The first two rounds of The Masters are in the books, and I'm in my underwear. But perhaps even more important to golf fans, Chad Campbell is in the lead by three with each of the top five players in the world under par and on his heels. Tiger Woods, who'll begin the weekend five shots in arrears, couldn't be happier that my arrears are here and not there.
I've attended four of the previous 10 Masters "tunamints." Tiger's 0-for-4 with me standing on the premises and 4-for-6 when I'm not. That's a stat exclusive to premium subscribers to the boone box, which is currently defined as any organism which - however unwittingly - stumbles onto this site and/or isn't force-fed my columns via e-mail. So my money's on Tiger, despite the fact that it looks like he's putting with a fly swatter these days. The only thing worse than the pace of his putts right now is his inability to read greens. It's like his caddie isn't Stevie Williams but another Stevie...Wonder who?
But nobody's perfect. Take my in-laws. Please! (rimshot) Seriously, these people are Godly, brilliant, witty, and productive. It's their reproductive skills I'm questioning. And not their capability of progeneration - even the O.J. jury couldn't ignore the existence of three children - but their carelessness. Sure, they had the prescience to beget their firstborn (and my beloved) in Boone County, Missouri. Very clever. But conceiving a child nine months before Masters week is, well, inconceivable.
But, alas, a lass they delivered, Amy, on April 7, 1970, the Monday preceding that year's Masters. It's fitting the Green Jacket went to Billy Casper that week 'cause I haven't had a ghost of a chance - friendly or otherwise - of reconciling these two events ever since.
For me to make The Masters is to miss Amy's birthday, and vice-versa. I know what you're thinking, This is no contest! Any numbskull knows there's only one place to be! But you have to understand how much Amy enjoys having me home for her birthday.
(Yes, that was a joke. No, Amy didn't laugh.)
My first Masters was 10 years ago, the year Greg Norman went in to the final round with a 6-shot lead and came out with a 5-shot loss. But no one blew a bigger advantage that weekend than I did. Told of a lottery conducted by Augusta National that would select about 50 media members to play the fabled course the Monday morning after the tournament, I threw my name into the hat. Sure enough, the hat spit me back out as one of the lucky winners.
Never mind the fact that I didn't have my clubs with me. Or shoes. Or even a single tee. (Someone told me later that I did have balls, but I'll get to that in a moment.) About the only thing I knew I had for sure was a job interview at CNN. On Monday afternoon at 2 p.m. In Atlanta. Not to mention a flight back to Dallas where we lived at 6.
My winner's envelope included specific instructions to arrive at the club at 6:45 a.m., sharp and ready to play. Perfect! I'd rented some clubs from a nearby golf shop and bought the rest of the stuff I needed Sunday night. And with a 6:45 a.m. appointment, I could play all 18 holes and still have plenty of time to drive the two hours to Atlanta for my interview.
That's when my Master plan began to fall apart as completely as Norman the day before. Apparently, I wasn't the only one with a tee time that morning. When 8 a.m. came and went without my name being called, I got a sneaking suspicion this wasn't going to end well. I called the head of CNN Sports - back when they had both a head and a sports department - to ask if I could push the interview time back a couple of hours. He said 2 was his last open appointment of the day and asked why. When I told him I had a chance to play Augusta National, he told me to forget about the interview and take the golf. I told him I appreciated the offer but that I'd keep the appointment. Looking back, that's probably when I lost the job.
I still had hopes of a quick 18...until the clock struck 9. By 9:30, I figured the best I could do was squeeze in nine holes. They were sending groups off the 10th, but at 9:30, they said I could go right away off 1 or keep waiting to play the "second nine" as it's known at the National. I took the former and let it rip. It was everything you would imagine a dream round to be. Except for the rental clubs. And the cheap shoes, fresh out of the box just 3 hours earlier. And the otherwise makeshift assortment of necessities.
I played pretty well. Hit a bunch of good shots. Soaked it in. And, after nine holes, walked away. Ran, actually. I high-tailed it to Atlanta, only to have my interviewer at CNN greet me with a handshake and this, "Great to meet you. Thanks for coming by. We'll call you if we need you." (Apparently, they never did.)
I left his office with my high-tail between my legs. After stumbling around CNN Center for a couple of hours, I made my way to the airport and finally home.
Hindsight is 20/20 - for example, my in-laws learned from their poor judgment and had their remaining progeny in August and September - and love is blind. Had I known that my interview would consist of a handshake and a validated parking sticker, and/or that CNN wouldn't even have a sports department five years later, of course I would've stayed and played. But I owed it to my wife (who, after all, during her birthday week had given me the present of my absence) to keep that interview and hopefully get a better job.
Eight years later, the day after the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, I skipped the back nine of media day to catch the only flight that would get me home on my second son's first day of school. With that, I moved halfway toward, yes, a "Walkoff Grand Slam." (I can't wait to stiff the U.S. and British Opens.)
As crazy as it sounds, I'd make those same decisions again, regardless of whether such small sacrifices were ever rewarded. (And one of them was in October 2004 when a magnanimous friend and Augusta National member hosted my Uncle Pat and me for 45 unforgettable holes. If you're keeping score, that was two full rounds plus an extra tour of the second nine...perhaps the one I left behind so many years before.)
My greatest reward isn't being home with my beloved on the day we celebrate her birth and life but having the privilege of simply sharing my life with her every day.
Happy Birthday, my dear. I'll get dressed now.