Memory Lane

The Year That I “Won” At The Masters

For golfers, spring means another Masters golf tournament. Last year, everyone talked about the 35th anniversary of Jack Nicklaus’s amazing come-from-behind victory to claim his 18th major championship. What made it even more amazing was that, at 46, no one thought he would ever win another major. This year, the talk’s all about Tiger Woods (now 46) competing on the 25th anniversary of his first Masters win. It’s a comeback story straight out of Hollywood as a serious car accident 14 months ago initially left people wondering if he would survive, let alone ever play golf again. (Which is reminiscent of when Ben Hogan, one of golf’s all-time greats, came back after a horrific car accident in 1949 to win The U.S. Open in 1950.)

For most golf fans and lovers of great sports comebacks stories, those are inspirational examples of never giving up. And although I was in the crowd around the 18th hole in 1986 when Jack Nicklaus raised his putter in triumph, that was my second favorite Masters memory. And my greatest memory at the Masters didn’t actually take place at the Masters. Well, not at the golf course, anyway.

But first, I want to explain how I was able to go to the final round of the Masters that Sunday. It was due to the generosity and kindness of a total stranger that lived down the block from Augusta National Golf Club, home to the Masters. I met him that Saturday when I asked if I could possibly park in his driveway, as I was hoping to walk around and somehow find a ticket for sale. Later in the day, when I told him that I had no success, he said I could have his for Sunday. (To this day, I still shake my head in disbelief, but it does qualify as my third best Masters memory.)

So, what was my favorite memory? It’s when Jesse Haddock, the legendary golf coach at Wake Forest University (where I had graduated with a theater degree in 1984), replied to my letter saying that while he couldn’t help me get a ticket to the Masters, I was invited to Wake Forest’s annual golf alumni reception they always held during Masters week. I decided that alone was worth the plane ticket and a few nights at a motel, so off I went, thinking that perhaps I’d meet PGA players (and Wake Forest alums) Jay Haas or Curtis Strange or even Lanny Wadkins. Never dreaming that my expectations were, well, set a bit low,

Shortly after Jesse introduces himself and gives me a hug, he takes me by the elbow and tells me there’s someone he’d love for me to meet. An instant later, all I can think of is how much I can’t wait to call my dad later that night. (This was in the days before cell phones.) However, first I have to smile and pose for a photo, as I’m now standing between one of the greatest college golf coaches of all time and certainly the greatest Wake Forest alumni golfer, not to mention one of the world’s greatest golfers, ever, Arnold Palmer.
Photo by Red

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