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Looking back on my Masters memories

POSTED: April 10, 2011 1:30 a.m.

I rose before the sun did this very morning in 2005 and hurried to join a co-worker headed to Augusta National — early.

He enjoyed a tradition on the final day of the Masters and invited me, as the first timer, to tag along. It was the last day of a phenomenal golf week, he said, and the right time to pause and absorb every ounce of it. Starting with the dew.

So we arrived well before 8 a.m., dropped off our laptops and notebooks and set out for a walk.

A New Yorker and dedicated golf writer, the sports veteran had been wooed to Georgia’s coast by a shrewd editor who made promises. He told the reporter he’d have a chance to cover the 1996 Olympics and guaranteed an annual seat at the Masters.

The deal was sealed. The writer arrived to his first Augusta major in 1992 and covered Fred Couples, who won his green jacket.

"I’ve never seen the azaleas bloom like they did that year," he said, as we walked the front nine. "That year I walked the course early on Sunday like we are today. The blooms kind of looked like they do right now."

He showed me the ropes throughout the week beginning with the chairman’s meeting. There I learned how to say "too-na-ment" as though I’d been fitted with a member’s coat.

I watched Jack Nicklaus stride to the 18th green for the final time. He cried. The crowd hugged him with their overwhelming applause, the kind reserved for greatness alone.

I learned the contours of each hole and today know exactly where the television cameras fail the terrain. Augusta National is hilly, downright steep in some places. Amen Corner’s famous par-3, No. 12 is no man’s land on the green, perhaps the most isolated spot on the course. And the tall rows of pines straddling the fairway at No. 18 can literally squeeze the nerve of a leading player who faces nature’s narrow opening from the tee box.

All that is pure golf talk, though. I don’t even play.

Maybe that’s why the atmosphere is what I enjoyed most of all.

Hundreds of volunteers know how lucky they are, know each other and often know repeat "patrons" — Augusta National’s word for fans.

One team in particular welcomed me as I climbed high up to meet them where they manned an old-fashioned leader board. The names and numbers they posted could hush or excite a crowd in a flash.

I witnessed a smiling Arnold Palmer enter the champion’s locker room, closed to anyone but, of course. He emerged still smiling despite steady interruptions as he moved to eat lunch in the clubhouse.

I interviewed pros under a massive oak tree, the limbs of which are supposedly wired in place to ensure grandeur.

Then there was the Nike chip. You know the one Tiger Woods holed on No. 16, which hooked kind of like the shoemaker’s insignia itself.

When it dropped, the press corps erupted. They were not cheering Tiger, mind you, as much as panicking.

Writers on deadline, the Chris DiMarco stories being written with the leader on the fly were upended. The reporters exhaled and started anew.

Not me, though.

My week ended when I filed my last story on the low amateur.

I wondered if they, too, learned how to say "too-na-ment" in the South or, for that matter, captured spring on a Sunday.

See, everyone has a different interpretation of the season.

It can be a warm breeze or an afternoon thunderstorm. It can be linen suits or Easter bonnets. It can be the smack of a bat against a baseball or hands thrust into potting soil at home.

But my view of spring is based on a morning walk taken one memorable Sunday, way before the cornucopia of natural color started showing off in the sun and the shadows.

Bet those azalea blooms, dew and all, appear just as sweet as ever.

Erin Rossiter is a reporter for The Times whose columns appear on Sunday’s Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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