Trevor Lawrence Jaguars

Jaguars Draft Questions

There was that moment when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “With the first pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select Trevor Lawrence, quarterback, Clemson,” when it felt surreal.

Like, “Wait, the Jaguars are relevant again.”

After the disappointment and drudgery of last year, and for most of the last decade, the whole mood swung 180 degrees in the other direction. The worst record in the league gave the Jaguars the biggest reward: the first pick in the draft. And not just any first pick. A generational player of whom Jaguars General Manager Trent Baalke says, “There are no negatives.”

Lawrence, in every instance in front of the media since becoming the number one pick, has said things and done things that make you believe he is the kind of player, and person who can reshape a franchise.

“I think it’s just important to be normal,” he said when asked about becoming part of the community. “One way to do that is plugging into the community, investing in the community and caring about the people around you,”

That’s not the typical answer from as twenty-one-year-old, no matter how much coaching and experience he’s had in the limelight.

And on his football expectations? Can he quickly adapt the NFL and be a starter week one?

“I expect to perform well and to adjust quickly and be ready to go, and that’s something I expect a lot out of myself. it’s just about earning – I think the biggest thing is – the respect and trust of your teammates,” Lawrence said without hesitation.

“Without that it doesn’t really matter what you expect going in, you’ve got to earn that first. I’m just going to take it step by step, but like I said I’m going to do everything in my power to prepare, to be the best I can be and put us in the best chance to win.”

From there, the Jaguas settled into reshaping their team. Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer said, “We have to get this right,” and agreed that at a minimum, their top four picks have to be impact players right away. Starters who make a difference.

Making Travis Etienne, Lawrence’s teammate at Clemson their second pick of the first round gives the Jaguars a look in the backfield they haven’t had in a while. They addressed some of their coverage issues taking Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell with their first pick of the second round. And their fourth pick was a bit of a head scratcher, considering Meyer’s praise of the current players on the offensive line over the last four months.

“Our offensive line is pretty good. It’s not a blow-up offensive line,” Meyer said at Lawrence’s pro day. “You know, we got some other areas we got to fix. There’s some good pieces there but we’re gonna make it even better.”

The Jaguars went so far as to put the franchise tag on left tackle Cam Robinson, giving him a ten-fold raise in the process.

But with the fourth pick, an ‘impact’ player according to Meyer, they took Stanford offensive lineman Walker Little, who is anything but. At 6’7” 333 lbs., Little didn’t play in 2020. He said the Jaguars have talked to him about both left and right tackle but admitted “I’m just an offensive lineman prospect for them.”

He’ll compete for a backup spot on the offensive line with the thought he’ll eventually be a starter.

Little and their first pick in the third round, defensive back Andre Cisco, haven’t played football at all in the last year because of injury. That’s been part of Trent Baalke’s history as a General Manager.

“It’s risk, reward,” he said Friday night.

Now the reality sets in. Projections mean nothing. Forty speed, vertical jump, bench press, none of those mean a thing. You might be looking for athletes on paper, but on the field, you’re looking for football players.

It reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from a movie in the early ‘70’s “The Candidate.” Robert Redford plays an idealistic, first time politician who is put up for election as fodder against an incumbent. It’s a great foreshadowing of what political campaigning has become in the television, media age. (“Wag The Dog’” is another.) The catch is, he’s supposed to lose. On Election Day candidate Redford pulls out a surprising victory. At the post-election celebration, he spots his campaign manager across the room and mouths “Now what?”

And that’s the question for the Jaguars: Now what?

Things like this never happen to this franchise. It started with them losing a coin toss to Carolina to get the first pick of their first draft in 1995. They’d have taken Tony Boselli no matter, but good fortune has never smiled on the franchise. They’ve always been one player, one play or one draft pick away from what they really want to be.

And save for a one-off year in 2017, they’ve been irrelevant for over a decade.

Not anymore.

The selection of Lawrence instantly puts the national spotlight on the Jaguars. But it’s the rest of the team makeover that will determine what they do on the field. They have their quarterback; they spent some money restocking in free agency and looked to the not-too-distant future with their draft picks.

But now what?

Every NFL team has a forty percent turnover each year. That means twenty of the fifty-three players on the game day roster will be different.

For the Jaguars, that number will be much higher.

