There are so many ways to Augusta, as many routes as there are golfheads. Ben Crenshaw and his faithful sideman, Carl Jackson, have a new book out, “Two Roads To Augusta.” You know the broad outlines. Ben, out of Austin and the country club there, with Harvey’s Texas grip and Jack’s blonde mane, a prosperous son of the Eisenhower era. And Carl, with dark skin and his white jumpsuit, who made a life for himself on the other side of the service fence, working with his Augusta brothers and kin, a dispenser of advice and a keeper of secrets, a man tall always but particularly in the Sunday afternoon storms. Together they won twice. Nice title.
How about the road this 14-year-old kid, Guan Tianling, from China, took to get here? We don’t really know it all yet. Someday, maybe, he’ll get the Tiger treatment and we’ll know how he came by his name and we’ll see pictures of the red-dirt roads of his mother’s girlhood, or whatever it might be. For now it’s a guess, but the kid’s English is beautiful and everybody says his chipping game is out of a golfing dream. It’s probably true. The point is, he got himself in the field. He got himself to Augusta, to a nine-hole practice round with Tiger, to the Crow’s Nest, the attic crawl space — Amateurs Only! — where Tiger logged some nights, and Jack and Ken Venturi and Bill Campbell. Bill who? Campbell. A Hall of Famer. A gent. A pilot who flew here, back in the day, in a single-engine prop plane from a mountain airport in West Virginia, his golf bag riding shotgun.
Brandel Chamblee was in the paper the other day (OK, the mag), talking about his way here. Same for you as it was for me and everybody else who grew up in the days when motels still advertised their color TVs. He watched the ’75 Masters on CBS. Whatever your first glimpse of Augusta was, a dead-lock bet was that the TV was tuned to CBS. The whole world sees that telecast. The Masters on TV makes the losers more compelling than the winners, or it does for me: Ed Sneed, Tom Weiskopf, Len Mattiace, Scott Hoch, Curtis Strange, King Louie (he’ll get his), Greg Norman, Greg Norman, Greg Norman. Ernie. Ernie’s back, courtesy of Lytham. That’s a circuitous way to get here, and a damn good one. If you’re not rooting for Ernie, better see your heart doctor.
Dr. Bob Jones IV, a psychologist and grandson of the namesake, made his first trip to Augusta when he became legal spectating age, 12 by unwritten rule then. It was 1970. Billy Casper’s year, and Gene Littler’s, too. Ninety-holes, no green coat for The Machine. But what a swing. Jim Mackay, a son of the South, made it to Augusta by way of his right shoulder and a keen eye. Does Sir Nick know the course better? Not likely, but he got to Augusta by way of Five Fundamental’s, Hogan’s fairways and greens, fairways and greens. And they say you have to be a smash-and-grabber to get yourself a coat. It’s not true. It’s never been true. But it’s been repeated some, hasn’t it? Pre-game, it’s all about myth and ghosts. Come Sunday, it’s Charlie Coody or Larry Mize or Mike Weir or Zach Johnson. Unless it’s Bubba.
I’ve come to Augusta every which way, and this is being typed on a U.S. Airways flight, Philadelphia to Columbia, S.C., 75 miles to Magnolia Lane, or 75ish. I could Mapquest it but what would be the point? There’s too much precision these days and the lane’s off-limits anyhow. I’ve flown to Augusta, to Atlanta, to Charlotte. Once, I came by private plane, not for the Masters for a two-day go as an actual guest. The plane was cramped and rattling and we flew through a storm — the pilot, the one pilot, was pure cowboy — and the other man in the plane was chain-smoking and drinking hard. A van from the club picked us up at Daniel Field in Augusta and deposited us beside the covered porch.
I’ve driven from home and from north Florida, the backway, through Bamberg, S.C, hometown of the great Mookie Wilson, through the spooky, vast Savannah River Site, a nuclear power plant where your cell-phone reception disappears and the night is so dark you’re thinking not about Jack and Gary and Arnold on that first tee but, rather, the end of the world as you know it. How you feeling anyway?
In the daylight, pretty damn fine, right? You can complain about this and that (the game has more clutter in it than it ever has), but this is an unmistakably great time in the game. Tiger, Rory, Phil. Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald. Adam Scott, K.J. Choi, Ryo Ishikawa. The kid from Italy, the kid from China, the kid from nowhere — well, somewhere — who will play his way into the U.S. Open in June at Merion.
You need 10 weeks, from the Masters to the U.S. Open, a month or so to process the one and a month or so to anticipate the next one. The Players will always get lost in that stretch. Carly Simon had it right, the whole anticipation thing. The lusciousness of the Masters is that we all have a route to it, player and fan, and we wait for it like Mookie used to wait on hanging curves. September, October, November, December. Is April ever going to come? January, February, March. The wait, the wait. April’s here. Columbia, S.C., is coming into view. Augusta is down the road, a straight shot on I-20 West. CBS, Golf Channel, ESPN. Golfweek.com, golfchannel.com, golf.com. It’s all good. Here comes Arnold. Here comes Jack. How you feeling now?