Snoring In Augusta
Every year The Masters breaks my heart. Anyone who enters the ticket lottery, which is properly referred to as the selection process (there are more “properly referred to as” statements regarding The National than you care to know), knows that the chances of winning tickets are not good. I thought about how to qualify not good with a simile or metaphor, but everything pales like, well, I can’t think of anything. And I tried to find the actual odds of winning tickets to The Masters, but alas, Augusta doesn’t traffic in such trivialities. We’ll stick with not good. It’s the rarest ticket in all of sports. Yes, all sports. You have to inherit tickets, or buy them on the aftermarket (which may or may not be legal). Or you have to win the lottery. After nearly two decades of entering the selection process, I was finally one of the elect, God’s chosen, a T.U.L.I.P. among Augusta azaleas.
Sometime in mid-July you get an email from The Masters. It opens with the lines: It’s not you, it’s us.
“We regret to inform you…” You stop reading. You go back to work. You enter again next year. These are the words I read in 2018 while sitting in a staff meeting. That evening, I returned home to my apartment to discover a letter in the mail stating that my insurance had been cancelled (by mistake). I was temporarily without coverage. My god, do they know about my anxiety issues? Then, a text from my longtime friend, Tommy M. (there were three of us in our little kindergarten class: Tommy M., Tommy L., and Tommy B). We were best of buds. Anyhow, Tommy M. texted me: “Didn’t win tickets this year. You?” I pulled up the email that stated “We regret to inform you…” so that I could send him screen shot of “the usual.”
You might have seen those illustrations where sentences are filled with misspelled or incomplete words and somehow your brain still sees what it wants to see and reads the words as though they were all there and spelled correctly? It’s some weird form of cognitive grammar-bias. Somehow, I’d read the words “We are pleased to inform…” as “We regret to inform…”
I won the freaking lottery - four tickets to Tuesday’s practice round. Practice round, you say? Yes, practice round - a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord. Nevertheless, house of the Lord, Augusta, God’s Garden. Hallowed grounds. All I had to do was pay $75/ticket (they “illegally” sell for nearly 2k on occasion, I’ve heard…) and they’d mail the tickets to me in March or so of 2019. You have no idea how many times I proofread the contact info I filled into the ticket purchase form. You have no idea how ordinary the envelope is that contains your tickets. You are thankful that the Postmaster knows it’s a crime to steal mail. It’s so obvious: From Augusta National. To: Tommy Brown. You don’t want to tear the envelope in any way. I kept it, obviously.
Now, whom to bring? (Insert a brief internal dilemma about whether or not to pocket a quick $8k by selling the tickets, followed by the realization that God would send me straight to eternal conscious torment in Hell if I did so - not for breaking the law, but for all those years of nagging for tickets.) This was bucket list material. I only have two items on The List: The Masters and Wrigley Field for a Cubs game where Dunston, Sandberg and Grace (1980’s was the best Cubs squad, am I right?) are playing and drunk Harry Caray is announcing. I was about to check one off in Georgia, and the other on The List ensures I will never die because brother Harry has passed on into the Seventh Inning Eternal Stretch and the 6-4-3 are retired evermore.
The selection process.
Chris Taylor. Easy choice. Dearest friend since we both came to faith at a revival in Pensacola. We were baptized brothers-in-spirit. He’ll officiate my funeral. If I die, he gets my wife and children. He has a wife, so that’s not the point. What I mean is that he has to cut my lawn.
Chris Brown. My brother. Obvious choice. Endured a game I created one Summer where he had to ride around in circles on a tricycle on the concrete slab where we played basketball. He was 5’9” then (age 7 or so). Having become bored of basketball, the new challenge was for me to throw the basketball at the wheels of the trike and knock him off while he looped like a homing pigeon on our concrete court. I did. Second try. He crashed and knocked out a couple of teeth. We took him to the after-hours dentist who sewed him up and awarded me a prize of a new bicycle. I’d won a contest for Florida Smiles. I kid you not - he got stitches and I got a new bike. He got to keep the tricycle. You’re welcome.
Here he is on the cot at The Downtown Marriott in Augusta. A hotel room in Augusta during Masters week is the second most difficult ticket in all of sports. We agreed that Dad and I would take the bed, Chris B. would take the cot and Chris T. would sleep on the couch. I drew the short straw, as you will soon see.
