My Year in Golf: Adam Schupak
Thursday, December 27, 2012
2012 Masters Champion: Bubba Watson
Congratulations Bubba Watson, champion of the 2012 Masters at Augusta National.
Editor's note: For our entire "My Year in Golf" series, click here.
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I was there when Bubba Watson hit the most memorable golf shot of the year. You know the one.
I attended 22 golf tournaments this year -- big and small -- but one topped the rest: taking my best friend from high school to his first Masters.
Something about Augusta National makes the patter of my heart beat a little faster. It always has. I remember my first time in 1999. It was a Wednesday practice round. I could hardly sleep the night before. I always tell people that few things live up to the hype like your first time at Augusta.
But some of us in the golf industry get jaded. I'm not going to name names but I know several longtime golf executives for whom a trip to the Masters each spring is as appealing as a trip to the dentist's chair. I don't want to become one of those guys.
Yet truth be told, when Evan, my high school pal, said to me this spring, "How cool would it be to go to the final-round of the Masters?" my response was lukewarm. Part of it was been-there, done-that and part of it was the dirty little secret about the Masters: it is a much better television viewing experience. I recommended the practice sessions, maybe take in a Thursday or Friday round, but I said come Sunday I like to watch how the tournament unfolds and it's close to impossible to experience that in person. I ticked off several reasons not to go: toughest ticket in golf, if not sports, impossible to get a hotel, jacked up airfare, difficult to see the action, you can't take photos (he's an accomplished photographer). He didn't care. He said two things that changed everything, the first being: "You work in golf and you can't get me one ticket?"
The short answer is not without selling a body part. Can a palm reader tell you the six winning numbers for the next Powerball? About the same chances. Instead, in my best Barney Stinson voice ("How I Met Your Mother" TV sitcom character for those of you with better things to do on Monday nights) I said, "Challenge accepted!"
Evan and I bonded long ago over sports. We shared a subscription to The National, the daily sports paper ahead of its time, but I'd classify him a modest golf fan. He pays attention to the majors and follows week-to-week as long as his fantasy players are in contention. He likes to brag that he was there when Curtis Strange got up-and-down from the sand on 18 to win his first U.S. Open in 1988 at The Country Club.
But something came over him this spring -- let's call it Rory Fever. Inspired by the potential of a Rory-Tiger back-nine showdown, he said the second thing that changed everything: "Don't you want to be at The Masters on Sunday to see history?"
Here I'm going to hit pause and give you a bit of backstory. Final round of the Masters was pay back of sorts. During our junior year in college, circa 1995, he called and invited me to the last regular season games at the old Boston Garden between my New York Knicks and his Celtics, my Rangers and his Bruins. His dad, a longtime season ticketholder, had been called away on business. We also would get to tour the Garden, shoot on the parquet floor, and have our picture taken with Bill Russell and Bob Cousy. How lucky am I, right? Well, I demurred. It conflicted with spring party weekend, and watching the NFL Draft with the guys and drinking every time Chris Berman said something annoying. A concert was scheduled, too. It was going to be a blast. But Evan convinced me there would be plenty more drafts to laugh at Berman and I probably wouldn't remember the band that played in 15 years (I don't.) This was history.
So I mashed the gas on my '82 Chevy Malibu with no back bumper, drove 4 hours to New York City, and picked him up at Columbia University. We made a quick pit stop on the way in my hometown at the store where my mom bought all my school supplies. Evan and I purchased Celtic green construction paper to make a sign. We wanted something as brilliant as the one we'd seen taunting Montreal Canadians goalie Patrick Roy: "If B-O-Y spells Boy, and T-O-Y spells Toy, then why does R-O-Y spell Roy!"
On the way to Boston, we kicked around a host of clever lines before deciding nothing said it better than simply saying, "Thanks for the Memories." We held the sign during the game, and when it was finally time to exit the arena we were stuck in a congested area near a concession stand. Mounted on the wall was a television set showing the broadcast so you didn't miss the action while ordering your nachos and popcorn. And at that moment, our image and sign flashed on the screen and the announcer said, "They just don't want to leave." For so many reasons, it's among my favorite sports memories.
So returning now to the Masters, I landed Evan a badge for Sunday, body parts intact (hey, I work in the golf industry), he flew in Saturday for less than an arm and a leg, and we paid for a second bed in the home I've stayed in the past few years -- the Dora the Explorer sheets and bedspread were no extra charge.
Sunday morning, we got to Augusta National as soon as the gates opened, a chill still in the air, and I let him attack the merchandise area to get that out of the way. We watched Tiger warm up, stood under the oak tree, then walked much of the front-nine with Bo Van Pelt and Scott Verplank. The opening nine holes, even though it is shown on television now, remains vastly underrated. We sat in the grandstand by No. 11 green and watched tee shots at the twelfth. We drank lemonade and ate pimento cheese sandwiches.
Trying to track the fortunes of Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, and Lee Westwood proved as daunting as I warned Evan it would be, but it was also exhilarating.
In many ways, it reminded me of the day at the Boston Garden. We could spend the entire day on line to get Larry Bird's autograph or meet Russell, Cousy and all the other returning players. I've still never met Bird but I have no regrets. This time, however, we chose poorly. We missed Louis Oosthuizen's double eagle at No. 2, Mickelson's triple at No. 4, Van Pelt's hole-in-one at No. 16, but we did witness Peter Hanson's shanked tee shot at the par-3 12th. And you don't see that every day.
We were situated on the left side of the 18th green when Watson stalked a putt to win in regulation. We must've been 20 rows deep, standing on our tippy-toes and craning our necks. To make matters worse, two Clemson University basketball players stood ahead of us. Suffice to say, they were tall. The one in front of Evan realized his height advantage and offered to switch places. My guy? He shot me a look that said, "Sucks to be you," and held his ground. But you know what? Everyone else in front ducked a bit until the putts were struck -- kind of like a reverse dominoes effect -- and we could see the putt struck. The groans told us everything else we needed to know.
When the playoff began, we didn't know what to do. Going back to the 18th tee, we decided was fruitless. Stay put? Head to the 10th green and hope the playoff lasted that long? We stayed by the 18th green but switched sides to be closer to the 10th tee. That's how we were able to slip into someone's chair folding chair in the front row for the tee shots at No. 10. It looked to be advantage Louis after Bubba bombed his drive deep into the woods on the right. We chased after it. And when I say we chased after it, I really mean Evan ran like hell to get in position for the next shot. I was just trying to keep up. A marshal scolded us and we slowed to a fast-walk. But that, your honor, is how we were close enough to hear Bubba and his caddie Ted Scott strategize from the pine straw. And see a 164 yard hooked wedge. Game over. It wasn't Rory-Tiger, but Bend it Like Bubba became just as memorable.
It was another great moment of history we shared and when it was over we just didn't want to leave.