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My first year on tour, 1988, I went to the Mississippi Masters in Hattiesburg, MS instead of the real deal. I picked up Mike Nicolette in the Waffle House parking lot, spent the days caddying and watching the Masters telecast whenever possible. The caddies would gather at the motel bar, watch the tube, and share Augusta stories. Nobody wanted to be in Hattiesburg; everyone’s heart was at Augusta National. Next year, I’d be there, hopefully.

The next year, two weeks before the Masters, I was still heading for Mississippi and working for Barry Cheeseman. I was jealous; the guys making Augusta arrangements were pissing me off; I didn’t want to be in Hattiesburg again. We were in New Orleans, Murph and I had missed the cut or withdrawn, and I was hanging out in the parking lot trying to cash my salary check. Suddenly, Doug Tewell stormed by me on the way to his car. I was the only caddy in the lot so I stood there and quietly observed.

Eventually Doug turned to me and asked, “Who you working for these days, I just fired my caddy and need someone?”

“Murph and Purtzer,” I said.

“You working for Purtzer at Augusta?” he inquired.

“Nope, I’ve got Barry Cheeseman in Hattiesburg,” I droned.

“How about working for me at the Masters,” he asked. “Call Barry and explain, he’ll understand, then give me a call at home.” He gave me his phone number, we talked a bit about my brother who worked for Doug a few years back, and made tentative plans for next week in Houston.

I went to the closest pay phone, called Cheese at home, explained my situation, and he understood completely. I was going to Augusta, but had no clue how I was getting there, where I was staying, or none of the particulars. I didn’t care; I was heading for the Masters. Doug called, said he was going to play Houston and we could firm things up next week; whatever that meant. Players usually don’t concern themselves with caddy travel plans; I was still on my own.

My brother was a bit upset about my stroke of luck; I’m not sure which cloud I was riding. We made the cut in Houston and hopped the charter flight to Augusta Sunday night. Back then, before private jets, there were a lot of charter flights from tournament to tournament, especially the majors. At the Woodlands players, wives, and caddies boarded a bus and headed for the airport. There was a minor problem with traffic, we ran out of beer, so Fred Couples grabbed me and we crossed four lanes of traffic to a 7-11 store.

I grabbed three or four cases; Fred ran interference at the counter, entertained the customers with some smart ass answers to stupid questions, threw the clerk a “hundy”, and said “keep the change.” We headed back to a bus load of cheering, thirsty, comrades. It was quite the spectacle and one of the memories I’ve always treasured; we’ve been friends ever since.

We landed late in Augusta and I still had no place to stay. Doug had rented a house so he let me spend Sunday night and we went to the course mid-morning. Caddies usually enter through a side parking lot and don’t get the royal treatment; my first trip was right down Magnolia Drive with mouth agape, but reality set in as soon as we parked the car. Security checked credentials and I was shuttled off to the caddy yard.

My luggage was stored in the caddy locker room; I was photographed and the caddie master spent quite a bit of time explaining the rules and regulations before I was given my white bib and green Masters Cap. Caddies aren’t allowed on the grounds without the coveralls and can’t go behind the clubhouse without their player. I learned the hard way on both accounts. We gather on the front porch or around club storage, just to the right of the clubhouse, and wait for our man. I didn’t say a word, just sat there and listened to the stories while I was waiting for Doug.

Doug eventually came out; we shuffled off to the small practice tee across the driveway and hit a few balls. I was in awe. The splendid colors, manicured turf, immaculate grounds, and golf heroes walking around me were way too much for this country boy. I was trying to concentrate on my caddie duties, it was difficult, and then Ben Crenshaw walked up to Doug. They chatted a bit, and I tried to introduce myself to his Augusta caddy, Carl. He politely grunted and at least acknowledged my existence.

“I’m playing the back nine, you want to join me?” Ben asked. I was salivating and hoping Doug would say yes. He did; and we hurried off to the tenth tee. Walking behind the clubhouse with bag slung over my shoulder was nirvana. I was walking in slow motion and gathering every sight for the first time.

Television just doesn’t do justice to the beauty of Augusta. I was alongside “Gentle Ben” under the large tree behind the clubhouse and the hallowed grounds spread out in front of me. I didn’t know there were elevation changes at Augusta; the clubhouse was perched on the highest point and the course rambled down to Raes Creek. It was spectacular and I hadn’t step foot on a fairway yet. I followed Ben and Doug to the tenth tee like a puppy dog.

Players practice rounds are posted and a small gallery gathered at the tenth tee. They weren’t there for Doug Tewell and Mark Huber, but I felt special. The crowd was quietly admiring one of their adopted sons, Ben, and Carl had a small legion of followers also. He was a lifetime Augusta caddy that led Ben around for both his Masters wins and did caddy a few years on tour. They were a bit of an odd couple but worked well together. I was in for a nine hole treat.