Austin Carty (un-pictured). Third person of the Trinity. Friend from seminary. Loves a good story. Tells a good story. Selected for the story we’d create together. Due to poor planning on his part, he had to bail. By poor planning I mean that he and April did not forecast that the conception of their third child Whit would lead to his delivery at or around the time of the 2019 Masters. You have to think through these things Austin. You’ve done this at least twice before. So, a couple weeks prior, Austin bailed due to his desire to be a good husband. (I cannot claim that I would have done the same.) Man of character, I tell you. Now, a slot opens. Okay, we need to not “unpictured” Austin.
Welcome Tom Brown, my father. Here’s Dad in downtown Augusta. For one week, the city lights up like the Griswold family tree. For one week, restaurants stay open past your grandparents’ suppertime. For two days, my Dad doesn’t have to do anything.
Many claim their father is the hardest-working man they know. False. Dad is. When he’s off, he’s working. He took off a few days from Lowes so that he could join us. He drives a delivery truck. He can operate that little forklift thing and deliver cargo into your garage on a silver dollar. Dad doesn’t watch golf. He might have known one player in the tournament (Tiger, duh). Growing up, when I took up the game, Dad would mow a thirty-yard-wide stretch of power line real estate for a couple hundred yards so that I could practice golf. He has always been all-in on whatever I’m in to.
The moment I invited Austin I regretted not inviting my father. Not because I don’t love Austin. For God’s sake, he was in the top three. My man. My good friend. You get it. We roll deep. I told Austin that I regretted not inviting my father after he told me he was officially making the greatest mistake of his life (second only to the series of unfortunate events that got him voted “off the island” - but he did make it to Tribal Council. Also, the producers do not sneak you any food or toiletries, I asked. You use leaves. Yep.) He agreed - I made a mistake by not inviting my Dad. Austin tells the truth. One reason I love him. Where was I? Oh, yes. I started to pray that there’d be a way Dad could go. Insert the conception of Austin’s son. You’re welcome, Whit. I prayed you into creation.
Anyhow, I knew my Dad - who doesn’t care about golf, remember - should have been there. This wasn’t a golf trip. This was a moment. He honest-to-god cried when I asked him. That’s the man you’re looking at here. Stand in awe. You aren’t the man he is. None are.
But I almost killed him. I knew dad snored, but I had no idea that any human or other animal had the respiratory capacity to produce such a diabolic concoction of treble and bass. My god, it was horrific. No cpap machine. No awareness that he stops breathing every minute or so for a second or so. And at one point, honest to god, I thought he was dead. And I’m ashamed to admit I was temporarily relieved by the thought that by his untimely passing I might get an hour of sleep before the biggest day of my life: Tuesday at The Masters. I needed to be fresh, on point and on par, and here was this bear of a man grizzling his way through the night while the rest of us - and to be certain, mostly me due to proximity - marveled at this monstrosity.
I called the front desk: “Do you have another room?” It’s 1am, mind you. “Sir, you are aware it’s Masters week.” “Yes, ma’am, I’m aware. We’ll pay whatever it costs.” Radio silence. She’s back: “Sir, what I’m telling you is, we have no more rooms. It’s Masters week.” I consider my options. Sleep in the truck. Sleep on the sidewalk. Sleep in the hotel gym on a yoga mat. “Ma’am, I understand. Just, just listen to this…” I put the phone near my Dad’s mouth. “Can you hear that? That’s what I’m dealing with. Ma’am, we share the same issue. It’s Masters week. I have to sleep. He won’t stop…wait. He just stopped. He just stopped breathing…nope, he’s back. All I’m saying is that you might have a homicide on your hands, and you can tell the cops what happened. I smothered my Dad with a hotel pillow.” She laughed. I wasn’t joking.
Dad was totally unaware. He awoke the next morning fresh as an Easter Lilly. He joked en route to The National that he was going to write a song called Snoring in Augusta. He told that joke several times. He was the only one in on the joke. I was still premeditating suffocation-via-pillow. I knew we had one more night to go.
