Tom’s Tomes: My trip to the MastersApr 08, 2021 12:32PM ● By Tom Haraldsen
On Saturday, April 11, 1998, I was standing in line at the snack bar of a movie theater in West Jordan when my cell phone rang. It was a call from a friend named Steve, who said, “Are you planning to watch the final round of the Masters tomorrow?” “Well of course,” I said. “Great. Be here in the morning.”
With that, a whirlwind 44 hours of one of the greatest adventures of my life began. Steve had an extra ticket to the final round, played on Sunday, April 12 at Augusta National. All I had to do was get there. And I did.
I red-eyed on Delta to Atlanta, leaving Salt Lake City about 11:30 p.m. and arriving in Georgia at 5:30 a.m. After a two-hour layover, I was on a chartered flight to Augusta, landed about 8:30 a.m., took a cab to the hotel where Steve and some of his work buddies were staying, ate a quick breakfast on the way to the course, and by 11 a.m. was walking down Magnolia Lane to the clubhouse. In less than 12 hours, I went from being a fan in Utah to a spectator in Augusta.
As the Masters is being played again this week, and as I love reflecting back on my opportunity 23 years ago, here are some of my memories of what happened in 1998:
Mark O’Meara won the tourney after sinking a 20-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole, beating David Duval and Fred Couples by one shot. He captured his first green jacket, but more on that in a minute.
When patrons arrive at Augusta, they can enter through a huge gift shop, where almost everyone drops a ton of cash on souvenirs. I know I did. They then put your purchases in bags and give you a bag check, kind of like a coat check, where you can pick up your goodies after the round. No one is allowed to carry souvenirs on the course.
You also can’t carry cameras, although a few people did sneak some photos with their cell phones (I did not, since I always play by the rules. Wink, wink). That said, I do have some photographic evidence of my presence. Again, more on that in a bit.
Steve and I ate lunch while we were on the course, but the Masters has never gouged fans for food. We had two hot dogs, two drinks and two bags of chips. The bill was $12. Probably a bit more now, but still a steal compared to concessions at any other sporting event. That’s OK – they made bank on me with the souvenirs!
Patrons are completely respectful of the course. You never see a bit of trash – no wrappers, no cups, anything – on the grounds. Organizers are highly protective of this course, and no hanky panky is allowed. Case in point. Former CBS golf announcer Gary McCord was banned from covering the Masters after he said about the lightning-fast greens that officials “use bikini wax on them.” Yeah, no sense of humor at Augusta National.
I was blessed not only to be there but also with that weekend’s “Chamber of Commerce” weather – low humidity, no wind, temps in the 70s. For six hours, Steve and I walked back and forth across the back nine, watching greats of the game, including Tiger and Jack, as they played. In fact, Tiger won the tourney both the year before and the year after this one.
One of my favorite memories was standing on the tee box at the 16th hole, the famous par 3. Nicklaus was in the hunt in 1998 until the back nine, when he started to fade. He finished tied for 6th, four shots behind O’Meara. As Steve and I stood among the fans on the tee box, Nicklaus turned to the crowd and said, probably jokingly, “I can’t see the pin.” So believing him, I vocally pointed out where it was, “just to the left of that fan in the yellow shirt.” He nodded, and so I have taken credit for giving Jack Nicklaus a golf tip. Sure I did.
And here’s where my photographic “proof” comes in. As Fred Couples, a co-leader at that moment, hit his tee shot, there in the background of the CBS telecast, wearing my blue ball cap, was yours truly. Screenshot posted here! I’m to the left of the woman in the purple hat!
After O’Meara won, he went into Butler Cabin for the traditional green jacket ceremony, where Tiger helped him into the jacket and Jim Nantz interviewed him. But after that, the ceremony for the Masters champ is repeated for patrons on the putting green. So again, Tiger Woods helped O’Meara with the green jacket as everyone cheered.
Fans began leaving, but Steve and I stayed, finally sitting down (for the first time in six hours) and soaking in the last rays of the sun as it set. We just savored the moment, but then decided it was time to go. So as we’re leaving the course, here comes a golf cart with, you guessed it, Mark O’Meara. He was being shuttled to an ESPN interview and the cart came right up beside us and stopped! I offered congratulations and, sheepishly, asked if I could touch the sleeve. He nodded, I did, and my Augusta experience was almost complete.
The next day, I caught another shuttle back to Atlanta. Once we landed, a gentleman asked if I could reach a small bag he had in the overhead near my seat. I did, realizing as I handed it to him that it was Bernhard Langer, two-time winner of the Masters who almost always makes the cut and will play again this week at age 63. He was very cordial. Late that afternoon, I was back in Utah.
I’ve had a lot of memorable sports-related trips – a Super Bowl, a World Series game, two NBA All-Star games, etc. But nothing will ever match my one-and-only trip to the Masters. And I’ll be watching the tournament again this weekend – from my couch.