One thing I always remind myself during special occasions is: This is going to make a great memory.
I've been extremely fortunate to have made many great memories in my life in golf, and a large number of them center around this week's venue: Augusta National Golf club.
I am often asked about my favorite Masters memory. This is easy. My first trip to Augusta National and this tournament was in 1983. The Saturday round had been rained out and I received a phone call from a friend who owned a private plane and he suggested that we fly to Augusta early on Sunday and witness the final two rounds. I thought this guy was crazy. I was still a PGA apprentice, so I would need a ticket, as would the entire foursome who went.
We left Sullivan, Ind.'s, airport early that Sunday and arrived at Augusta's Bush Field mid-morning. Somehow we found a rental car, battled traffic and bought four tickets for the last two rounds for the cost of $75 apiece (I don't think this would work as well today!). Seve Ballesteros trailed by one shot heading into Monday's finale. He went 4 under par on the first four holes (two birdies and an eagle) and led by five at the turn on his way to victory.
Back in 1983, we entered The National at the gate leading down Magnolia Lane. I will never forget the sensation of walking down the tree-lined entrance and being inside the gates of Augusta National for the first time in my life. I found a pay phone near the practice tee and called my dad in Logansport.
"You will never guess where I am," I said in a needling tone.
"Hopefully, not in the klink (his sarcastic term for jail)", Jim Bishop replied.
"I am standing here at the Masters watching Arnold Palmer hit balls," I responded.
The downer of a follow-up is that my dad told me several years later that someday he really wanted to go to the Masters. I never made that happen and it will always be one of the biggest regrets of my life. I would encourage all golf fans to put this on the Bucket List and do what you can to make it happen. If you don't, you'll regret it one day. Trust me.
In 1984, we made a repeat visit to The Masters and witnessed the final two rounds. On Sunday, four birdies in a five-hole stretch gave Ben Crenshaw the lead, but it was a birdie on No. 15 that sealed a two-stroke victory over Tom Watson. My second time at the Masters was just as good as the first. Maybe it was better because we knew what we were doing and where to watch. The point is The Masters never gets old. The golf course takes your breath away every time you step foot on it.
I'm sure many of you realize that 2011 is the 25th anniversary of Jack Nicklaus' famous come-from-behind win in 1986. Heading into Sunday, the Golden Bear was on the third page of the leaderboard. Deadly putting with an oversize MacGregor putter spurred a dazzling final-nine 30 that included an eagle-birdie-birdie stretch on holes 15, 16 and 17 propelling Nicklaus to his record sixth Masters title. How's that for a memory?
I even have a great Masters memory that didn't even happen at the Masters! I had the privilege to direct a pro-am in Arizona back in the 1980s. We honored Byron Nelson in November of 1986. Each day I would eat breakfast with Nelson. I would drive him 45 minutes one way to the golf course. It was just Byron and me. I still pinch myself thinking about those four days so long ago.
Nelson told me a story about how he picked up a pen and stationery and began writing Nicklaus a note as Jack started to play the final nine holes at Augusta in 1986. I remember Nelson saying, "I thought that it was just great that Jack could still compete in a major championship at that point in his career. I never dreamed that he would win, but I just kept writing as he played each hole," said Nelson. "I wound up writing a letter that chronicled all of his back nine and sent it to Jack."
That would be a letter to read, wouldn't it?
Earlier this week, I attended the memorial service at West Lake for Frank Chirkanian, the CBS Sports legend and the architect of modern-day golf coverage. Experts in the business would also credit Chirkanian for much of the modern-day popularity that the Masters enjoys. His influence and innovative approach to Masters coverage is unsurpassed.
The night before that final round in 1986, Chirkanian conducted a production meeting and told his celebrated group of announcers to be prepared for something special to happen on Sunday. "I don't know what it will be, but be ready and be brief. Think of four words that will capture whatever the moment is."
The great ones always have vision.
And because of that, we get to have great memories of their work.
Seventy years ago Craig Wood won the Masters and he said, "I might do anything now because this is the happiest day of my life."
In 1951, 60 years ago, Ben Hogan won and he said, "If I never win again, I won't complain."
Fifty years ago it was Gary Player who won. "They say Arnold Palmer gave me the 1961 Masters by double-bogeying the 72nd hole. In fact, Arnold wouldn't have had a chance had I not double-bogeyed 15. Writers place too much emphasis on the last hole."
Charles Coody was a surprise winner in 1971.
Tom Watson nipped Nicklaus by two shots in 1981 and said, "It feels great to beat the top player in the game over the last 20 years. I'd be lying if I said that didn't make any difference."
In 1991, Ian Woosnam won the Green Jacket and he humbly said, "Never, ever, in my heart did I ever feel I would be part of it."
And 10 years ago, Tiger Woods won his fourth consecutive major championship. Afterwards, Woods' swing coach Butch Harmon summed up the significance of this masterful performance. "What this is, is something no one who has walked this planet has ever done before."
Who knows what the story will be on Sunday night? One thing is for sure, every Masters takes on its own personality. And it's going to create an incredible memory for all golf fans.