I’ve covered over 30 Masters and yet I still get excited. Yes, it’s still a privilege and a pleasure to witness the magic that happens at the end of Magnolia Lane. Augusta National is where history embraces the future.
As the 2019 Masters is now on my doorstep, let’s take note of just a few Masters highlights.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of a truly remarkable Masters win by George Archer. What was so special about his victory? Six months after Archer’s passing, Donna, his widow, revealed that George suffered his entire life from a severe form of learning disability. He was never able to read anything but the simplest sentences and could only write his name. No one but his inner circle knew he had this impairment, but his life will continue to serve to many as a great inspiration.
Can anyone forget the 1986 Masters? Many say it was the best Masters ever, and I find it difficult to argue that point. I remember standing behind the 72nd hole and I could hear the roars from around the course whenever Jack Nicklaus made a putt. Jack was 46 in 1986 when he won his sixth Green Jacket. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, and I was the first one to interview Nicklaus after his win. To date, it is still one of my favorite interviews.
As I continue my stroll down the memory lane of special Masters moments, the ‘95 Masters shines brightly. Gentle Ben Crenshaw beat all odds and managed to come out on top, but it was with a heavy heart. Harvey Penick, Ben’s longtime coach, passed away a few days before that Masters, and Ben flew back to Austin to serve as a pallbearer for his Penick’s funeral. In my interview, Ben said that “Harvey was the 15th club in my bag.” I remember it like it was yesterday.
1997 was the year that the Masters and the world of golf as we knew it changed forever. Tiger was a talented young player who announced his arrival onto the big stage of professional golf with the words, “Hello, world.” There were many Tiger skeptics wondering if he could keep up with the big boys at the Masters, where “experience” paid big dividends. After Tiger posted a 40 on the opening nine, the naysayers were in full song.
But Tiger proceeded to play the next 63 holes in 22 under par and won by a whopping 12 shots, proving to one and all that he was indeed the “real deal.” The final round drew a record-setting 44 million television viewers. Just as amazing as his play in 1997 and the fact that he has four Green Jackets is the fact that Tiger hasn’t won a Masters since 2005.
To get back to the present, history was made last week when the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship was hosted by the members of Augusta National. Seventy-two of the world’s best women amateurs competed for this first-ever prestigious championship. The top 30 after 36 holes got to play the final 18 holes on the hallowed Augusta National course.
Jennifer Kupcho, a 21-year-old senior at Wake Forest and the #1 ranked women’s amateur, was the winner, firing an amazing 67 in the final round, which included an eagle on the tough 13th hole and then followed that up with birdies on the last three holes. Jennifer has already qualified for the LPGA Tour and there seems little doubt that she is ready for the challenge.
The memory bank will undoubtedly be enhanced this week as the 2019 Masters is filled with history-making possibilities. Can Rory McIlroy win and complete his career Grand Slam (winning all four major championships)? Will Tiger be able to record major win #15 and edge closer to Jack’s record of 18 major championships? Will Patrick Reed manage to find his game in time to be a repeat winner? Will the Masters magic help Jordan Spieth get his game together? This young crop of current players is full of exciting potential. Goodness, the list is endless. Rickie Fowler? Justin Thomas? What about Phil?
Oh, yes, my excitement level is running high. In fact, I just can’t wait for it to get started.
But, as usual, it will be a long week across many time zones for me as I will be covering the Masters for talkSPORT in Europe (the world’s largest sports radio station), for WBZ out of Boston, for WLNG, for World Golf Radio, and of course, for The Independent. Please don’t feel sorry for me, I love it.
There are so many memories, but if you were to ask me for my all-time favorite year, it would be 1986. Yes, as noted above, Jack did win, but more important, I got to play Augusta myself on that Monday after utilizing the same tees and the same hole locations as Jack did. When my 10-foot putt on the 18th hole to break 80 fell in, it felt to me as though I had just won a Green Jacket too.
It’s The Masters and it never disappoints!