I’ve always said I’ve gotten to do things throughout my career that I never would have come close to if not for the job I have. Playing Augusta National is one of those things and near the top of the list. I’ve played Augusta several times, including last Monday as an invited member of the media. Actually, I won a lottery spot after throwing my name into a basket with several hundred other members of the media.
The last time I played Augusta as a member of the media was 1980 and was told it was a “once in a lifetime” thing. And I believed them. I bought new shoes and an Augusta National shirt, I worked on my game and ground out every shot from the back tees. I’ve played there since as a guest, but never again as a member of the media, until last Monday. I joked with the Masters PR director Glenn Greenspan for years about a “10, 15 or 20-year rule” after covering the tournament for more than two decades. “Sorry, Sam,” was Glenn’s reply, “you know, once in a lifetime.”
My friend and Senior Sports Photographer Kevin Talley even wanted proof one time that “The National” kept up on such things. The year he was selected, 1997, he asked to see if I could play again. “Kouvaris?” the smiling woman behind the desk inquired. “Let’s see,” she said as she reached under the desk for an old strongbox with 3X5 cards filed inside. Under the “K’s” she pulled out an old, yellowed and faded card, looked at it and read, “Sam Kouvaris, 1980,” put the card back, closed the box and slid it under the desk, with a smile.
Last year in the credential request form, a notification announced that as a member of the media, you were now re-eligible to submit your name into the lottery every seven years. “Every seven years?” I asked Glenn on the phone in early January. “Yeah, just call it the Sam Kouvaris rule,” he chuckled. Glenn and I have a long professional and personal relationship. He was the original Media Director for the USFL’s Jacksonville Bulls in the early ’80’s. We forged a friendship then that has lasted through my tenure here and his stops with Georgia Southern, the PGA Tour, Gary Player and now Augusta National.
So there I was, lined up to play on Monday at Augusta National. Sunday pin placements, perfect 72 degree weather, a caddy, and another new shirt. Without boring you with the details, suffice to say I didn’t play as well as I would have liked, but I wasn’t horrible either. I didn’t make anything over 5 feet (including four birdie chances) and had my share of three-putts and doubles. I was determined not to be score oriented, and grind away, but rather enjoy the experience, if only for how beautiful a walk it is. But it did give me an appreciation for how hard the golf course is, how small the margin for error is, and just how exacting you have to be to score well.
I had parred one and two, and was down the middle on three, 109 yards to the front and 114 to the hole. I hit my “gap” wedge, caught it a little heavy, and as it was in the air, thought it might be a little short. “Just get up a little,” my caddy, Brandon said while the ball was in the air. It landed in the fringe, 108 yards from where I hit it, and instead of hopping forward to set up a birding chance, it spun back 25-yards down the slope away from the hole. Now I have a nearly impossible shot (for someone of my limited talent anyway) and end up making six! So playing there was a thrill and it accomplished just what I had hoped: a confirmation of the PGA Tour’s slogan that I repeated more than once that day. “Boy, those guys are good!”