up with an easy punch seven iron.

0413131823_001copy I’m left with about 130 to the pin with the ball on an uphill lie. I don’t properly account for the lie, and as a result I caught it heavy. I pulled it left and barely made it over the creek. The ball was below the yellow hazard line, but it was playable.

I hadn’t used my evil wedge for a while, and since I had a nice uphill lie and a lot of green to work with, I decided to give it a shot. Big mistake. I skulled yet another shot over the entire green and off the far side, leaving me with about a 50 foot putt from slightly off the green, with a huge right to left break.

The good news is I hit probably the best putt of the day and it stopped about 2 feet below the hole. I tapped it in for a bogey 6 and I concluded my journey through the famous “Amen Corner”.

After 13, I’m 3 over on the back nine.

Hole #14 – 395 yard par 4 “Chinese Fir” handicap – 8
I hit a nice drive in the fairway that left me about 140 yards to the pin.

The green has a severe false front and the pin is in the back so the next shot was all carry. Because of that I used a 150-yard club and hit it sweet, to about 8 feet. My best chance for birdie so far.

Unfortunately, I misread the putt and ended up with a tap in par.

After 14, I’m still just 3 over on the back. Feeling good.

Hole #15 – 475 yard par 5 “Firethorn” handicap – 2
I hit my drive so far right, it ended up in the 17th fairway! Haven’t done that all day.

0413131823_001 It actually worked out okay since I could hit it back over the line of trees. I hit a seven iron that hit a few branches, but still made it over the trees and left me with about 135 yards over the pond and to the pin.

The ball is sitting above my feet and I absolutely chunked my 9 iron left and directly into the pond. Ugh.

I took my penalty and set up my next shot from about 120 so I could use my full swing pitching wedge. I knocked it just off the green on the left, used my putter to get it on the green and needed one more putt to finish my double bogey 7.

After 15, I’m now 5 over on the back and wishing I had another chance at that one.

Hole #16 – 160 yard par 3 “Redbud” handicap – 18
0413131944_001 This pretty par three is all carry over water to a two-tier green. The pin was on the lower tier in front so you want to avoid leaving anything on the top since there is no way to stop it if you have to putt down.

I used my 6 iron and none of that mattered because I hozzled it into the water. Not again!

Since there was no advantage in moving forward, I teed up another one and guess where I hit it? On the green, but on the top shelf on the left! Remember where Tiger’s chip was in this year’s final round? That was my shot, except I was barely on the green.

In order to give this putt any kind of a chance, I would have to do exactly what Tiger did… have to start it 20 feet to the left of the flag, have it die at the top of the tier and then slowly roll down to the cup.

I hit it almost perfect… the ball almost stopped completely at the top of the hill and then slowly rolled down the hill. But halfway down it picked up speed and went about 8 feet past the hole. I cannot imagine how Tiger did what he did on that shot.

The next putt was a big breaker from right to left and I burned the edge and missed. I tapped in the last one for a 3 putt, water ball, double par 6. Ouch. Plus, the rip in my pants is now huge. See it flapping in the breeze?

After 16, I’m now 8 over on the back.

Hole #17 – 370 yard par 4 “Nandina” handicap – 14
I was disappointed by the last two holes but kept reminding myself to enjoy the time and to take in the whole experience.

I’m so inspired by all this self-talk that I pulled my drive left and smacked into a tree. My host says “Well, it wouldn’t be the full Augusta National experience if you didn’t hit “Eisenhower Tree”. That’s “Eisenhower Tree”?

According to him, President Eisenhower interrupted a member meeting and demanded that this particular tree be taken out (because he hit it so often). The chairman of the club called the President of the United States out of order and ended the meeting. Cool story, but I still wish I didn’t hit it.

My ball fell directly under the tree and onto the straw. I was forced to try and punch it back out onto the fairway. I used my five iron to keep it low, but it didn’t stay low enough. It hit another tree directly in front of me and landed about 3 inches from the tree trunk… on the wrong side. Disaster.

I was able to punch my 3rd shot about 70 yards in front of the green and was hoping to save 6.

I used my 60-degree wedge to pitch the ball to the back of the green where the pin is located. I actually hit a nice shot, but it just rolled off the back of the green.