They hit their drives on the downhill par four and we were off on a magical excursion. Ben, with his love and knowledge of golf history, golf architectural expertise, and admiration for Augusta National provided us a two hour education on every aspect of the Masters. I wasn’t listening at first but noticed Ben was pointing to different trees, inspecting the rough and fairway grasses, and checking the dogleg angles off the tees and into the greens. Augusta National tweaks the course a bit every year and Ben was critiquing the changes only an eye like his would notice. The more he talked the more we learned; it was a classic lesson.

We finished our putts on ten; they took their drivers back to the eleventh tee; Carl and I walked into the eleventh fairway directly behind the tenth green. The beginning of Amen Corner was opening before me, I began to babble a bit, and Carl walked ahead trying to ignore this rookie caddy. It had only been about five years since tour caddies were allowed at the Masters; the local Augusta loopers were still resentful and didn’t associate much, especially with a first timer.

I threw in a large chunk of Skoal and admired my position in life for the moment. I wouldn’t trade positions with the rich folk right now. The balls rolled into the right to left sloping fairway and I walked over to Doug’s ball. They walked up; Ben had a cigarette cupped in his hand and a portable ash tray in the other. He took a deep drag, admired the view, and flipped his ashes into the tray. Ben refused to desecrate Augusta; he wouldn’t flip any ashes on the turf and the cigarette butts were hauled out in his golf bag.

My chew was ready for spitting, and I was about ready to let it fly. Ben grabbed my arm, shook his finger at me, “not here you don’t, either swallow it or spit in the woods.” After delicately replacing Doug’s divot under Ben’s watchful eye, I hurried off to the woods, swallowing wasn’t an option. God forbid I get sick in the fairway, what would Ben say then?

We continued on our way. Ben educated us about the proper approach angles to every pin placement on eleven, the Hogan method of judging the wind at the par three twelfth, and told a few stories. Hogan would always watch the flag on eleven green; it was the true judge of the wind, but only for a moment. You had to be ready to fire when the flag was waving; you didn’t pull the trigger till you saw it move.

While we were waiting for the thirteenth fairway to clear Ben said, “Follow me, there’s a special spot back here by the tee.” Nature is a man’s urinal and there is nothing better than a secret spot, close to public view, but not quite.

The thirteenth tee butts up against Augusta CC and is just out of sight from the throngs around the twelfth tee box and thirteenth fairway. As you walk towards the tee box to the left there is a small wooded area, sheltered by vines. There is a small opening to a clearing where all the Masters participants have gathered in small groups and briefly discussed immediate matters in hand.

Over the years Presidents, corporate CEO’s, dignitaries, and celebrities have shared a necessary moment here – it sure smelled like it – and, now I was standing there with Ben Crenshaw afraid to say a word. I quietly took care of business, heard Ben sigh, “Ahh, this is one of my favorite nature stops.” Over the years I’ve only found a couple that were better, but sharing that spot with “Gentle Ben” was special. Years later they built  cement block public restrooms fifty yards in front of the tee and to the right; they don’t get used much.

As we were walking off the tee box, Ben told the old Sam Snead story. Whether it’s true or not is questionable, but it sure sounds like something the old fox would do to a youngster. Sam was playing with a young pro and reminiscing about how he used to take his drive right over the left trees, chew off a large chunk of the dogleg and have a short iron into the green. The rookie muscled up when it was his turn, took an aggressive line, and found the woods with his tee ball. As they were walking off the tee Sam snickered, “those trees were a lot younger and shorter back then.”

Ben rambled on with stories like this throughout the round and continually pointed out Augusta’s nuances. On the thirteenth green we were putting to the potential pin placements. Ben walked to the front right hole location and called over to Doug, “take a look at this putt, see what you think.” Doug actually read it properly and Ben was slightly confused.

Carl walked over, put his arm on Ben’s shoulder, “Ben, the putt you’re talking about is over here.” He took two steps to his left; Ben and Doug took turns rolling their putts. The ball did the exact opposite of what it appeared it should. Those Augusta caddies are amazing. I was busy deciphering my yardage book and Carl was quoting from memory: breaks of putts, fairway slopes, carry yardages, and proper lines for blind shots.

Fuzzy always recommended that an Augusta rookie take a local. He won his first year with a local caddy that read every putt and told him exactly where to hit every shot. Fuzzy said, “He was my seeing-eye dog. I was blind without him on this course.”

The lessons went on at each tee box, fairway, and green. Ben and Carl taught us a lot, but it didn’t help during the tournament, more of about that later this week. We stepped on to the eighteenth and I didn’t want the day to end. Most caddies despise practice rounds but not here. The view from eighteen pretty much takes in the back nine, and the memories I just gathered were always going to be with me.

Now, I had to trudge (sorry, you never trudge at Augusta) the narrow, uphill, fairway towards the antebellum clubhouse, deposit my white coveralls at the caddy shack, change into my jeans, and go back to the everyday world. I had just lived a dream and now I had to find a place to stay for the week. I threw my duffel bag over my shoulder and walked across Washington Avenue to the Post Office Bar.

I’ll continue the story tomorrow.

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