The Universe balanced itself as we found a parking spot close to the entry. We huddled in the rain beneath a tunnel with a score of other wide-eyed wonderers awaiting the gates to open. Everyone was juiced. The locals told stories about watching Arnie and Jack. About the grass. The pimento cheese sandwiches. About how the first thing you want to do is go to the Gift Shop and buy your souvenirs and then check them at the Station where they’ll be held for you until after the round. “They’ll even let you ship them home from the Station,” they say as though this was a vaccine to eradicate an epidemic. They were not ill-grounded in their excitement. You want to enter the course with open-hands.
And, I did. I think I lifted both of them into the crisp Augusta air and praised God From Whom All Blessings Flow. Mist hovered just a half lob wedge above the most beautiful dew-drenched turf you’ve never seen. I thought it was fake, especially after the torrent of rain the course had received that week. It was possible that they wouldn’t even open the course on Tuesday due to conditions. At least that’s what the fear mongers broadcasted on the radio. But the grounds crew didn’t get the message. There wasn’t a bad blade of grass. Not a weed to be seen. No pine cones, anywhere, amidst a cathedral canopy of the most glorious trees to ever declare God’s goodness, so that man is without excuse to believe.
I stood there for a moment, not sure if I wanted to enter in or just stand there, awestruck like a Titleist by a Tiger stinger. We broke the veil. We walked Amen Corner. I prayed The Rosary. My brother snapped photos from a small camera, the kind you buy en route to your child’s birth before cell phones are a thing. You can’t bring cellphones onto the grounds. There are phones with chords near the twelfth green snack bar if you must transgress the holy hush and check in at the godforsaken office. Why would you do that? You’re at Augusta you idiot. I digress…
Pimento cheese. Honest to golf-gods, I’m not sure what the big deal is. If you want diarrhea, there are better times to inflict yourself. I’m sure it’s just me, but after one bite, I could tell everyone: “You gotta eat the pimento cheese” and not spend the rest of the day in the bathroom.
The bathrooms. My god, the bathrooms. The most well-oiled machine you’ve never ridden in. A young man stands at the end of the long line of pissers-by and says with confidence and a smile: “Two stalls to the left; three to the right; one is open over here…” That’s the spirit of Augusta. Everything is right. You’re in and out in under two minutes, and I’m telling you, with that much cheap beer flowing through rich folk, there is a small choir of sinners waiting to baptize those holy thrones. Dozens. I’m not being hyperbolic. But somehow, you’re back on the course just in time to hear a murmur: “Tiger is on the driving range.”
Forget that guy who qualified via an amateur tournament who wants to be Bobby Jones who is about to tee off. With all due respect, forget every other big name on the course. Tiger hasn’t won anything worth remembering since, well, you remember. Tiger is on the range, and you go to the range. And you find a great seat with Chris T. And you comment one to another: “It looks like Old Tiger. The way he’s smiling. The way he’s leaning on his club mucking it up with the young guys.” You capitalize Old Tiger out of reverence for when he dominated the sport. Honest-to-god (I realize I keep invoking the divine, but that’s what you do at Augusta). You could see it. I even posted on Facebook about it prior to his victory. Tiger would win. And, he did.
But Tiger didn’t play that Tuesday. He had the Champions Dinner to prepare for.
The day slurred along. We walked I don’t know how many miles, and this is the most undulating course you’ve never seen. My brother on a bum knee. My father on knees that rarely get a day off. Me, floating above the ground. I never wanted it to end. But at some point, they make you leave. And our foursome headed for the exit, but I couldn’t leave just yet. I had to stand there near the first tee gazing into the middle distance. I can feel it now. The warmth upon my shoulders. The glaze upon my tear-filled eyes. I knew I’d probably never be back.
So, I made them wait a little longer to leave while I went into the Gift Shop once more. I spent more money. Lots of more money. I bought everything with Yellow United States of God Bless America and a flagstick on it.
I remember the idyllic azaleas along the path leading to our truck. I remember the meal I shared that night with my Dad, brother and dearest friend. I remember the second verse of Snoring in Augusta. And, if you know me, you know that I don’t remember anything. That’s why I write this down. Because I don’t want to forget the two nights I wanted to suffocate my Dad. And, I don’t want to forget the two days I got to spend with my Dad. And my brother. And my dearest friend. Bucket List.
This past week, another email: “We have completed the selection process for 2020…and regret…”
I read this year’s email twice.
We’ll always have Snoring in Augusta.