Now, the back of 17 falls off about 10 feet straight down. With the pin about 5 feet from the back of the green, you have to somehow get it over the edge and get it to stop once it’s up there.

I decided to putt it, since my wedge was totally useless. I got it on the green, but it rolled off the other side! What a nightmare.

The next shot got me on the green and I still needed two more putts to crawl off the hole with a quadruple bogey 8. Breathe Eric. Appreciate where you are.

After 17, I’m now 12 over on the back (9 over on the last 3 holes)

Hole #18 – 375 yard par 4 “Holly” handicap – 10
0413125905_001_1 Even though we’re not playing the tournament tees, I still walk back there to see what it looked like. It was a pretty awesome sight and a very tight chute to drive through.

Once I got back to our tee box, I pulled out my driver and decided to forget the last few holes and have fun. I hit a good drive, but it goes into the first fairway trap on the left side.

0413131944_001copy Walking up the 18th fairway was something else. It’s amazing how different it looks without the scoreboard and gallery, but I imagined them there anyway.

I didn’t really have a shot at the green from this huge bunker, so I punched it out with a wedge.

0413132102_001copy_2 I was left with about 90 yards. I took my Sand Wedge and thankfully hit a good shot onto the green about 20 feet from the hole.

I almost made my par putt, but was very happy to tap in for an 18th hole bogey.

I finished the back nine at 13 over for a 49 and a total round of a whopping 24 over par 96. I achieved my goal of breaking 100, but I couldn’t help thinking about how many strokes I could have shaved. All those skulled chip shots! Those two shots in the water!

My final statistics were:
- Fairways hit: 7
- Greens in regulation: 2
- Putts: 34
- Chips of less than 30 yards: 19
- Hit in water hazard: 2
- Pars: 3
- Bogeys: 9
- Double Bogeys: 4
- Triple Bogeys: 1
- Quadruple Bogeys: 1
- Rip in pants: 10 inches across my upper thigh

After we shook hands all around on the 18th green, we went back into the clubhouse, got freshened up a bit, changed shoes and went into their restaurant for lunch. We sat right next to the display case that showcases one donated club from each Masters winner. I can’t imagine winning the Masters and then giving up one of the important clubs that helped me win it, but that’s what they do. Really cool to look at.

We had a nice lunch and talked about some of the club’s history and customs. Our host told us that they only had a few hard rules and a lot of what they like to call “customs”.

A few of the rules included:
- A guest cannot be on the grounds unless the host member is also on the grounds
- There can be no more than 3 guests per member
- Long pants are required
- No cell phones or pagers allowed
- No tipping of club personnel other than caddies allowed with one exception, members may tip the club personnel during the Augusta National tournament only. So, members make up a list and pass out tips at that time.
- A member may not accept any form of compensation in exchange for providing access to guests.

While I certainly didn’t hear all of the customs, here are a few:
- Shouldn’t use colored golf balls
- Shouldn’t use the club for non-golf purposes. It’s a golf club, not a social club.
- Shouldn’t “overuse” the club. There’s a story of a member who used it too much and lost his membership.

After our lunch, we stopped into the locker room to pick up our things and went into the pro shop to buy a few souvenirs. So many great things were hanging on the walls. A scorecard with President Eisenhower, Cliff Roberts, Byron Nelson and Bobby Jones on it was just one example.

I bought a few things, we said goodbye to our gracious member host, I climbed in Mike’s car and we drove back down Magnolia lane and into the real world.

As we pulled out, I felt good knowing I’d accomplished all three of my goals:
1. I thoroughly enjoyed myself
2. I soaked it all in
3. And, I broke 100

I hope to get another chance to play the National. If I do, I’ll be grateful. But I don’t think it will ever be as sweet as the first time was for me.

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TAGS: Golf, Augusta, TigerWoods, Sports, Goal, Goals






Comments

That's a great story, especially how you got to play Augusta. I guess erseverence really does pay off.

Posted by: John S. | Apr 17, 2005 6:48:30 PM

Wonderful!
I feel like I just joined you on your wonderful morning. Now maybe I’m a voyeur at heart – but let’s see a photo of the progressively exposing pants!

Posted by: Kent H | Apr 27, 2005 4:17:00 PM

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