By Alex Myers
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Among the many rules at Augusta National, no one is allowed to run. Not to your seats, not to the bathroom. Not during practice rounds, not during regular rounds. And not even during a sudden-death playoff. A Masters Sunday battle for the ages has just spilled into extra time, and it amazes me that everyone is still obeying this rule. Well, everyone except me.
That’s all a stern female security guard needs to say to get me to slow down instantly. Not that it matters. By the time I get out to the course from the sparkling new media center — which is spectacular, but also located in another zip code — I can barely see anything on the 10th hole. And that’s not even where the action is happening.
Thousands of people line that downhill par 4 hoping the playoff will last longer than one hole. And even more pack the perimeter of the uphill par-4 18th where Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose are set to tee off. I settle into a spot on the right side near the big scoreboard that now reads “PLAYOFF” because if I crane my head just right, I can see the flagstick. I think. But while we wait to see something — anything — there’s the unmistakably ugly sound of a golf ball hitting bark.
Now everyone is scrambling back down the hill toward those trees. It’s a rare semi-chaotic moment at Augusta National where order always reigns. Now other people are running, and I get down there pretty quickly to see a golf ball nestled in the pine straw. But now the question everyone has is Who’s golf ball is it?
Moments later, we see Justin Rose walking toward us.
“It’s Rose’s ball!”
The man screaming in Sergio’s native tongue isn’t Spanish. At times, Sergio Garcia has felt American crowds are against him, however, that couldn’t be farther from the truth now. But the partisan crowd is smart enough to realize that even with Garcia’s golf ball in good shape, this isn’t over.
“We all know what Bubba did. . .” a woman says, referring to Watson’s miraculous wedge in 2012. I sure do. I had a 90-to-1 bet on Louis Oosthuizen that day. Thanks for reminding me, lady.
But Rose punches out, and Garcia hits a great approach shot. At least, that’s what the crowd up by the green seems to indicate.
“Only Sergio can f— this up,” another patron concludes. “Yep,” his buddy responds. No one argues. This is a man who is 0-for-73 in majors, after all.
As word of what’s happening spread, hordes of people from No. 10 start making their way up the hill, making it even less likely to know what’s going on by the green. I find a man standing on a chair (pretty sure that’s not allowed, but he’s getting away with it) who tells me that both players face similar putts to what they had in regulation. But this time, Rose is on in three. “Wait, is Rose on in three or Sergio on in three?” he asks me. I fill him in. Watching in madness like this is truly a team effort.
Rose is going first again, and. . . he misses, this time for par. The prevailing noise is not an “aww,” but the kind of “ohh” you make to express pleasant surprise. The fans are not only rooting for Garcia, but they’re rooting against Rose. Somewhere, Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts are shaking their heads. Sorry, guys, but patrons wearing “Arnie’s Army” pins have now joined the Spanish Armada.
And then I’m told Sergio is about to putt, and. . . “He made it! He made it to win the Masters!”
Usually I’d need to see something like that to believe it, but I’ll take the word of thousands of screaming fans. And the people high-fiving me from every angle imaginable.
“Hall of Fame!”
“Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole. Ole, Ole!”
A mob of us push up the hill, but we are stopped because the players have to walk through.
“I hope he’s crying,” a fan says.
“I hope my wife extended the time on the DVR,” says another.
We don’t come close to seeing Sergio. Or Jim Nantz, who I hear is also making his exit. Then I hear someone explaining who Jim Nantz is. “Have you ever watched the Super Bowl?” A man shakes his head no. “Never mind.”
Even though we’re stuck, the mood is jubilant. It seems everyone was rooting for Sergio to win his first major. Well, almost. I notice two young boys sobbing and covering their faces. A man tries to comfort them.
“It’s OK, he’s still a U.S. Open champ! And a gold medal winner! And he’ll be back next year! And you’ll be here to see it!”
As someone who growing up used to cry every year when the Knicks were knocked out of the playoffs, I know there’s nothing to be done to stop their tears. So they keep sobbing. And we keep waiting.
“Open the gates, me lord!” a brazen patron says.
“I’ve got to pee!” shouts an even bolder one.
Another man predicts the guards letting us leave will bring a bigger roar than Sergio’s winning putt. And when it finally happens, it’s close.
Now free to roam, it’s time to head back to the media center — so I can actually see how Sergio Garcia won the 2017 Masters. And just in case, I’m going to walk.
Main photo by Getty Images