Sports have a way of marking our calendar. For baseball fans, spring training marks the end of winter. Football usually ushers in the fall. For me, nothing rings in the beginning of spring quite like the Masters.
The Masters is my favorite golf tournament. As a child, my father would let me take a day off from school and, along with my mother, we'd drive from our home in Warner Robins, Georgia to Augusta.
It became a ritual every Tuesday of Masters' week. For a mere $5 apiece, we'd don our best walking shoes, and onto the hallowed grounds of Augusta National we would trek.
I learned a lot of life's lessons those years. I was eight when I attended my first Masters practice round. The place had an aura about it even to a young boy. The flowers, the perfectly groomed fairways and greens all combined in jaw-dropping beauty. I remember how green everything was with just enough coloring from the azaleas splashed in to break it up.
At The Masters I met a professional golfer for the first time. His name was Chi Chi Rodriguez, and to this day I can remember the time he took to talk to my parents and me. He was playing by himself and we caught up with him at the end of Amen Corner as he walked from the 13th green. Chi Chi stopped and talked with us as though we were old friends.
It was at Augusta that I learned how genuinely nice people can be and how unbelievably rude as well.
Gary Player wouldn't even acknowledge me with a smile. As he walked from the sixth green to the seventh tee I said hello and asked him if he'd mind signing my autograph book. His reply was that he wasn't there to sign autographs and talk to people. He was there to get ready to play The Masters.
After being turned down by Mr. Player, a voice behind me asked if he could have the honor of signing my book. I turned to see the smiling face of Sam Snead. What a way to make a fan for life. When I met Sam again just a few months before he passed, I told him about that day and introduced him to my son. He had the same warm twinkle in his eye as he shook my young son's hand.
Over the years, I met just about every player who teed it up at The Masters. I felt incredible joy along with Jack Nicklaus when he won for the sixth time in 1986. I felt pain and sadness for Greg Norman when he faltered that famous Sunday. I too jumped with elation as Phil Mickelson's putt curled in and he won his first major. I also cried along with Bubba Watson last year as he broke down when he won. We've all felt the same emotions in life. The way I remember seeing those golfers handle adversity and triumph showed me how life should be taken.
The reasons we love The Masters are too numerous to count. For many, seeing the same course and watching today's great players conquer the same hole that Sarazen double-eagled to win in 1935 has a familiar warmth to it. It's like seeing an old, dear friend once a year. It's the only time we get to see him and we look forward to it, knowing it means the best of our year is about to begin.
Some of us simply love to see the tradition that goes with The Masters. It's the only tournament that gives a spot in the field for every past champion. It is a fitting way to honor those who have triumphed where so many of us only dream of walking.
One of the greatest traditions at The Masters is eating a pimento cheese sandwich. Since most of us won't be at Augusta National this weekend, we'll have to make our own. So to honor the tournament I love so much, one that taught me much about people and life and that brings back a flood of fond memories of time with my family, I give to you my own secret recipe for those famous pimento cheese sandwiches.
Masters' Week Pimento Cheese Sandwich; one stick of extra sharp cheddar cheese (10-12 oz.), grated; 3-4 tbsp, mayonnaise; 4 oz. (or more if desired) diced pimentos, not well drained; black pepper to taste. Mix and serve on your choice of bread. And don't forget the green wax paper. Now where is that TV remote?
James Stammer has been an avid golfer and golf enthusiast for nearly 40 years. He hosts the Thursday Night Golf Show on WSTU 1450-AM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.