Woody Allen once said, “80 percent of success is showing up.” For the past 28 years, I’ve been showing up at the Masters Tournament. And because I always arrive at Gate 6A with my Press Badge Confirmation in hand, they keep letting me in.
I still recall how nervous I was in April 1984, covering my first Masters for a fledgling regional golf magazine. Adopting a trusted survival mechanism, I kept quiet, did my work, and minded my manners. But being at the Masters is not about the writer, it’s about the story being written, that of the tournament and how it’s conducted.
Nearly three decades later, I’m still writing that story.
Here’s a little peak behind the curtain, in the form of answers to questions I’m often asked about one of sport’s truly wonderful events.
Where does the media work?
The Press Center. Opened in 1990—replacing a Quonset hut erected in 1953—this state-of-the-art structure is so well-managed and affords so many services, a writer could cover the Masters without ever stepping on the golf course. Some never do. From an assigned seat in a tiered amphitheater, we can view tournament action on huge HDTV monitors, follow every player’s progress on electronic scoreboards, and read transcriptions of every interview.
How do you follow the final-day action?
Early on Sunday I walk the first few holes to get a sense of the conditions and how the course is playing. Last year, I was at the first hole when Charl Schwartzel chipped in for an unbelievable birdie. Considering how tough the hole had been playing that day, it was nearly a two-shot swing on the field. When the contenders head to the 10th tee, that’s my cue to get back to the Press Center or the clubhouse to watch the drama unfold on television. There are too many pairings and pivotal holes to follow on foot. Ironically, most of the writers at Augusta on Sunday watch on television just like you do.
What’s the best shot you’ve seen?
Easy: Tiger Woods’ chip shot, from on the green, at the par-three 6th hole during the third round in 2005. His tee shot was on the putting surface but 30 feet away from a back-left pin surrounded by steep slope. Tiger used a sand wedge to surgically clip his ball, lofting it over the slope while applying the necessary backspin to keep it within four feet of the cup. He made the par putt. It was quintessential Tiger, leading someone in the gallery to crack, “Don’t try that at home!”
What makes The Masters so special?
Besides the ineffable beauty of Augusta National in full bloom, I’m always struck by an overriding sense of order, decorum, and etiquette. There’s no littering at the Masters: Instead, green plastic bags imprinted simply with “Please” beckon patrons’ discarded cups and wrappers. Likewise, attendees are instructed: “Wear you badge, please, where it can be seen.” The complimentary Spectator Guide reminds, “Everyone should be treated with courtesy and respect.” And they are.
Anything you think should be changed?
I wish the final round would end closer to 6 p.m. (instead of 7), allowing for more time and daylight for a multi-hole playoff scenario. The Masters doesn’t need a lead-in to Sixty Minutes.
Do you have a favorite Masters moment?
I was always appreciative and humbled by the courtesies shown to me by the late Herbert Warren Wind, golf’s famed man of letters who penned eloquent and long essays for The New Yorker. Following some correspondence, a modest friendship had developed. During the final round of the 1988 Masters, we were standing together near the 4th tee watching leader and eventual champion Sandy Lyle in the distance on the green. In his 70s, Wind’s eyesight wasn’t keen so he asked me to report on what was happening. With my binoculars (a must item for savvy Masters patrons), I watched Lyle line up his two-tier, impossible putt and then did my best Jim Nantz rendition of the ensuing call. “Lyle is over his putt, he strokes it, it’s rolling and rolling and my goodness it finds the cup for birdie!” Turning back to a beaming Wind, I heard him say, “Magnificent!”
In a word, that’s the Masters. And that’s why I keep showing up.