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Tiger Woods' first Masters was the last for his caddie at Augusta National that day

Chatting with Tommy Bennett, who caddied for Tiger Woods when he played the Masters for the first time.

There’s no Magnolia Lane at this Augusta, no meticulously manicured grounds. The nearest Amen Corner is Bethel Apostolic or Bayvale Baptist.

This is Augusta Municipal Golf Course, not the of the home of the Masters. Still, the pro shop here gets its share of confused callers.

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“We have tons of people call, and they just want to know the address so they can come in and buy some merchandise,” said Andre Lacey, the burly, dreadlocked club pro at the course nicknamed the Cabbage Patch. “They get here and it’s like, ‘This isn’t Augusta National.’ So, sorry.”

There’s history to the place, nonetheless, even with fairways mottled green and brown, and its no-frills clubhouse. On a weekday, playing 18 holes here costs $26 (with cart). This is everyman golf, five miles south of the world’s most exclusive country club.

It’s also a favorite hometown hangout for Tommy Bennett, a lifelong caddie, who in 1995 was on the bag for a 19-year-old Tiger Woods in his first Masters. The budding superstar, at the time an amateur, would tie for 41st and make a PGA Tour cut for the first time in eight starts.

The lanky Bennett, who looks younger than his 69 years, was a fulltime caddie at Augusta National for years, later working on the tour for Raymond Floyd, Tommy Aaron, Al Geiberger, Andy North and others. He still caddies on the Web.com Tour, working about 16 tournaments, and plays at the muni course whenever he’s in town.

Woods and his team were looking for a caddie with tour experience and local knowledge, and Bennett checked those boxes. They evaluated him during the practice rounds — reading the greens, club selection, temperament — before informing him the Wednesday night before the tournament that he’d be assigned to Woods for the Masters.

“That was my favorite golf course; I knew all the breaks, bumps and runs,” Bennett said. “On the first hole, he hit it so far up there, he had a sand wedge and missed the green. He chipped it over the green, and I just had a little talk with him. ‘Just stay calm. We all do it. Just chip it back up there. We’ll make this bogey and go on from there,’ which he did. After about the third hole, he calmed down and played some solid golf.”

Woods, who used Bennett only for that tournament, in 1997 celebrated the first of his four Masters victories. He hasn’t won a major championship since 2008 but has contended in the last two, the British Open and PGA Championship. A year ago, he played in his first Masters in three years and wound up tied for 32nd, his second-worst finish at Augusta as a professional. Typically, he’s one of the top story lines heading into the Masters, which starts Thursday. The big question: Will he win another major?

“It remains to be seen,” Bennett said. “If he can do it, he’ll win two or three more.”

Tiger Woods and caddie Tommy Bennett walk a fairway during the 1995 Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.
Tiger Woods and caddie Tommy Bennett walk a fairway during the 1995 Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. (Margret Sellers / Augusta Chronicle)

There’s no question Woods has a robust fanbase at the Cabbage Patch.

“He’s an All-American story,” said John Elam, 85, a retired teacher and school administrator in Augusta who began playing at the muni course when it desegregated in 1964. “He doesn’t have that expectancy to win like when he was in his prime. He’s had a lot of things happen to him, and everybody’s just pulling for him to be successful.”

For Bennett, working for Woods was one of his many career highlights. His caddying career began almost by accident, when he was 11 and barely able to lug a bag. That happened at a third course, Augusta Country Club, which neighbors Augusta National.

“I was just flopping around the course one day, the only guy over there, and this gentleman showed up,” Bennett recalled. “He wanted to go nine holes. The caddiemaster came out and said, ‘Hey, kid, can you carry this bag?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I can go.’ I went five holes, and they had to come out in a cart and bring me and the bag in. That’s how small I was. I couldn’t go no more.”

Bennett still got his requisite $1.50 in pay, and came back stronger a few months later, capable of working an entire 18 holes. That’s not to suggest he immediately warmed to the job.

“I wasn’t good at doing anything, but when I got to the halfway house and got that soda and those crackers, I wanted to get to that 18 and, ‘I’ll see y’all later,’” he said. “I wasn’t into it at the time.”

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As he got older, he grew stronger and more interested in golf. He learned to read greens and eventually got a job at Augusta National. He worked his first Masters in 1966 for Downing Gray, an amateur who made the cut. Bennett was paid a mere $150 for 10 days of work. He stuck with it and continued to get jobs, even after 1982, when players moved away from the tradition of using Augusta National caddies and instead brought their own.

But 1995 was the last Masters he worked. Even though he’s just across town, Bennett hasn’t been to Augusta National in 22 years. He’s crossed paths with Woods every few years on the tour, though, the two exchanging friendly greetings or sometimes a nod.

“I’d like to see him win it again,” Bennett said. “That would take me back in time. Like, ‘Listen, man, I showed this kid this, showed him that.’ And I think he remembers that.”

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