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VOL. 38 | NO. 17 | Friday, April 25, 2014

More fun at the Masters: Watching golfers or listening to gallery?

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Overheard in the gallery:

“Where you staying tonight?”

“With you. Didn’t they tell you?”

“You got any cousins coming?”

Saturday at the Masters Tournament. The friendly banter I could record.

The course is ablaze with azaleas and dogwoods, but no Tiger in sight. I finally make it to Augusta. And neither Woods nor Mickelson is here to greet me. Back surgery? Missed the cut? Whatever.

The first of pro golf’s “majors” was started in 1934 by lawyer/golfer Bobby Jones and then-Augusta National Golf Club chairman Clifford Roberts. Originally known as the “Augusta National Invitational,” it was redubbed in 1939.

The Masters is all about tradition and lore, though it brings in $100 million to the local economy in a week’s time.

It’s where Gene Sarazen hit the “shot heard round the world” – a double eagle on Sunday in 1935 – that helped him win the event.

It’s where Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus won 12 of the 21 titles between 1958 and 1978. It’s where, in 1997, a 20-year-old rookie named Tiger Woods won by 12 strokes with a record-low score of 18 under par.

It’s where the champ is awarded a famous green jacket.

Jack Nicklaus’s first, in 1963, came with $20,000. In 1986, his sixth came with $144,000. This year’s jacket-winner will pocket $1,620,000.

I’m composing this in my head (electronic devices are prohibited on the grounds), sitting in bleachers on a chunk of the course that includes part of the 11th, all of the 12th, and part of the 13th holes.

Writing about the 1958 event in Sports Illustrated, Herbert Warren Wind called this area Amen Corner. And it stuck.

After an hour at Amen Corner, watching several groups that started play early (a few strokes behind the leaders) – including Miguel Angel Jiminez, Hunter Mahan, Nick Watney, Sandy Lyle, Darren Clarke and Vijay Singh – we move. As we leave, we overhear this exchange:

“The way to get the vacation you want is to make her think it was her idea.”

“I think I’ve had too much alcohol.”

We crisscross the course, winding up behind the green of the par-3 sixth hole. Here, we watch the last five groups of the day.

Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth both make birdie. Bubba Watson three-putts from 65 feet for bogey. A group of 30-somethings in front of us – golfing buddies, for sure – are passing five- and 10-dollar bills back and forth like crazy, betting on every shot.

“Who you got on this one for closest to the hole?”

“Anybody taken Blixt yet?”

In a gorgeous environment, we accomplish every goal we’ve set. We see the clubhouse, practice green, players we wanted to see and more. We walk a lot, eat barbecue, egg salad, pimento cheese and candy, and do some serious buying in the golf shop.

Spieth and Watson are tied for the lead as we leave the club, facing a 660-mile drive home.

Postscript: As I watch on TV Sunday, Watson pulls away on the back nine to win by three.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.