Here’s a question for you. What does Tiger Woods have in common with Bernie McGuire?
Absolutely nothing I hear you laughingly shout. Well, you’re wrong!
This year marks the 27th anniversary that Tiger and myself made our Masters debut. Tiger was the then U.S. Amateur champion, having won the first of what would be three straight championship titles.
Your Aussie-born author was then and still is a struggling 15-handicapper at Crail in Scotland, arriving at Augusta National having been accredited by the Masters media committee to be the first in Masters history to represent the New Zealand Press Association (NZPA). I arrived excited not only to be working in reporting on the efforts of Frank Nobilo but also the four Australians, and each a major-championship winner, in the then 69th hosting of the Masters.
For anyone – player, caddie, patron, or media representative – it’s an understatement in saying a maiden visit to the Masters is something special.
The first impression is the expanse of Augusta National and the second, as everyone will tell you, is how steep the golf course is. I’ve always said the adjoining 10th and 18th holes, if they were snow-covered, would serve as great ‘intermediate’ ski slopes.
In 1995, the Masters media centre was also far closer to the clubhouse and the first fairway compared to nowadays and tucked away, as it is, in the far left corner of the practice range. You could walk out the front door of the ‘old’ media centre and quickly be on the golf course. This week there again is a motorised buggy service in operation to run the media back and forth to the golf course.
Another great thing, and before the opening of the stunning, now state-of-the-art ‘Governor’s-like’ mansion that now acts as the media centre, is that I had a seat in Row A of the old Masters media centre. I was seated in the middle of the row with two Canadian colleagues on my right plus ASAP Sports on the end, and three American colleagues to my left.
One of those Americans was the affable Art Spander. Art’s a great guy, a ‘full-of-beans’ personality even for his very senior age. I was only recently in email contact with him in my role as Secretary of the Association of Golf Writers. However, Art had the knack of getting on the phone to his editor and relaying everything he was going to write or had written. The practice, and Art is not the only one, would drive the pair of New York Post reporters – Mark Cannizzarro and George Wilson, and myself mad, as we’d be saying to ourselves: “Art? Just file your damn copy!”
Ben Crenshaw won that year and was memorable, and highly emotional as he captured a second Masters just days after attending the funeral of his long-time mentor, Harvey Penick.
I am not about to go through each and every Masters but my second Masters in 1996 was special, though also heart-wrenching. Nobilo finished fourth that year and is still the highest finish by a New Zealand golfer in the history of the Masters. I was chuffed to be able to report the news via NZPA, on what was late Monday morning NZ time given the time difference to New Zealand.
It was heart-wrenching because Greg Norman, who I was starting to build a good working rapport with, let slip a six-shot lead to lose by five to arch-foe, Nick Faldo.
Caddying for Norman that Masters was Steve Williams and as Williams made his way from the 18th green, he avoided all approaches for an interview except my own. Many media colleagues have never warmed to Williams, whether he was caddying for Ray Floyd, Norman, Tiger Woods, or Adam Scott. I have nothing negative to say about Steve. We got on well. The number of times we talked about SprintCar Racing, a common passion, I can’t remember.
I look back at the 1996 Masters and also the 2011 Masters, and that was falling into the mistake of writing your victory story before a tournament had ended. However, so confident was I of a Norman triumph, I would have at a guess half the press room at that 1996 Masters also had their copy written, headlining ‘Norman Ends His Masters Drought’ or ‘Norman Delivers a Maiden Masters Down Under’ or similar, and all we required was Norman’s victory remarks. It didn’t happen.
It was also pretty much a mirror late Sunday at the 2011 Masters. Rory McIlroy led the first round by two shots, the second also by two, and the third by four. Again, I had the final round copy all written for the Irish Star, and all I required was McIlroy’s maiden Master’s victory comments. Unfortunately, McIlroy imploded and presented seven other players that Sunday at some time with the lead. Two of those seven were the Aussies Adam Scott and Jason Day, who were in the clubhouse sharing the lead, but Charl Schwartzel birdied the closing four holes to win. McIlroy finished 10 shots back.
The next morning, I joined The Times John Hopkins looking to walk out onto the course, given the media centre had remained open on Monday, and go for a stroll to inspect the area down the left side of 10 where McIlroy had come unstuck a day earlier. We were stopped as we strolled past the now well-forward first tee, by a green jacket member who asked: “Gentlemen, can I help you?”. Knowing what he was going to say, I responded: “We’ve been in the media centre all morning and have come out for some fresh air”. Eleven years after that encounter, I can still vividly recall the highly-polite reply: “Gentlemen! Your media badges are no longer valid on the golf course. Could you please return to the media centre.”
