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There’s something special about the Masters — even for a veteran reporter

There’s something special about the Masters — even for a veteran reporter
Tiger Woods acknowledges the gallery after he birdied the 7th hole during the final round of the Masters in Augusta, Ga., on April 14. (Curtis Compton / TNS)

There’s a saying that sports writing kills the fan in you, and, sadly, that’s often true. In more than 30 years in the business, I’ve witnessed more cool and iconic moments that I can list, and yet I probably haven’t had all the gratitude I should have for it. I love the job, but it is a job, and sometimes it’s easy to bemoan being on the road away from your family, the little headaches and hiccups, the constant deadline. But who are we kidding? In so many ways, it’s an incredible ride, and a life of utter privilege.

But there’s something special about the Masters.

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This year was the first time I had covered or even attended this storied event, an assignment that topped my career bucket list, and it turned out to be a Masters for the ages. Even though 90% of the events I cover are NFL-related, I was at Pebble Beach in 2000, standing at the edge of the 18th green when Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open by a record-setting 15 strokes. I was covering golf (and primarily the Raiders) for the San Jose Mercury News at the time, and I probably didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude of what I was watching. But it’s especially meaningful with the U.S. Open back at Pebble Beach in June, and Tiger in the midst of this incredible comeback.

Back to the Masters. There are certain scenes, flash memories, that stick with me. Here are a couple from Sunday:

As Tiger made his breathtaking finish, and thousands of people clustered around the 17th and 18th holes to witness history, I retired to watch from the members grill at Augusta National, which is maybe 100 steps from the 18th green. Unlike other tournaments, our media credentials don't get us inside the ropes, but they do grant us access to the grill, the men's locker room and elsewhere.

So the grill was filled with about 100 people both sitting and standing, and the energy was crackling among the green-jacketed members of the club and their families, just-finished golfers and theirs, and maybe four or five reporters quietly working the room. Golfer Justin Thomas and his friends were in there, as were Rickie Fowler and his fiancee.

Thomas was coming off a hole-in-one in his final round, had his wallet out and was explaining to the bartender that he wanted to buy drinks for everyone in the place, as is custom after an ace. I was surprised because I didn’t think that tradition stood for a PGA Tour pro playing in a tournament, and the bartender seemed a little taken aback too, because Thomas had to politely explain it to him a couple of times. Maybe that confusion was due to the excitement of the moment, because the anticipation was building and history was in the making.

When it became clear that Woods was going to win his first major championship in 11 years, reviving a career many people wrote off as dead, it also became clear that his family — his mom, two kids, and girlfriend — would need to be in position to greet him coming off the 18th green.

They watched the final round from the grill room too, at a table beneath one of the TVs. Security came and whisked them away down the stretch, with the only remnants at the table being a couple of glass teapots and a handful of Jolly Rancher wrappers. Everyone gave them appropriate space to absorb the moment.

So what makes the Masters different? In a word, everything. The media center is beyond comparison anywhere in sports. It’s massive and luxurious as a Four Seasons hotel, with a restaurant so nice that club members frequently choose to come up there to eat — it’s a two-minute cart ride away from the course, and there are carts shuttling people to and from nonstop throughout the day.

Everyone who works the event seems thrilled to be there, whether their job affords them a chance to see any golf or not, and could not be friendlier. The grounds are maintained so meticulously, the place is like a Disneyland in Switzerland. I can’t remember seeing a bug all week — I’m sure there were some — and despite the bird sounds, I can only recall actually seeing one, on Sunday, when Woods hit out of the pine straw on No. 2.

I wrote extensively during the week about the unique Masters traditions — the cellphone ban, the ritual of the chairs, the giant oak tree under which the green jackets convene — but there are so many more. The fact that nobody has their phones out, no one is doing selfies, I didn’t hear one grating “You the man!” after a player hit the ball.

People were genuinely happy to be there, relishing this special life experience. And I was right there with them.

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