“Jacksonville will be the most different looking team in the NFL,” long time NFL writer Peter King said before the draft. “Not just because they’re taking Trevor Lawrence, but they have a new coach who wants to impact every part of the team. Who are they keeping? At linebacker, they’ll say, ‘Myles Jack, you’re staying. Everybody else we’ll see when the season starts.”

That seems to be what the coaching staff is bringing across the board: competition at every position.

Will they be better? Las Vegas has put the over/under win total at six. That’s a whole lot better than one for sure, but you have to think with all of the changes they’ve made, they’re betting the over right away. Meyer nearly scoffed at the idea of a “rebuild plan” when asked about what kind of patience he thinks he’ll have with a new team.

“Well, the way I’ve always looked at everything is—at the moment whoever gives us the best chance to win is going to be playing,” he said. “And that’s every position at that moment who gives us the best chance to win and that there is an incredible amount of urgency. I told our players that, all due respect, the four-, five-, six-year plans, that’s not that plan at all. The plan is to try to do the very best to win. Every time we line up, we try to win.”

With the draft over it seems like an inordinate amount of work to add under a dozen unproven players. But all of that research doesn’t go to waste.

“Sometimes people say we made all those reports, and we only took a few players,” one personnel director noted. “My response always is, ‘We just made the first report for our pro personnel department on the other guys. They go right to that database, so you have it in September when they get cut or two Septembers from now.’

When they tell players every move they make on or off the field around an NFL team counts, they mean it. They’re not just auditioning for one team but for all thirty-two at the same time. And not just for today. That information is stored and leaned on for years to come.

That’s why Nick Saban’s “And Or But,” description is so accurate.

“I tell players they can help themselves in a lot of ways,” the current Alabama and former NFL Head Coach said this week. “When a team puts together a report on a player on height, weight, speed, hands, whatever, there can be an ‘and’ that includes ‘he’s a good teammate, great character. Or there can be a ‘but’ ‘he had a fight in the locker room, has a drug charge.’ Do you want to be an ‘and’ or a ‘but?”’

There’s one more situation where the scouts stick with the current class before moving on to next year. They’ll start looking at 2022 in earnest around Memorial Day but when this 2021 class takes the field, they have a rooting interest.

For the Jaguars, that’s scheduled for May 17th when the rookies will be on the field together for the first time in their own rookie mini-camp.
“You just don’t want to go out at rookie camp and see a guy you really fought for struggle,” one scout explained. “You want him to get off to a good start,”

After a lot of ‘no fun’ years following the Jaguars, don’t we all.

NFL Draft 2021

NFL Draft Secrets

There’s a room down at the stadium that’s highly guarded. It doesn’t contain cash or tickets or merchandise. No, it holds something much more important: Information.
It’s the room that holds the Jaguars draft board. A compilation of the past four years or more of scouting, evaluating, interviewing, discussing, arguing and just plain wondering about the college players eligible in this week’s NFL Draft.

Every team has a secret room. We get a little snippet of video of that room every year after the first round selection is made. A bunch of hand shaking and back slapping, congratulating each other or getting “their guy.”

Access to that room is coveted, everybody wants to be in there. So, despite the number of scouts, personnel people, coaches and administrators employed by each team looking for players from all corners of the earth, the league will limit the number in that room this year to just twenty-four.

There are the privileged few on each team that get to know what names are on that board, which names have been eliminated and who the most coveted player is among the nine-hundred or so the team has looked at leading up to that year’s draft.

And don’t think the secretive nature is overblown. There’s a security guard, ID badges to gain access and even one of those keypads that scrambles the numbers under a hood where you enter the ‘secret code’ to gain entry.

When Shad Khan bought the team to start the 2012 season, he found out how serious they were about keeping their draft board, and even their first pick a secret. Even from the owner.
“I was a new owner, so I didn’t know how it worked,” he explained. “I was curious about the process and who we were considering with the first pick. When I went to the guys I had in charge they were very ‘close to the vest’ even with me. They marched me down to a secure room, locked the door, looked around and opened a notebook for a few seconds to show me a name. I figured I was the owner and I wanted it to be different than that.”

For Khan, that seemed more like paranoia than closely guarded information, so he changed out the decision-makers on the Jaguars after his first year of ownership.

