Playing a masterpiece

Publisher  Patrick Yost recalls playing the work of art that is Augusta National

I can tell you what I ordered for lunch. Not what I ate. No, when you are looking out a huge picture window from the Augusta National clubhouse to a framed image of the first tee box, waiting to hit your first shot, you don’t eat your lunch.

I ordered a pastrami on rye, in part because my mother makes the best one you’ve ever had, and for a fleeting moment, I thought it would compare.

I couldn’t tell you though. The sweet tea was good. That’s all I could manage.

I had been invited a week earlier to play by a member. Here’s how the conversation went down.

Member: “Hey, we are going to get a game up for Saturday and wanted to see if you wanted to join us.”

Me (thinking I need to set something up at one of our wonderful Lake Oconee courses): “Sure, where do you want to play and what time?”

Member: “We’ll play The National at 1 p.m. Come at noon and we’ll have lunch.”

Me (thinking he’s talking about Reynolds’ National): “Okay, I’ll see what I can do but I can tell you I can’t make lunch. My son has a soccer game in Putnam County at 11 a.m. I’ll come after that and meet y’all around 1 p.m.”

Member: “How are you going to get to Augusta from Putnam County by 1 p.m.?”

Me: “Oh, we’re playing in Augusta? Where?”

Member: “The National.”

Me. “Augusta National?”

Member: “Yes.”

Me. “You’re (expletive) me.”

Me. “I can make lunch.”

Okay, here’s the dumbest thing I could probably ever say, but if you ever get the opportunity to play Augusta National, take it. Make peace with your son or daughter regarding the soccer game you are going to miss. Trust me, if they are strong children, they will understand. If they don’t, pay the bill for therapy later.

It’s worth it.

I sipped my sweet tea and stared blankly at the sandwich and fries. My host was talking business mostly, I think, but I don’t know. I saw his mouth moving. I nodded politely, but honestly, all I could see was that sparkling fairway, that gentle rolling hill dropping from the number one tee box into a historical landscape of guts, fame, and failure.

And glorious, glorious golf.

In this part of the world, we cannot have an official change of season from winter to spring until the first ball is struck on a Monday practice round the week of the Masters. Hyperbole would be to describe the tournament’s rightful and bona fide importance to our larger society as a tide, a moon cycle, an observation that as the sun rises in the east, it shall set in the west.

But for some of us, the devoted and pious, it’s not hyperbole. The Masters is.

It is the better part of our wider southern culture – the gentle manners, the understated elegance, the love of land and beauty and hard work, and the idea that with enough money and a pureness of heart, this too can be done.

The Masters is a pimento cheese sandwich for a dollar and a Yankee on Sunday morning asking a girl at a concession stand, “Hey, where can you get a beer?”

“We don’t serve during church hours,” she says. “You’ll have to come back after noon.”

It’s that too, and I love that.

I grew up watching this tournament back when they only showed the back nine. Since the powers that be at Augusta National allowed television to lift the old girl’s skirts up a little higher, we can now see wall-to-wall coverage on every hole. We know every fairway, every break, every spot on the course where lion-hearted men dueled on magical Sundays with the clarity of light only afforded Augusta National on a spring afternoon. We feel the eruption that comes with a dropped eagle putt on 15, or a birdie on 16. I watched Jack’s putt drop in ’86 and saw Tiger finish at 18 under in ’97. I’ll never forget Bubba’s shot out of the woods in sudden death in 2012 or Norman’s collapse to Nick Faldo in ’96.

The very air is thick with thrill.

I’ve been to the tournament plenty of times; been lucky that way, and brother, don’t think I don’t know it. People travel from all over the world and pay exorbitant fees for one ticket, for one day. Hell, they can’t sleep the night before they are going to just watch the tournament. I’ve seen grown men giggling like school girls as they walk into the grounds of Augusta National. Grown men, slapping each other on the back and chortling with a giddiness that only can be described as, well, euphoric.

My father got to play Augusta National a few times. One of my brothers has, too. We’re in pretty rare company, these Yost men.

Don’t you think I don’t know that, too.

A year ago my wife and I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The museum was featuring a Vincent van Gogh exhibit that included the painting “The Starry Night.” If you don’t know van Gogh, he’s the guy that paints everything like it’s underwater. My wife loves his style and even more loves “The Starry Night.” As we came around a corner in the museum, there was a larger group of people gathered around that painting. It’s something. My wife gazed at the work and began to weep. Not a “Hey, here comes The Beatles” kind of crying but a mindful, grateful appreciative cry. It wasn’t showy and she looked at me with a brilliant, radiant smile beneath the tears. She didn’t say a word, didn’t have to. I got it.

Walking across the bridge on the 12th hole at Augusta National is like that.

Just like that.

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