The first time Iplayed in the Masters was in 1996, a few weeks after I won at Bay Hill. Thatwas a long time ago, so this year, when my plane landed in Augusta on theSaturday before the tournament and the reality of playing in my second Masters,11 years later, finally began to hit home, I had chills. Not goose bumps, realchills. And a fever. Some virus was messing with me, and I was sick. Greattiming, but for me that figures. ¬∂ Upon my arrival, memories of my firstMasters came flooding back. In '96 I played a practice round with ArnoldPalmer, Fred Funk and Woody Austin. Arnie took us to the champions' locker roomafter the round, and I saw four green jackets hanging in his locker. Sam Sneadwas there having a beer, and Arnie introduced me as the guy who won histournament. Snead looked at me quizzically and said, "You did?" Youcan't have a better day. Snead was one of the few men in the world who couldneedle Arnold Palmer. He asked Arnie, "So when are you going replace me asthe honorary starter?" It was funny, but it also kind of pissed Arnie off.The irony is, I'm back 11 years later, and guess who finally agreed to be thehonorary starter?
I vividlyremember Byron Nelson. On Friday, Byron sat at a table right behind the 1st teeand watched everyone play away. Since I had won Bay Hill, that got me into acouple of the invitationals--Colonial and the Memorial--and the schedule I'dmapped out for the spring didn't include the Byron Nelson Classic. So I walkedonto the tee, went over to shake Byron's hand, and Byron said, "Hi, Paul.Great playing. Are you coming to my tournament this year?" I didn'thesitate. "I am now," I said. If Byron Nelson asks whether you'regoing, you're going. Then I went out and shot an 83.
This week willalso be memorable, but for other reasons. At 42 I'm at a different place in mylife. I played my way into the top 50 of the World Ranking--and thus qualifiedfor the Masters--by winning the Sony Open in January, but realistically I'm afull-time single parent and only a part-time golfer now. My daughters, Chelsea,16, and Courtney, 14, are with me, and they're now old enough to know what theMasters means. (Plus, they're not unhappy about missing three days of school.)I also have an entourage that includes my ex-wife's sister and her family--Amyand Jay Skenderian and their children, Bradley and Ashley. I gained custody ofthe girls in my divorce three years ago, and Jay and Amy help take care of mykids when I travel to tournaments. Without them I wouldn't be here. Not manypart-time golfers play in the Masters. I consider myself very fortunate.
I had bad chillsall night on Saturday and took some medicine on Sunday morning so that I couldplay a few holes.
It's nice andquiet on Sunday at Augusta. My friend Bob Summers, a money manager who was asenior at Long Beach State when I was a freshman, walked inside the ropes withme. This was his first trip to the Masters, so it was a near-religiousexperience for him. Augusta National is one of the few places that lives up tothe hype. I was feeling weak, so we cut over from 14 and played up 18.
I got a previewof how difficult the course was going to play on my second shot on the 1sthole. I hit a four-iron that landed a few steps onto the green but then bouncedcompletely over. I turned to Bob and said, "Uh-oh, it's going to be a longweek."
BradleySkenderian, my nephew, is 10 years old and my caddie for the par-3 contest.This is his second trip to the Masters, but he doesn't remember the first one.His mom, Amy, was pregnant with him here in 1996. I like the symmetry ofthat.
I took Bradley tothe caddie building to get his official white jumpsuit, which he doesn't get tokeep, and his green caddie cap, which he does. Bradley had a huge grin on hisface. He was also hungry, so Jim (Bones) MacKay, Phil Mickelson's caddie, tookBradley into the caddie room so he could make himself a turkey sandwich.Bradley is a big Phil fan, so he was thrilled. "You're looking good in thatuniform," Bones told him.
Warming up laterat the range, we bumped into Arnold Palmer and his caddie, Kelly Tilghman ofGolf Channel. I jokingly asked Arnie, "Do you want to trade caddies?"He smiled and said, "No, I'm happy with who I've got."
The putting greenwas surrounded when we got there. Fans were lined up five-deep. Gee, how didthey know I was coming? Of course, it was Tiger. Perfect. I had Bradley rollingballs back to me while I putted. Tiger was grinding and talking to his buddyMark O'Meara, who was paired with me in the par-3 contest. They were working onsomething, so I didn't want to interrupt. I kept trying to putt to a hole nearthem, so if the opportunity arose, I could introduce Bradley to Tiger. Finally,there was an opening, and I go, "Hey, Tiger, this is my nephew, Bradley.He's going to caddie for me." Tiger walks over and says, "Hey, Bradley,how are you doing?" And Tiger goes to shake his hand, then whacks him onthe bill of his cap and laughs. It was priceless. I've never seen Tiger beanything but gracious. It's the day before the Masters, he's working on hisputting, and he took three minutes of his time to interact with my nephew.
We went down thehill to the par-3 course, and the threesome of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player andArnie decided to jump in front of us. I asked Bradley if he wanted Mr. Nicklausto sign his hat. Bradley is very shy. He had stopped talking by this point. Hewas on sensory overload.