That 2012 class is considered one of the worst in the Jaguars history, headed by Wide Receiver Justin Blackmon with the fifth pick overall. A supremely talented player, Blackmon doubled the Jaguars offensive production when he was on the field, but his off-field issues with marijuana use kept him out of the lineup and eventually and out of the league in about a year and a half.

And as much time, energy, miles traveled, millions of hotel and airline points amassed crisscrossing the country, the draft process is still an inexact science.

There are whiffs and there are surprises on both ends of the spectrum. The Jaguars have had both.

Just last year, they signed running back James Robinson as an undrafted free agent. He excelled in training camp so much it allowed them to move past Leonard Fournette and install Robinson as the starter. In fourteen games he amassed the most yards from scrimmage in NFL history by an undrafted rookie.

How did everybody miss him? Robinson was an All-American on some lists, was the dominant running back in his conference and was well known. Yet, every team over seven rounds passed.

Different boards have different values on players. What their needs are, how a player might fit into their system. It’s all a jigsaw puzzle that each team fills in their own way, with their own process.

Even the Jaguars didn’t have Robinson as a draft pick, and they were only one of two teams to contact and sign him the minute the draft ended.
“Sometimes you’re not right until a few years out and sometimes you’re not right until the guy goes somewhere else because they fit him better or he gets healthier or he just develops,” said one team’s scouting director.

That was the case for the Jaguars in their initial draft. A fourth round pick they made in 1995 didn’t pay off until three years later.

When the Jaguars arrived for the second draft day in 1995, there was one glaring name left on their board from the day before. That year the league conducted rounds one through three on day one. As an expansion team, the Jaguars had two picks per round. They took Tony Boselli with their first overall pick and followed that up in the first round with James Stewart. Brian Demarco and Bryan Schwartz were taken in the second round and Chris Hudson in the third.

“When we walked into the draft room on the second day, there was one name left from day one that hadn’t been picked,” said then Head Coach and General Manager Tom Coughlin. (Although I’m sure Coughlin slept in his office the night before.)

“We got together, and I said, ‘We have this guy graded so much higher than the fourth round, we have to take him,” Coughlin added.

And with that discussion short and sweet, the Jaguars selected Quarterback Rob Johnson from Southern Cal with the first pick of the fourth round, ninety-ninth overall. Considered a well-regarded backup to Mark Brunell, Johnson only played eight games for the Jaguars, including five in 1997 with one start.

But it was that one start, in the opener against Baltimore, where Johnson shined. He returned to the game in the 3rd quarter after a badly sprained ankle knocked him out of the lineup, and led the Jaguars to victory.

On that one game, Johnson’s value skyrocketed, and he was traded to Buffalo the next February for the Bill’s first round pick, ninth overall in 1998. And that pick turned into Fred Taylor.

So, while having some value while he was here, Johnson’s value jumped up exponentially, three years later, when the Jaguars were able to draft one of their best players ever using the pick they acquired for Johnson.

The idea of players rising or falling on a draft board late is a media invention. Teams will have between 125 and 150 names on their draft board and as players are selected those names come down. A player’s evaluation doesn’t jump from one round to another at that point. The mantra: Trust the board.

“I think when you look at the amount of time we’ve spent organizationally from a scouting perspective, the personnel staff, the coaching staff, the amount of time we’ve spent together to build this board, I think it becomes very easy, no different than coaching,” Jaguars General Manager Trent Baalke said this week. “On Sundays, it’s easy to call plays when the preparation’s right. I think the same thing with the draft. I think we’re going to be very prepared, feel very good about where we’re at, so trusting that board, that’s how you make a living. You have to trust it. When you don’t trust it, that’s when you make mistakes.”

“Let the board talk to you,” is the phrase legendary team builder Bill Polian said he adopted during his Hall of Fame career.

“The board you put up in December and after the bowl games in January is the most accurate board,” he added. “And it’s even much more accurate four years later. Why? Because the scouts are grading them as football players. Absent the hype, the combine, the nonsense that flies around in the media. That’s the cleanest board.”

The movie “Draft Day” in 2014 depicted a lot of subterfuge and back-room dealing as the picks came up. Polian says nothing could be further from the truth.

“It’s not that crazy pacing up and down, stock trading atmosphere,” he explained. “Once you close the board, which was sometime last week, let the board speak to you, that’s why you did all this work. Even how the movie depicted the GM’s talking to each other. It’s 180 degrees the other way, almost every conversation ends with, ‘Good luck, have a good day.”

