Monday, April 12, 2010

Georgia on my mind

I drank too many lunch beers at the St. Thomas airport waiting for my flight, which is a habit I have when I'm excited about a trip.

After a social zoom to Philly where I was partnered up with another thirsty soul, I grabbed a seat in the terminal while waiting for my connecting flight to Charlotte, NC and fell asleep. During the 90-minute trip south, I felt hung over and questioned my ability to rent a car.

The good people at Hertz didn't mind. For it was just a 2-hour drive to Augusta, Georgia and this sober puppy was looking forward to a flat out burn through the great state of South Carolina. I was listening to some Dirty South rap music inside my Chevy Cobalt (only $12 a day) and drove at top speed on the right side of the road until I landed smack dab in the middle of golf's equivalent to the Super Bowl.

My fiend and host for the 36-hour excursion, Ben, met me at a CVS Pharmacy parking lot. He was running late from work. I was looking shady as ever sitting at a dark CVS Pharmacy parking lot eating a McDonald's ice cream cone.

It was OK. No one was going to mess with me and the Cobalt. I cracked the windows and played some Ludacris just in case. You know, for some street credit.

So we had a few drinks, a few laughs and then Ben locked his keys inside his truck. After AAA came faster than expected, we called it a night just a shade after 2 a.m. For in five short hours, we were going to be rubbing elbows with the Southern elite while watching grown men hit tiny white balls down extravagantly-groomed pieces of land.

* * *

I went to the final day of The Masters last year with Ben so my jaw-dropping was a little more contained this time around. But there is something about Augusta National that just makes you quiver. Can't really put my thumb on it but maybe after a few more trips -- what'd ya say, Ben? -- I'll be able to properly put the experience into perspective.

At all times, there were sparks of excitement. You hear a crowd roar in the distance and wonder who just did what. You see the club members wearing the famous green jackets and wonder what they did or who they killed to gain entrance. You see the pretty debutantes, the wannabe golf pros, the golf pros and the pimento cheese sandwiches.

If I was going to be executed and I had one final meal to choose, the pimento cheese sandwich at Augusta would be involved in some way or another. I ate four of them last year -- only two this past weekend. I know, I'm getting weak in my old age.

What stuck out the most was how the gallery got so quiet when a player was putting. I'm sure that goes with any PGA event but at The Masters, it's the effort that went into it, the motionless tension.

We set up our chairs on the 16th green at 8 a.m. We were about four or five rows back and approximately 20 feet from the pin. I could have spit on Tiger when his approach shot fell into the rough right in front of us. Freddie Couples was so close I saw that he didn't wear golf spikes and he didn't wear socks. Damn hippie.

A couple friends and family told me I was on TV when Phil Mickelson came around. Did anyone tape it? I'd like to see it.

The best thing about Augusta National is how pure it is and how it's cutoff from civilization. Kind of like North Korea, but in a very good way. Everyone knows cell phones and cameras are not allowed but it's also the little things: manual scoreboards, zero commercial sponsors, old people sticking to tradition. It's like we were locked in a time machine for the afternoon and we had nothing to do but enjoy nature. Haven't felt like that since walking the Appalachian Trail.

Of course, I yelled "Get In The Hole!" with the rest of the lunatics and enjoyed people watching during the breaks. Phil won it, of course I was pulling for Tiger, but watching Kim birdie 16 might have been the highlight of the day for me.

Ben's mom, Jeannie, had us over for a delicious dinner after the round and before I knew it, I was passed out on Ben's couch watching highlights on TV from some golf tournament.

* * *

I woke up this morning in Georgia at 6 a.m. in some sort of trance. I'm back in my office now, on this island in the Caribbean. When co-workers asked me about my weekend, I just shrugged.

Tomorrow I will start looking into the next adventure.

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