I watched the BigThree hit and saw the 1st green. It was the size of a dinner table and wassurrounded by people. I mean, they were right up to the green's edge. A part ofme said, "Do I really want to do this? I'm going to kill somebody." Itwas 135 yards and windy. I was pretty nervous. I could've chipped an eight-irondown there, but I used a nine and made a full swing--a safer play, I hoped. Ihit a lady's chair but missed the lady, so that was a plus. I shot even par(27), which wasn't bad. O'Meara shot five under and won the tournament. He hadtwo caddies: one for five holes, another for four. He had auctioned off the jobto a couple of people at a charity fund-raiser. Apparently that's the newtrend. I heard Fuzzy Zoeller raised $180,000 for letting some guy caddie forhim all week, including actual tournament days.
When we finished,I was exhausted. I had played a nine-hole par-3 course, walked about a thousandyards and was spent. I guess that virus hadn't gone yet. Thank God they had acart to take me up the hill to the clubhouse. I don't think Bradley could'vecarried the bag--and me--all that way.
I really wantedto see Arnie hit the ceremonial first shot, but I didn't feel great and stayedhome. My tee time was 11:39, so I got there 80 minutes early and had breakfastat Augusta National. Country-club food is generally a loser, but at theNational they serve the food of the gods. So what'd I have? A bagel with somegrape jelly, fruit and a glass of orange juice. I know--opulence is wasted onme.
The Masters has anice tradition of pairing past Masters champions with amateurs. So maybe that'show I wound up in the threesome with two-time winner Seve Ballesteros. CarlPettersson, a really nice guy from Sweden, was our third. I introduced myselfto Seve on the tee. He stared at me and asked, "Where did we playtogether?" I said, "Kemper Open, 10 years ago." He gave me aknowing nod. I didn't mention that I clipped him by a shot.
I parred the 1sthole Seve-like, from out of the left trees, and pitched to three feet for abirdie at the 2nd hole. Yes, I'm leading the Masters, I thought. I should'veprobably started praying for rain. I saw the scoreboard at number 3, and twoother players were also at one under par, so I was, in fact, tied for the lead.But my name wasn't up there, which was a slight. If they wanted me to establishmy position for a few holes before putting me up, it was a good plan. I parredtwo more holes, then tripled the 5th when I ruined a perfect drive by runningmy approach shot over the green, pitching to 12 feet--and four-putting.
Four-putting from12 feet straight up the hill doesn't happen anywhere but here. I couldn't helpbut think of Seve's famous four-putt at the Masters years ago. When the writersasked what happened, he said, "I mees, I mees, I mees, I make." Thatwas me, with Seve watching. It's not the downhill putts that are difficult atAugusta, it's the uphill putts. If you try too hard to run in the uphill puttand go past the hole, you can leave yourself several feet above the cup with aslick downhiller that is guaranteed to slide three or four feet past if youmiss. Also, I sometimes have an affliction with my putting. I don't like to usethe y word, but my stroke gets a little nervy, flinchy.
Well, things likethat happen to everyone at the Masters. Even Tiger once putted a ball off the13th green into Rae's Creek. The par-3 6th hole, therefore, became huge. I hada 45-foot putt up the hill and left it four feet short. This is where thingscould get out of control, where a snowflake could turn into an avalanche. I wasthinking, O.K., is this one of those days where I'm going to shoot a thousand?Because if I flinch on this one, I may be here the rest of my life. I made theputt, though. Crisis averted.
The irony of theday is that the par-3 12th green--the toughest to hit--was the only one I hiton the last 10 holes. I stuck it in there to 12 feet with the wind helping. Itwas straight downwind when Carl flew his eight-iron shot into the back bunker.Then when Seve hit, the wind turned and his shot splashed into the water. Iremember that in '96, I had asked my caddie which way the wind was blowing, andhe threw up some grass and said, "Clockwise." Good luck.
I went for thegreen in two at 13 and was two feet from reaching it. Instead, my ball hit nearthe top of the bank and went back into the creek. I missed a six-footer forpar, a recurring theme. I laid up at 15 and lipped out a three-footer for par.That got me to seven over, which meant I couldn't lose any more strokes andstill break 80. I almost holed a short bunker shot at 16, then had a 25-yardbunker shot to a back pin at 17 and trickled my ball to within a few inches. A10-foot downhiller to save par at 18 gave me a hardworking 79. At least Ididn't raise my career scoring average here. I shot 74--83 in 1996. Apparentlyat Augusta National 79 is Goydos par.
This course islike a 3-D jigsaw puzzle with no solution. It's Chinese arithmetic. I had onebad swing on 10 and two mis-clubs on 6 and 17. But otherwise I played decently.Every aspect of my game was good. Yet I'm still Captain 79.
I improved from afour-putt to a three-putt at the 5th hole. It's officially not my favoritehole. At the 11th I hit a low four-iron from 230 yards and watched it take avicious carom off the big knob I was aiming at and run across the green andinto Rae's Creek. I've never seen that happen. That double ended my chances ofmaking the cut. At least I made a nice up-and-down from a bunker at 18.
My scores weredisappointing, but I played much better than I did in 1996, even though I shotalmost the same 14-over 158. The big difference I see in the 11-year gapbetween my Masters appearances was that it used to be that no lead was safe onthe back nine on Sunday because somebody might shoot a 29. Now, no lead is safeon the back nine on Sunday because the leader might shoot a 49.
I hope it won'ttake me 11 years to play in another Masters. I'm going to work my butt off toget back here again. In the long run no one will remember what I shot, but Ibet Bradley remembers the day he met Tiger. He told his family that Wednesdaywas the best day of his life, and I'm not sure if he took off his greencaddie's cap the rest of the week, even when he went to bed. Maybe I wonsomething after all.
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