I started playing golf in 1996, at age 20. I know what you’re thinking—that I was influenced by Tiger Woods. Not so. I was actually trying to impress a girl—my future wife. You see, I could hit the ball 300 yards and straight. I couldn’t do anything else right, but dang could I drive that ball, and that was before they started putting steroids in golf balls.
I’d played a few holes before 1996, with my Great Uncle Bob and Grandpa Gramstad. They were both huge Arnold Palmer fans, so I too became an Arnold Palmer fan. He’s really the only golfer I knew of growing up—not because I wasn’t interested in golf, but because I lived in Africa until I was 18, and we had less grass there than they have in Bakersfield, Calif.
The first Masters I ever watched was in 1997. Tiger Woods won that with a golf display I couldn’t believe. That guy could hit the ball 300 yards AND hit his irons, wedges and putter well. There was actually more to golf than just being able to hit a long ball! Wow! Tiger Woods kept me in golf. From that point on, I had a yearning to go watch that tournament live (in person). Yes, I was going to the Masters!
I learned over the next 20 years, 11 of which I’ve served as a golf journalist, that a Masters ticket (badge) is not something they just hand out. You have to either be wealthy or somebody important to get a Masters badge. I was neither. Two years ago I came to terms with the fact that I was probably NEVER going to get to go. I’d been invited to several practice rounds over the years, but that always felt like settling...like going to the Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas instead of Paris. I wanted to go to the "real thing."