The 1998 Masters was extra special as I had my name drawn to play the course on the Monday following Mark O’Meara’s victory. It was a glorious Monday morning, arriving with borrowed clubs, teeing up and hitting, well trying to hit, to the same Sunday pins. I pared the par-3 12th. My only par of the day. I recall having about a four-feet putt on 17, for what score I can’t remember, but my next putt was 20-feet away. The greens were like putting on a glass tabletop. Some five hours later, I walked off proudly having broke 100. In fact, I shot a 99. True!
Those accredited media attending the Masters, and who are lucky enough to be drawn to play, have to then wait seven years before you can again go in the Augusta lottery. It meant 2006 was my next opportunity though it would be 2008 when Trevor Immelman became the third South African to win the Masters that I received a second envelope in my career with the Masters logo in the top-left corner.
On this occasion, I was drawn to play with good friend and then Daily Record/Sunday Mail colleague Euan McLean. It was more relaxing than in 1998, as we were not rushing to catch a flight. Again, it was a glorious Monday morning though the golf again was not as bright as the day. Importantly, we had fun. Our caddies took photographs and I again broke 100, shooting 95. I was getting better at tackling the Masters host course.
We enjoyed a lovely lunch in the shadow of the Augusta National clubhouse and looked back on a precious opportunity that had been presented to us. Euan headed west on the I-20 to Atlanta and his flight home, and after I picked up Tour Miss, it was back in the rented black Dodge Charger for around a 3-hour drive south-east to Hilton Head for the RBC Heritage.
If asked to single out two ‘Masters Memorable Moments’, the first was 1997 and witnessing first-hand Tiger’s stunning 12-shot demolition to win a first green jacket, and being close at the back of the 18th when he fell into his father Earl’s out-stretched arms. Three years later, I missed my only Masters in the 2000 Masters, and for some reason, I cannot remember, but with Vijay Singh the winner I was not overly disappointed.
The second ‘moment’, and yes by far my favourite, was 2013 and being the first among the media in the Masters Media Centre to shake Adam Scott’s hand as the first Australian in 77-years to be fitted with an Augusta National members green jacket. I had walked all 18 holes some 10 months earlier when Adam had let slip victory at the 2012 Open Championship but to be there at Augusta National and witness first-hand a fellow countryman achieve what so many other Australians had sought so long to accomplish was ‘made the hairs on the back-of-your-neck stand-up’ stuff.
One of my cherished all-time favourite photographs is attending the Australian Golf Writers Association annual dinner later that year in Sydney, and having a photograph taken alongside Adam, who was wearing his Augusta National green jacket.
In recent returns to Augusta, I am always impressed that should I visit the office of Craig Heatley, the Director of Communications at Augusta, here in the office of the New Zealander if that fabulous shot taken from behind Adam, with light rain falling, of him with his arms outstretched with who knows how many photographers in front of him.
Speaking of Craig Heatley, who’s one of the nicest guys you could meet, and also is the Augusta National members champion. He approached me one year at the Masters asking if I would be attending Chairman Billy Payne’s media conference, with the Chairman’s annual conference a fixture on Wednesday morning ahead of the Masters.
I replied I was and he asked if I would ask Billy the first question from the media. There was a little controversy that year involving Augusta National’s continuing ‘buy-up’ policy of all the property around the golf course.
I said: “Of course, no problem”. So, Billy starts talking, and Craig, who is sitting beside him, says “Okay, we’ll take some questions from the media,” and no sooner points in my direction, saying: “Bernie, do you have a question for our Chairman?”
When I worked for the Premier of New South Wales in Australia, and before getting into golf reporting, they had those questions when the full parliament met. They were called a “Dorothy Dixer” and asked by one member of the incumbent political party to the leader of the party and in this case the Premier, that would put the Premier in a good light with his already well-prepared answer.
My last Masters was in 2018 – Masters No. 23 – and while I missed 2019, the world was slapped down early in 2020 by the Covid pandemic. I had attended the 2020 Players Championship in March, with intentions of being at Augusta National but now, here in the week of the 2022 Masters, I’m on the opposite side of the Atlantic and typing this.
Here’s to getting back to Augusta for Masters No. 24 and 25, and maybe breaking 90 on the Georgian golfing gem.