When I was a kid growing up in Thomson, Ga., only 30 miles west of Augusta, the Masters seemed as if it were a universe away. One day, though, the director of the tournament's scoreboard operations, R.B. Baker, walked into my dad's clothing store, struck up a conversation with Dad and mentioned that he was looking for junior golfers to help man the scoreboards. I got a job.
I was stationed by the green at the par-3 16th. I worked that same spot for three years, until I graduated from Thomson High in 1986.I usually took the morning shift, from seven to noon. In the afternoons I would watch the leaders play.
The best day was Sunday in 1986. When I finished working, Jack Nicklaus had played eight holes and was five shots out of the lead. A friend and I picked him up on the back nine, and I'll never forget the crowd's roar when he made eagle at the 15th. We ran to the 18th to get a good spot and on our way caught a glimpse of Nicklaus at the 16th, where he almost made an ace. He did make birdie there and went on to win his sixth green jacket, at age 46.
From my perch at number 16, I often made a mental log of what players did. I got my first chance to test my own skills at Augusta National as a college freshman at Georgia, thanks to an invitation from greenkeeper Walker Swain. The day I played, I had a 102� fever, but I wasn't about to give up what I thought would be my only opportunity to play the course.
I've played Augusta a few times since, but it was hard for me last week not to be starry-eyed at my first Masters. When I got to the 16th tee in the first round and saw a red -I by my name, it gave me goose bumps just thinking about the person who had posted my name.