AUGUSTA, Ga. — Verne Lundquist loves the Masters so much that he flew in the middle seat to get here. After a three-hour delay in Atlanta, he and his wife, Nancy, finally boarded their Delta flight on Monday and navigated to the second row of coach, where Nancy snagged the window. Verne has been retired for two years, but when it comes to this event, he can’t wait to get to work. He is just like most everyone else on that plane: Something about Augusta National captivates him.
He had just settled in and begun chatting with his aisle-seat neighbor—a nice fellow from Bozeman, Mont., he reports—when from behind him he heard his own voice.
“That’s him!” someone was stage-whispering. “I’ve got the call right here!” (“He had spent the three hours in the bar,” Lundquist says.)
And with that, the passengers were treated to a YouTube rendition of Lundquist’s famous words, from the 16th green in 2005, as a Tiger Woods' 50-foot chip shot dribbled toward the hole, paused just long enough to flash the Nike logo, and dropped in.
“Oh my goodness,” said Lundquist, as the ball rolled within a few feet of the pin. He waited. It fell. “Oh, wow! In your life have you seen anything like that?”
Lundquist thinks of that call every time he ascends his tower at No. 16, which he continues to do annually despite having mostly stepped back from broadcasting for CBS. He gave up his college football duty in 2016 and his college basketball duty in ’17; instead he fills his time with cruises in Alaska and up the Rhine River. But even at 78, he can’t quite quit this place. So every April, he packs his bags and flies to Augusta, where he takes a seat under the famous oak tree by the clubhouse and watches the world go by for a day or two. And then he heads to No. 16.
Much of his life moves in cycles at this point—he and Nancy head from their main home in Steamboat Springs, Colo., to the apartment they recently bought in downtown Austin, and back again—but he recently experienced something he hadn’t since 1976: He watched a golf tournament from the stands. Wells Fargo invited him and Nancy to be guests at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play event last week at Austin Country Club. (He can’t remember the last time he bought a ticket to a sporting event. Maybe around the time the Texas Rangers moved to Arlington, in ’72?) The Lundquists spent an hour and a half on Thursday watching second shots on the par-4 15th hole. They said hello to Earl Campbell and had lunch with Ben Crenshaw. (“This is a name-dropper’s delight!” Lundquist says.) They watched as the crowd reacted to Woods. And how did the broadcaster enjoy being a fan?
He smiles. “I realized,” he says, “Not for the first time, that there’s a lot to be said for watching on television, because you can see everything.” He spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday tuned to NBC’s coverage.
But the Masters is different. He can’t imagine not being here. He also continues to work the PGA Championship, but Augusta has been the scene of some of his great professional triumphs. The Tiger call came here, as did his most legendary phrase. In 1986, a 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus entered Sunday tied for ninth. He stormed back and strode to the 17th tee needing birdie to move alone into first. “This is for sole possession of the lead,” Lundquist intoned quietly as Nicklaus measured his 18-foot putt. Lundquist waited in silence. “Maybe,” he said as the ball moved. Then, as it dropped, “Yes, sir!” He hears about that one a lot, too. Before one of his final games on the college football beat, Georgia’s Redcoat Marching Band took the field and spelled it out: YES SIR.
So this is a homecoming for him. He likes to hang out under that oak tree and wave at people he’s known for 50 years. “If you stand here long enough,” he says, “You’ll see everyone you want to see.” Lundquist does not get star-struck anymore, he says—“I’ve seen [Woods] play a thousand times”—but even he got chills on Tuesday night when a member invited him to dinner in the trophy room at Augusta National. The champions’ dinner was unfolding a floor above them. As it ended, the past winners paraded downstairs in their green jackets: Nicklaus, Raymond Floyd, Ben Crenshaw, Mark O’Meara. … Lundquist almost had to pinch himself. Of course, he is friendly with most of them.
He knows many of the green-jacketed members by name; the majority of them know him. “I’m glad to see you,” says one, walking by. “And I’m always glad to hear you!” All broadcasters at the Masters are issued golf carts; no one in a hurry can ride with Lundquist, because he has to stop every 15 feet and greet well-wishers. They call him Uncle Verne. He also serves as an unofficial tour guide for the event. Three people on his flight to Augusta asked for advice on how to spend their first time at the Masters.
“Walk the course,” he tells them. “Walk down 1 and walk up 1 and realize it’s not a stroll in the park. Walk down 2. Go to 10 and see, Oh my God, they go that far? Yeah, they do. Then find a good spot—and there are several of them—I think behind 2 is a great one—you’ve gotta see Amen Corner. You’ve gotta see 16.”
He’s talking fast now. He remembers his own first time, in 1983. He was assigned to No. 13. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped as he pulled into the parking lot. “Our director at the time was Bob Daly,” he says. “And he said, ‘Laddie, I know you think you’ve seen the golf course. You’re about to see the golf course.’ And he came out of the course on 11, so my first view of Augusta was from Bob Daly’s golf cart, looking left down the green and then just over here at 12, and he drove me down there and to the right I could see 13, and I thought, I get to be a part of this!”
And suddenly it becomes clear why Lundquist can’t watch this event on TV, why he’ll endure age and delays and middle seats to breathe this air and smell these azaleas. He doesn’t get star-struck by people, but even after 35 years, he still loves this place.