An evening stroll inside the ropes

AUGUSTA, Ga., April 8 — After Zach Johnson won his first green jacket and all the fans had left Augusta National Golf Club, I went for a walk.

I decided to walk the course, not knowing if this would be my only time here. And at sunset, I couldn't think of a better experience to end my week. So I made my way out of the media center and up the first hole, unsure if I was even allowed to be on the course and expecting guards to stop me at any moment. No one was in sight, so I ducked underneath the ropes and headed up the first fairway. I walked the green and surveyed the massive bunker to the left, feeling the sand with my fingers and thinking about Phil Mickelson knocking his ball in there today en route to his triple bogey, and all the players who had found that trap over the years.

I walked to the second hole. Still, no one was around, so I walked down the manicured fairway between Augusta's enormous pines. The second hole is a favorite of mine because of the way the trees frame the fairway, creating a bent freeway toward the green. A man could get lost in the fairway bunker on the right, and some did this week.

At the crest of the hill, I pretended that I was hitting an approach shot. Granted, it was a 275-yard approach shot into a par-5 that I could never hit. Still, it felt good. In the distance I saw a security guard, so I decided to dart right and try to make it to Amen Corner and, perhaps, walk across Hogan Bridge before it got dark. As I walked across the fairways, I kept thinking about all of the past champions here — Snead and Hogan in the 1950s, Palmer in 1962, Nicklaus in 1986, Tiger in 1997, Zach Johnson today. As I got toward Amen Corner, it was buzzing with security guards.

I tried to get around them, but they spotted me and one of them jetted up in a golf cart. I was busted.

"Can I give you a ride?" he asked.

"I'm just taking a walk through the course," I said. "I'm doing a story on the course after everyone's left."

"Well, you're supposed to have special permission, but if you're just heading back to the clubhouse, you can walk."

"OK, I am," I said, but I wasn't. He drove off, and after a few seconds, I made a 180 back toward Amen Corner. In the distance, I saw a security guard standing on Hogan Bridge, my objective, apparently patrolling it. So I decided I would walk up 18 instead and pretend I was a Masters champion walking to the green surrounded by the gallery.

I started on 18 tee and walked up the fairway, the same path I saw Tiger and Johnson walk today, the same path I had seen other champions follow over the years. As I approached the green, I turned back to look at the scoreboard, which was still showing all green numbers, the color for scores over par here.

I still couldn't believe Zach Johnson had held off Tiger Woods on Sunday on the back nine at Augusta. But he did, and I was able to witness much of it and walk the same path he did, something I'll remember for a very long time.

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