“The only thing accurate about that movie is you do eat a lot of really bad food on draft week,” he added with a laugh.

Completely new to the process, Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer admits it’s been a steep, three-moth learning curve, but he’ll have his own way of figuring out how it works.

“I’m a control nut and an organizational nut, so I want to make sure that—I want to know where people are sitting, I want to know what camera, what we’re going to be looking at on the screens,” he said of what will give him a comfort level leading up to the actual draft day process. “At this point, we’ve had a couple dry runs, but we’re going to go in great detail early next week about exactly how it takes place. So, I’ll feel much better after that.”

Baalke calls the process on draft day, “fluid,” knowing things can change in an instant.

“If we’re in a situation at 25 (the Jaguars second pick in the first round) where the board says let’s trade back two or three spots, and that becomes available, that’s an option, you pursue it,” he said.”

Every team knows they’ll have to adjust to surprises and disappointments as the draft unfolds. The Jaguars had that happen in 2019 when Josh Allen was still on the board when they had the seventh pick in the first round. Then General Manager Dave Caldwell said in no scenario they had run was Allen still available at seven, so they took him immediately.

“You try to kind of get a feel for how the board is going to go around the league, kind of work through all the scenarios with potential trades,” Broncos president of football operations John Elway told. ESPN’s Jeff Legwold. “Just make sure you’re ready to adjust and move and feel good as an organization about your evaluations. And in the back of your mind, you kind of know there is no predicting what everybody is going to do — the curveball is coming.”

And despite all of the work, sometimes teams have their own ideas of what else might help.

“Ron Wolf would always let me put something on the draft board that was blessed by the pope,” said Bryan Broaddus, who worked in the scouting departments of three different teams during his career. It was an unusual draft board addition the Hall of Fame executive allowed.

“The item was something small enough it could fit in a plastic bag, but it had a papal blessing. “After the first year we did it, it was just kind of accepted after that. You’ll take all the help you can get, and it went on the top of the board.”

“Never touch the card,” Polian said when I asked if there was anything unusual about his draft rooms. “That was our superstition. When it’s up on the board, don’t touch it. If you within seven or eight picks of a guy you like, don’t mention the guy’s name and don’t ever touch the card!”

Tesori Family Foundation

Michelle and Paul Tesori Making a Difference

When you have this job as a reporter, you get to meet a lot of interesting people. My career has been no different. I’ve met a lot of different people, many with tremendous athletic talent, others with superior intellect. If you’ve read this column over the past three years you know my favorite thing is to write about those people. And I’ve been lucky. You’ve probably heard me say, “I’ve had breakfast with Muhammad Ali, beers with Arnold Palmer and Tony Trabert is one of my best friends” as a response to what kind of job I’ve had.

Some of you might already know Michelle and Paul Tesori. They call North Florida home. Both have been good athletes and successful in their careers but more than that, they are truly remarkable people.

Paul’s name might be familiar as a caddie on the PGA Tour for the past two decades. After earning his tour card as a player in 1996, Tesori could never find the rhythm of the lifestyle of being on the road. An accomplished player, Paul was a three-time All-American, and a part of the University of Florida’s National and SEC Championship teams in the early ‘90’s. Injuries, and missed cuts, forced him off the Tour after the ’99 season.

That’s when his caddie career got started. Having practiced with Vijay Singh, Singh asked him to come to a Tour event to look at his swing. That led to a ten-year caddie stint on Tour with Vijay, Jerry Kelly and Sean O’Hair.

Michelle met Paul in 2006 in Tampa, they were friends for a couple of years before they started dating in 2008. A good athlete herself as a top gymnast, Michelle took a softball to her nose her junior year of high school, shattering it. When it healed, she broke it again sliding into second base. That’ll give you a hint of the kind of tenacity she has. An exercise science major in college, Michelle is a certified personal/group exercise trainer. She worked for Major League Baseball, but much of her professional life was in non-profit

Dating for a couple of years, both Michelle and Paul saw their relationship start to deteriorate.

“We had a talk and decided to make a change,” Paul explained. “We said we were Christians, but we didn’t walk or talk that way. So, we were baptized in the summer of 2010.”

They figured their lives were on the way up, but the opposite happened. O’Hair fired Paul and he lost “every dime I ever made in the real estate crash.”

