Augusta is every bit as magical as you'd expect – even five years on
I’m not really into bucket lists. Once upon a time I went to Queenstown in New Zealand, home to the thrill-seeker, where I could have ticked off at least 10 of the Top 50 Things To Do Before You Snuff It.
Instead I went for a bike ride. I was travelling alone and I’m not really a big fan of being scared witless.
A few weeks before that I was bumbling around Australia with a friend but the outlook was the same. For one very brief period, in a place called Noosa, we shared a dorm with six girls; two from Venezuela, three from Amsterdam and a Canadian.
After having deciphered where we were all from, which countries we had just been to and where we were going next it was apparent that six of us would be throwing ourselves out of a plane the following morning so an early night was planned.
“Maybe you would like to join us?” a Dutch voice (think Steve McClaren) piped up.
For the next two minutes we tried and failed to get the message across that we would be attending, as we had for the first three days, the denouement of the Australian PGA Championship at Coolum Beach.
When the news slowly seeped in there was a noticeable shift in the dynamic of the room and, that evening, there wasn’t a huge amount of interest shown in Peter Senior’s dramatic closing birdie to edge out ‘Pamps’.
Five years ago this week I did tick off my No. 1 to-do thing by going to The Masters. Look, here I am.
As guests of a hospitality company two of us had three days at Augusta National and it remains the biggest thrill of my life – aside from the bits that are actually important on a day-to-day level like having children and being happy.
But back to ‘The National’, even writing that excites me and the reasons why I still have the plastic cups, wrist band, towel, cap, spectator guide, mug, and two polo shirts from that week.
It’s the biggest gooey, feel-good sporting spectacle on the planet and, to be there, it’s off the scale.
For three days we entered a very different world where nobody ran, everybody could see what was happening, everyone you’ve grown up idolising would be stood for hours under the same big tree, Ant & Dec would also be following Lee Westwood, people looked forward to going shopping and, every few holes, you could stop for a beer and a sandwich and not have to break into a $10 note.
There are enough official landmarks to pick out but we’ve all got our own mental picture album of where we want to visit to relive those moments from too many evenings spent on the settee; Rory and Bubba at the 10th, Faldo at 13, Nicklaus at 17, Lyle and Woosie at 18 – and then all that Seve had given us, the two wins and all those near misses.
And particularly that 4-iron that ended up wet at 15 just a month after his dad had died in 1986.
“The hardest blow wasn’t that I didn’t become Masters champion but that I couldn’t dedicate a victory to my father as I pledged. Sometimes when I look back to 1986 and the Masters, I can’t stop myself crying silent tears.”
The two most remarkable sights over those few days were both to do with another multiple champion and someone who, at 42 and without a Green Jacket since 2005, remains one of the leading favourites this week.
On the Tuesday night as we were pondering another beer-food combo – I had hoped I would become a fan of the world-renowned pimento sandwich but it wasn’t for me sadly – there was a huge commotion which I’ve never witnessed anything even close to on a golf course.
Tiger had emerged from the clubhouse and would play a few holes with Fred Couples before the Champions Dinner. Rory and Mickelson had just completed their preparations for the day and there was more than a little interest but then Woods appeared from nowhere; people ignored the no running rule, they high fived and, before too long, the ‘patrons’ were eight deep. This was genuine superstardom and he was only playing a few practice holes.
Roll the clock forward three days and we should have been on the road to our next destination but we were still sat by the side on the banking to the 16th green – you can make out eight other holes from this spot – and waiting for Tiger. He had already won three times in 2013, he was the No. 1 in the world and he was on the charge.
Despite having a five-hour drive that night we can’t be sitting in a car when all this is going on.
Over the top of the hill he came, he’d laid up. No matter, he’ll still make birdie and be leading overnight.
And then came my ‘I was there’ moment as his ball caromed back off the pin and into the drink to the eeriest of stunned silences.
After a second or two people began spluttering words out again, he dropped another ball and stiffed it again and, by the time we had arrived at our next stop at 2am, all the talk was about whether or not he would be disqualified.
And so for the next four nights I’ll dig out my Masters plastic cup and fill it with something nice, it will almost certainly be milk, and I’ll raise it to the memory of those few magical days out in Georgia and to Seve and all the other European heroes where it had all begun.