I’ve not traveled much, but I’d bet there’s no place on this rock as breathtaking as the view from twelve tee at Augusta, leading the Masters on Sunday afternoon. You feel heroic, goddamn mythical, as if the azaleas, in full bloom, are standing guard around that green in your honor.
So, there I was, up seven with seven to go. Seven and seven. Funny, at that moment, the gallery thinks you’re focused on the matter at hand, but I was standing on twelve tee thinking of my old man. He loved tall 7&7s on the rocks. Maybe loved them a little too much, but that’s another story.
People forget, but I was younger than Tiger by nearly a year. I was twenty goddamn years and two months. They called me a prodigy, a swing so righteous, so pure, the old timers said I was the second coming of Bobby Jones. All I knew is I was twenty and two months, leading my first Masters after 65 holes.
Funny, I didn’t feel a lick of pressure. See, God, put me there. He put those sticks in my hands when I was growing up a punk red neck in Valdosta. It was God’s plan that I swing a golf club as sweet as Bobby Jones. My daddy called me the natural, like in that baseball movie. So, no, I didn’t feel any pressure. As I saw it, God gave me a gift and I was just doing his bidding.
I was good enough to get a full-ride scholarship to Georgia Tech. My momma cried her eyes out, because her baby was the first in our family to go to college. But I learned Tech stands for technical and I wasn’t what you’d call a technical, book-smart kind of guy. I dropped out middle of freshman year.
So, I’m standing on twelve tee, seven up, seven to go. It’s a perfect Augusta afternoon. Not a stitch of wind and I’m in the zone. I Just dropped a thirty-seven footer for birdie on eleven, through two nasty breaks, across Augusta greens turned to glass by Sunday afternoon. I didn’t hear or see a thing. I was so focused, the hole looked big as a peach basket. I heard Michael Jordan talk about being in the zone, saying when the game was on the line and twenty thousand people are losing their minds, he didn’t hear a damn thing. Total silence. That’s what it was like perched on that twelve tee, total goddamn silence. It was just my caddie Ducky and me.
Now Ducky and me had a little disagreement on that twelve tee. Ducky was always the smart one. I’m always pushing limits, taking risks and he’s always pulling my ass back to planet Earth. So, we’re standing up there and I ask for my nine iron. Now, the thing about golf is you always have to account for adrenalin when choosing a club. I came off eleven after sinking that birdie with adrenalin pumping up my muscles like a sow in heat.
But Ducky says, “hit the eight.”
And I said, “Duck, are you out of your goddamn mind? I’m so juiced I could drop that MaxFli flush to the hole with my putter.”
Ducky, calm as can be, because that’s how he rolls, says, “Hit the eight and take Rae’s Creek out of play.”
I’m laughing at him. “What creek are you talking about?” I said. “I’ve played birdie, birdie, and birdie this weekend. I own the twelfth. So, give me that goddamn nine Ducky.”
I was in that zone, blocking out everybody, including my caddie.
So, I hit that nine as sweet as molasses and my MaxFli rose, a thing of beauty kissing that perfect blue Augusta sky. Then, just like that, it slammed into a rogue gust, stopped and dropped like a pound of manure. I swear that ball sat on the embankment for what seemed like a month. I started a prayer, but before I got to “sweet Jesus” that goddamn MaxFli took one rotation, then rolled slow as a mud- slide into Rae’s Creek.
I gathered myself, but dropped the next one into the Creek and lay four. Then I chunked my fifth into the drink and lay six. Made damn sure my seventh cleared the lake, but it plugged into the back bunker. I blasted out and two-putted for a ten. Just like that, twelve hole mocked me, owned me, owned the second coming of Bobby goddamn Jones.
I have to say, Ducky tried to calm me down. After all, I was still tied for the lead with six to play. But see, Ducky’s not a believer, a man of God like me. He didn’t know what I knew. It was God who reached up and bitch slapped that MaxFli into Rae’s Creek. At some point, the ultimate caddie in the sky decided I didn’t own shit at Augusta. He had a bigger plan for me. So, I knew it was over when Ducky still believed there was a chance.
Now, I could’ve been back at Augusta last week with my exemption for finishing in last year’s top ten. But I retired. Donated my sticks to Goodwill, kind of a sacrifice to the golf gods, or maybe to the spirit of Bobby Jones
So I finished my Sunday Uber shift to watch the final round. And I’ll be damned if there wasn’t this young, punk redneck, standing on twelve tee with a four-shot lead. The screen says: Birdie, Birdie and Birdie on 12 for the tournament. I smiled when he pulled that nine out of the bag; could see his caddy wasn’t happy. The kid was in the zone, looked goddamn mythical up there, like he owned the place. Then I saw it. The flag fluttered for a second. A rogue gust was about to rise up over Rae’s Creek, disputing the kid’s claim of ownership.
I lifted my tall 7&7 in toast to the golf gods.