No money, no job and he and Michelle still living in the same house but not dating, Paul had a couple of offers and was about to confirm a job looping for a top player.

That’s when Webb Simpson called to offer Tesori a job.

“Michelle helped out, Googling ‘Who’s Webb Simpson,’” Paul said. “And even though he was new to the Tour, it seemed like the right thing to do.”

Since that pairing, Simpson has won the US Open and The Players Championship and more than $40 million in official earnings on Tour.

The connection between Simpson and Tesori through their faith has been well documented. But Paul says it’s more than that.

“I owe a lot to Webb. He’s showed me and taught me a lot. It could be called ‘intentionality in living.’ The way he acts, even just the way he talks to his wife. He lives it. I’ve seen him get up at four in the morning to spend a half hour in The Word before he even had a cup of coffee. Then go work out!”

Although they were married in 2011, Paul and Michelle had made a commitment to giving back three years earlier.

“Paul told me he’d seen top athletes really make a difference with their foundations and he wanted to give back the same way,” Michelle recalled.

“I’d done some community service when I played at Florida and continued after it wasn’t required,” Paul said. “I enjoyed it and I told Michelle I wanted to wait until the time was right to start some kind of foundation. But she’d have none of it. She flat out told me that was a cop out.”

“That’s right,” Michelle said. “I told him if you change one person’s life just one day, you’re on your way.”

“Sports gives us a platform and sometimes I don’t realize that because I’m a caddie,” Paul added. “It’s easy to minimize my impact.”

“He’d say, ‘I’m just a caddie,’” echoed Michelle. “I told him I thought that was the wrong way to look at it. Most people do this, and they don’t know what they’re doing at all. But they do it the right way.”

They started a foundation in 2009 with some of their own seed money, intending to just distribute it where they saw a need. They did some work with the Homeless Coalition in St. Augustine.

Their foundation started to get some attention when Simpson started playing well and there was plenty of media coverage of Webb and Paul’s tight friendship through their work and their faith.

“And when Isaiah was born, that was the final piece that fell in place,” Paul said.

Isaiah is Michelle and Paul’s son, born with Down Syndrome in 2014. Although Isaiah would be classified as “special needs,” Michelle says he has a “different arrangement of chromosomes. It’s not that he has an extra chromosome, it’s that the rest of us are missing one.”

From that attitude, the Tesori Family Foundation started the All-Star Kids Clinics in 2014.

“Sometimes being a parent of a kid who is different, you might not have some of the same experiences as other parents have,” Michelle explained about the genesis of the All-Star Clinics. “It’s a place where the kids and their parents feel like they belong. Nobody’s worried. It’s allowed us to freely love this awesome community that sometimes doesn’t feel like they get to have these experiences.”

If you’ve been to one of the handful of All-Star Clinics the Foundation has had locally, you know it’s the most joyful day of the year. There are big-name pros like Jordan Spieth giving a golf clinic and the All-Star kids following suit. Everybody’s smiling, laughing. And dancing. Dancing is a big part of the clinic.

“The good feeling is a side effect,” Michelle said with a laugh. “My face hurts after that day because everybody’s so happy that day. The All-Star clinic is for kids to just be. However, they are that day, that’s how we want them to be, and they’ll be loved unconditionally.”

Starting with one clinic at the suggestion of Mark Brazil, the tournament director of the Greater Greensboro Open, they’ve had a couple at Sawgrass Country Club during The Players but recently things have started to take off. A lot of the ‘no’s’ they were getting started turning into ‘yeses.’

“I was at an All-Star Kids Clinic at one of the other events I was visiting,” said Steve Jent, Executive Director of the Sanderson Farms Championship in Jackson, Mississippi. “I met Michelle and told her ‘We have to do this in Jackson!”

There really was no plan to expand the Clinics to other PGA Tour events but Jent saw a bigger picture.
“I thought it was amazing and so easy to do,” he explained. “This is a group in our community we’re probably not reaching out to and we can easily do this. And every tournament could do this as well.”

The Foundation created a playbook for hosts to hold All-Star Kid Clinics “And it kind of snowballed from there,” Jent said.

“We do this because it’s important to a part of our community and it’s just a blast to do,” he added. “A lot of tournaments have other things in place for charities in their communities, but they still add this. We all try to do certain things that make sense for each community in different ways. But this, It’s just the right thing to do.”

