March 29th started like any other Spring day in Minnesota...with snow. I looked out the window at my neighbor’s dog taking a dump in my yard and thought, 'This sucks. What a sucky place to live.' We packed up the car and drove to Grandpa and Grandma’s house for Easter Weekend. There was no snow down there. Maybe I’d get to golf?! I allowed the slightest bit of hope to creep into my skull.
We pulled into town and my fantasy world nearly exploded. Literally. Okay, not literally, but I checked my email at the gas station and there was one titled "Augusta Badge for Thursday and Saturday." My heart went from mellow to HELLO! in 1.2 seconds. WHAT?!?!?! Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe.
I checked the "Sender" and saw who the message was from—my good friend and media legend Ann Liguori. I knew then it wasn’t a prank. She’d never do that to me. She knew how much a Masters opportunity would mean to me. I was in Mexico with her a few months back and someone in our group asked (if given the choice) if we’d rather play Augusta National or go to The Masters. My answer had evolved over the years to playing instead of watching, mostly because my son developed into a prodigy and my dream became one of playing Augusta National with him. (Yeah, right...I know.)
Anyway, since I figured neither would ever happen I didn’t really give an answer—I just said, "Never done either. Probably never will." I distinctly remember Ann saying something about this being her 20th consecutive year of covering it for CBS and I thought—"Dang, some people have lived life!" (That’s just scratching the surface with her! Her life is a book that needs to be written!) Turns out, Ann remembered my answer, too. In an extremely generous gesture by both her and her husband, they asked if I could make it down to Georgia for a couple rounds of golf. Hmm...
I wanted to scream yes back in my email, but ALL CAPS is considered rude. I wanted to call her, but was afraid that screaming over the phone would elicit an equally negative response. And then I thought about it. How in the world was I going to do this? My wife was teaching all week, we had no one to watch the kids, and it was 1,295 miles from my front door to Augusta National (roughly a 20-hour drive, each way).
These were obstacles I couldn’t really explain to someone else without getting a back-alley beating, but they were VERY real obstacles to us in this particular financial point of our lives. I’d sold my left...umm...well...let’s just say I’d traded away all my valuable assets years ago for diapers. Other than my wife and kids I had nothing of redeemable value left. I started looking into flights and hotel options, but everything was stupid expensive. The only way I could afford to do this was if I could do it for less than $500. (Yeah, right...I know.) When you have four kids and one full-time income you have to shelve a lot of dreams. Was I going to have to shelve this dream too?
"Nope," my wife said. "You’re going."
"Nope," my parents agreed, "We’ll help however we can. You’re going."
My 5-year-old offered me the $4 she got from her Easter Eggs: "Here, Daddy." (Thanks Mini!)
I knew I couldn’t go on Thursday. Want to, or not, there was no way to pull it off. It also would have been somewhat greedy for me to take BOTH rounds Ann was offering, particularly if it meant someone else with dreams like mine not getting to go. It physically hurt me to text the words, "I can’t go Thursday," but I did it and forced myself to press send. "Fingers crossed on Saturday," I continued. Ann understood. She knew what my daily life consisted of better than most. She knew about my 10 p.m. to 2 or 3 a.m. writing hours because of the juggling act the rest of my life was. She replied with a thumbs up.
Long story short, with a generous $150 slightly-early birthday (and 20th wedding anniversary) gift from my parents, I figured out a way to make it work and stay under $500 (from my own pocket) for $650 total. I would fly to Charlotte for $165, then on to Atlanta for another $90. (Cursed weekend flight rates!) I’d rent a car for $75, sleep at the rest stop outside Augusta, attend the Masters on Saturday, then sleep in my car again Saturday night, fly to Kansas City Sunday morning for $80 and then to Minneapolis for $130—be back home by the time Masters coverage started at 1 p.m. I figured gas would cost me $25. Running total: $565. That left me $85 for 5 meals. (I can do this!) I spared Ann the insane details and texted her back the next morning. "I’ll be there." She replied a few minutes later with an enthusiastic thumbs up.