AUGUSTA — The last time Vaughn Taylor was at Augusta National he needed a ticket to get through the gates.
With his career in shambles, he had just about given up on the idea of returning to the Masters as a player.
So, he attended with his young son.
“We thought it would be cool to bring him out,” Taylor said Monday, remembering how his family was at last year’s tournament as fans. “I wanted to wait until I got back in the tournament.” But, he quickly added, “I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it back.”
Indeed, no one saw this coming.
Not even Taylor, if you want to get right down to it.
His son — now 2-year-old Locklyn — will be able to watch his dad on the other side of the ropes this week, setting up perhaps the most compelling story outside of the guy who dons the green jacket.
If that winds up being Taylor, it certainly wouldn’t be any more improbable than the journey that brought the 40-year-old to this point.
Slogging away in golf’s minor leagues and with a humongous number in front of his name, Taylor got into Pebble Beach as an alternate based on his status as a past winner on the PGA Tour, albeit more than a decade ago. Then, somehow, he put together four of the greatest rounds of his life to win the tournament, edging out Phil Mickelson.
Just like that, Taylor went from 447th in the world rankings to a spot into the Masters.
Played in the city where he grew up, no less.
No one would’ve bought this script.
“It just tells me, never give up,” Taylor said. “Always believe, always believe in yourself, no matter what your game feels like or where you’re playing or what’s going on. You’ve got to always have that belief that this will be your week and things will turn around, and it actually happened. It was pretty amazing.”
Even more so when you consider where he was just a week before Pebble Beach.
Playing in a Web.com Tour event in Bogota, Colombia — and with conditional status, at that — Taylor came down with a stomach virus. He played a few holes in the opening round before play was halted by rain.
As his conditioned worsened that night, he wasn’t sure he could go on.
“I was just lying in bed praying for it to stop,” Taylor recalled.
He now has a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a major bit of job security. But since Pebble Beach, Taylor has missed four straight cuts, some of his old problems cropping up again.
“I’ve been working on them so hard, and then I get them fixed, and my life changes, and then all those things are bothering me again,” he moaned. “It kind of just shows you how crazy golf is and how tough it can be sometimes. But I feel like I’ve got a game plan and I’m working on everything. I hoping things will come together this week, too.”
He has played the Masters three times, the last in 2008. Taylor missed the cut twice, but also sandwiched in a tie for 10th during the frigid 2007 tournament — by far his best finish in any major championship.
That gives him a glimmer of hope heading into the week, if he can keep his emotions in check.
“Still a little jittery, but it’s good,” Taylor said. “I’m having fun and, you know, just really, really appreciate being back.”
Certainly more this time than he did before.
“When you’re younger, you expect to play well and you kind of take things for granted,” Taylor said. “I kind of thought I would be in every year, but that was just being kind of young and dumb. This time around, it’s much more special. I’m really just going to take it in and enjoy the experience.”
In a sense, the long journey back to Augusta began a year ago, when Taylor was merely a patron.
Yes, he wanted Locklyn to see the place.
But he also wanted to let go of his own demons.
“Let’s go with him and just have fun,” Taylor told his wife, Leot. “Forget all those other things I was thinking about.”
With a rambunctious young child in tow, it wasn’t exactly a relaxing experience.
“At that age, it was hard to keep him under control,” he said. “He just wanted to run under the ropes and things, so it was more of us following him around, chasing him around. We were lucky enough to sit down and eat lunch for 20 minutes. But we probably stayed for a couple of hours total and just had a good time.”
This year, Taylor will get to stay longer.
Two days, at least.
And he won’t need a ticket to get in.