Minus Covid, the Foundation’s goal at the end of next year would be to have an All-Star Clinic at every stop on the PGA Tour.
“We love the involvement with the tournaments,” said Genna Lancaster, the Foundation’s Executive Director. “We want to expose our kids to the game, but they also have that extra excitement of being involved in something that’s happening in their city.”

They’re hoping for ten Clinics this year, all with special Covid protocols.

“Isiah and a lot of kids like him are ‘huggers.’” Michelle said. “So, it’s hard with what’s going on because you want to protect them. But we do what we need to do at every stop to keep everybody safe. “

“It’s a challenge to keep it to twenty-five kids,” Michelle lamented. “It keeps me up at night. We want to help everybody. We’re hoping to be the foundation of the growth and exposure to a game a lot of our kids would never know about.”

From just a simple clinic for kids and families who normally wouldn’t have that chance, the Tesori Family Foundation will crest over $1.1 million in donations this year.

“Our clinics only cost between $3,500 to $10,000 to put on and our sponsors cover those costs,” Lancaster explained. “So, we make a donation to each First Tee at each city to help keep things going. We don’t want this to only be a one-time thing for our kids.”

“I would have never thought a million dollars was even a number to think about,” Michelle marveled. “I think we had $20,000 as our first-year budget in 2014. Like Bubba Watson said after his second Masters win, ‘I never allowed myself to dream this big.’”

Michelle and Paul’s shared faith runs through all facets of their life. They’ll talk about their faith if you ask, but they’re not preaching 24/7.

“I have all kinds of friends,” Paul said. ” My life is about building relationships; God will take care of the rest. It’s about building the relationships.”

Tesori is still a fabulous player, winning at least five Florida Winter Series Mid-Am events and being competitive almost every time he tees it up. His golf career has had a big impact in many ways.

“It’s amazing to see Paul use his golf ability, his gift of being that kind of player and have him understand that that gift was for this, not for him to be a player on the PGA Tour,” said Michelle. “Watching his transformation from his gift for golf to use it for this was far greater than just playing on the PGA Tour, that’s been amazing.”

And remarkable.

The Masters

Masters Memories Last

Most of golf’s memories seem to come from The Masters. The other majors have had their drama. The Open Championship has the famous “Duel in the Sun” between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson and Van de Velde’s meltdown at Carnoustie. The U.S. Open has Ben Hogan’s one-iron at Merion, Arnold Palmer driving the green at Cherry Hills in 1960 and Watson’s chip in at seventeen at Pebble Beach. Golf aficionados all have their favorites.

But even the casual golf fan has their favorite Masters memories. Perhaps it’s because the tournament is the only Major played over the same venue for the past eighty-five editions, or maybe it’s the beautiful setting Augusta National presents for some of the toughest competition each year. No matter. Even non-sports fans can tell you something about The Masters.

“The azaleas’ in bloom,” my favorite non-sports fan said. “That shot on TV they show with the triple-arch bridge and the azaleas in the background. That’s really pretty.”

“Pimento cheese sandwiches,” was another favorite among the ‘non-golf’ crowd. That was a surprise. At what other event does something at the concession stand available for $1.50 make the ‘memories’ list? Hot Dogs at the Super Bowl? Beer at Daytona? Cracker Jack at the World Series? Hardly.

This weekend’s Masters’ broadcasts will be the highest rated golf telecasts of the year, by far. You could call it a rite of spring, especially for those who are in the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Mid-West where they’re more likely to see snow out the window than green grass.

“That’s for sure,” my friend ‘Keeter,’ who still lives up north told me. “When you see that green grass at Augusta, you know it’s the first week of April and The Masters.”

Among the sports crowd, and especially golf fans, there’s a definite split in their favorite Masters moment. For the plus fifty-five crowd, without exception they say, “Nicklaus in ’86.” Jack’s birdie putt on seventeen, punctuated by Verne Lundquist’s “Yes, sir!” call is a memory they can conjure up instantly.

For the under fifty-five crowd there’s a generational shift, as you might expect.

“Tiger in ’97,” is the answer my forty-nine-year-old friend ‘Pineapple’ instantly said when asked about his favorite Masters memory. “I was on my honeymoon in Hawaii with my first wife watching that. It really had a big effect on me. She wasn’t happy that I spent time watching TV.”

He mentioned later that might have been a hint why she was his first wife.

Checking with most of my over-55 friends, they can recite where they were when Jack made his charge and won in ’86. All had different moments that made a mark on their memory bank after that.

“I really liked it when Jordan Spieth won,” ‘Big Beef’ said recalling Spieth’s win in 2015 after a runner up finish the previous year. “Just the way he handled himself.”

Big Beef is a big sports fan and although he doesn’t play any longer, thoroughly enjoys watching golf. A player’s demeanor, winning or losing, makes a difference.

“He played the right way, did the right things,” he added. “He really confirmed to me what a gentleman I think he is. His dedication to his sister and his family, that really sticks in my mind.”

The “BQ” still plays a lot of golf, better than ever with a new knee. He quickly rattled off Jack’s victory in ’86 but followed that quickly with Larry Mize’s win in 1987.

“I happened to be at The Masters that year with you,” he recalled. “And the tension coming down the stretch with everybody there was amazing.”

Often forgotten about the ’87 finish is the fact that Mize had tied with Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros at -3 after seventy-two holes. Ballesteros missed a short putt on the first playoff hole to be eliminated in the sudden death playoff. Norman looked to have the advantage after he and Mize hit their approach shots on eleven. Then Mize famously chipped in from off the right of the green to take the Green Jacket.

“We didn’t walk down to ten or eleven for the playoff, so we saw Seve walking back up ten and knew he was out,” BQ explained. “We went over to the clubhouse and looked in the window to watch what happened on eleven. When Mize chipped in, the place erupted.”

Then he added, “But what was most memorable was that evening I got invited to play Augusta the next morning. And that’s a whole other story.”

My friend “Ghost of Chuck” and I also have attended The Masters a few times together. Ghost picked Tiger’s win in 1997 as his most memorable, but for a very different reason.

“April 14th is my wife’s birthday, and we were in Big Sur to celebrate that year,” he began. “We stopped in a little bar on the road to get something to eat and asked the bartender if we could watch The Masters. Turns out she was from England, moved to Haight-Ashbury in the sixties and was still a self-proclaimed ‘hippie’ now working in a bar. She said to us, “The Masters? What’s that?”

“I explained about the golf tournament and Tiger and she turned it on and really got into it. Then all of the sudden the power in the whole bar went out. And the bartender said, ‘We need to finish watching, come with me.’”

The three of them went outside, the bartender getting in, how Ghost described it, her ‘Magic Bus’ and said, ‘Follow me!’

“We started driving and my wife looked at me and asked, ‘What are we doing?’ I just said, ‘We’re going to watch The Masters!’ And we ended up at some guys’ house down the road and watched Tiger’s historic win. And that was different.”
I’ve been covering The Masters since 1979, missing only 1982 when my oldest daughter was born that weekend. Thirty-nine years ago, yesterday. I’ve got plenty of memories over those forty-two years and every one of them great. The most special are the times I’ve had the chance to take my family and friends to see Augusta National and The Masters as a place and a golf tournament. It’s a time, I hope, if they’re like me, they’ll never forget.

Past and Present on Display at The Masters

It was always former PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman’s idea that The Players Championship would be the first “significant” golf tournament of the year. Playing the tournament in March in Florida would kick off the golf season and eventually The Players would be the “first major” on the calendar.

Although it is showcased as the first big test of the best players in the world, The Players hasn’t received “Major” status. The TPC Stadium Course at Sawgrass showed magnificently just three weeks ago with a fitting champion in Justin Thomas but it’s still not considered a Major.

The “First Major” title still belongs to The Masters.

Because of the pandemic, The Masters was the last Major played in 2020 and will be the first played in 2021. Less than five months separate last year’s tournament from this week’s competition at Augusta National. Dustin Johnson has reigned as the current Masters champion for the shortest period in the tournament’s history. Compare that to The (British) Open Championship, where Shane Lowry will have been known as the “Champion Golfer of the Year” for two full years because of last year’s cancellation.

Johnson and Lowry are among the ninety players invited for the Masters, although it’s unclear how many will actually tee it up on Thursday. Johnson won the tournament in November with a record 20-under finish. The conditions this week most likely won’t allow this year’s winner to approach that number.

“Yeah, I think it will be back to feeling like a normal Masters. Obviously last year, there was nothing normal about last year, for the whole year, really,” Johnson said. “I think this year in April, the Masters will feel like it’s back, and it will feel the same. I’m definitely looking forward to that.”

Fans will be back at The Masters in a limited capacity this year. The par-three tournament will be back on Wednesday with patrons. Masks required.

And while there are protests scheduled for outside the gates of Augusta National, eighty-six year old Lee Elder, the first Black man to play in The Masters will join former champions Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hitting a ceremonial initial shot at the first tee Thursday opening the tournament.

The 85th installment of The Masters will mark the 60th anniversary of Gary Player’s first Green Jacket in 1961. Player competed in fifty-two Masters, the most ever, finishing his competitive rounds at Augusta in 2009.

That’s why watching The Masters each April can be so interesting on two fronts. There aren’t any other sporting events where the prize is so coveted but the past is still on display.

Arnold Palmer played in fifty Masters, the most consecutive ever. Palmer had said he’d play Augusta National “As long as I can hit fifteen in two.” He stopped in 2004. Jack Nicklaus stopped the next year after forty-five appearances and six Green Jackets.

I remember walking with Sam Snead from the 18th green to the clubhouse in 1983 when he said, “I think that’s it for me.” And with that he was done after 44 appearances and three victories at Augusta National. I was dumbfounded.

Media coverage was very different then and especially for golf, pre-Tiger. No big announcement, Snead just said to three or four of us walking with him, “I’m done.”

“I can still play this golf course,” 1992 champion Fred Couples told me during a practice round with Tiger Woods and Adam Scott last November.

Standing on the tenth tee, Scott and Woods hit three-woods down the hill on the long, 495 yard, par four.
Couples, who’s length off the tee contributed to his “Boom Boom” nickname, hit driver.

“The key is to hit the right clubs into these greens,” he explained. “I’m long enough that I can still do that. Some guys can’t.”
Fred uses the 18th hole as a prime example of his ability to still play Augusta National. How he plays that hole will determine how long he’ll continue to compete at the Masters every April.

“I used to hit driver and a short iron in there,” he said of the 465-yard uphill par 4 known as “Holly.” “Even though it’s longer now, I can still hit a short iron in there with how long I still hit it,’ alluding to the distance gained through new equipment technology. “Once guys start having to hit hybrid into that green, they don’t have much of a chance.”

Adding length to the golf course has made a test for players in the modern game, but for others, it’s eliminated them as actual competitors. As an example, Augusta National played at 6,925 yards in 1994. This year it will be 550 yards longer.

And confounding that theory, Bernhard Langer made the cut last year at 63-years old, the oldest player to ever do so.
“I am hitting a lot of 2- and 3-hybrids on holes where the younger guys are hitting 8- and 9-irons into the greens,” Langer told Golf Digest. “So, it’s a big challenge for me.”

Langer admitted to hitting 3-wood into the par four fifth hole each day last November. No matter. Paired with Bryson DeChambeau, the longest hitter in the game, Langer bested him by two strokes in the final round.

“There’s a definite advantage from playing that course 100 times or more,” Langer explained. Sometimes it is better to be 20 yards short than three feet long. When I was paired with Bryson he missed in the wrong places. It often comes down to a matter of inches. He’d almost hit a good shot, but it wasn’t.”

Figuring out how to play Augusta National under tournament conditions is nothing new. Dustin Johnson carrying a 7-wood in his bag in November was much discussed as a key to his victory. Years earlier, Raymond Floyd famously carried a 5-wood during his 1976 victory, putting the club in play for that week to try and tame the par-5’s.

It’s one of the things that makes The Masters so compelling. The history of the game is often written there. Or is it because it happened at The Masters, it becomes part of history?

Tiger Woods’ famous chip in on sixteen in 2005 on his way to victory is one of the most celebrated golf shots ever. Barely anybody remembers Davis Love III making almost the exact same shot three years earlier on sixteen. Because he didn’t go on to win. And he’s not Tiger.

Is Gene Sarazen’s double-eagle in the 1935 Masters on fifteen bigger than Harris English’s same score on eleven at last year’s Players? We have only O.B. Keeler’s newspaper account of Sarazen’s feat, written in the daily paper while there’s very clear video of English and his two.

Of course it is. Sarazen went on to win.

And it happened at The Masters.