AUGUSTA, Ga. – Augusta National is a place that demands to be taken seriously. You're not allowed to run. If you even look at your cell phone, you can get kicked out. The chairman is to be addressed as "Mr. Chairman," as though he is an important elected official instead of a guy who decides whether to plant more trees on the 7th hole. Women were never invited to join until last year, and that over-discussed issue probably just came down to this: A place is only exclusive if somebody can't get in.
Augusta National demands to be taken seriously despite the fact that it is not really a serious place. It's a golf course. It has a clubhouse and a gift shop, lawnmowers and flagsticks. Yeah, sure, President Eisenhower used to play golf here. So what? Bill Clinton used to pick up girls at Hot Springs High School, and I don't see anybody writing poems about the cafeteria.
Don't get me wrong: I love the Masters. It's a mesmerizing sporting event, and walking the course … uh, I mean the grounds at Augusta National is like walking through an impressionist painting. But it's still a golf course. It's supposed to be a place where you have fun.
And this brings me to my favorite celebrity couple: Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki.
Actually, I don't think I have any other favorite celebrity couples. Rory and Caroline are it. I'm completely devoted to Wozilroy.
Wozniacki, one of the world's best tennis players, caddied for McIlroy, one of the world's best golfers, in the Par-3 Contest at the Masters Wednesday. They did not have to do this. It will only draw attention to their relationship. But this is why they are my favorite celebrity couple: They don't seek the spotlight, but they don't hide from it, either. It adds a layer of fun.
On the ninth tee of the Par-3 course, McIlroy handed Wozniacki a club, and she promptly did her best impression of me. She duffed it.
When she was asked about it afterward, Wozniacki said: "What tee shot? I don't remember that."
She turned to McIlroy and asked: "Do you remember that?"
"I do, actually," McIlroy said. "The divot nearly went further than the ball."
And then they broke up. No, I'm kidding. McIlroy smiled and said: "She wasn't warmed up. They get second serves in her sport."
Will Wozniacki replace his caddy J.P. Fitzgerald?
"Maybe for this day every year, yes," McIlroy said.
Said Wozniacki: "I would say J.P. should be nervous, but the thing is, Rory can't afford me."
The Par-3 contest is the Masters' version of a rehearsal dinner. There is a lot of light-hearted joking around by people in casual attire who don't know each other that well, on the eve of one of the most stressful and beautiful events of somebody's life.
The contest isn't for everybody. Tiger Woods prefers not to play in it, which is fine. But it is perfect for McIlroy. He is a seriously talented golfer. But he is not a golfer who demands to be taken seriously.
Two years ago, McIlroy showed up at Augusta National on Sunday with a four-stroke lead, then melted. He yanked one tee shot halfway to a Waffle House and shot 80. Afterward, he laughed it off. Then he destroyed the field at the next major, the U.S. Open. Last year he blew everybody away at the PGA. And after he famously showed up late Sunday to the Ryder Cup, he won his match.
So when Wozniacki tried to putt on the ninth green Wednesday, missed, and promptly blamed McIlroy, it was not just another adorable moment in their adorable life. It fit him. He has been through some heavy golf stress in the last year — a No. 1 ranking, heightened expectations, a huge Nike deal, an ensuing slump, speculation that he isn't comfortable with his Nike clubs, and the loss of his No. 1 ranking. McIlroy just smiles and lives his life.
"He couldn't blame me for giving him the wrong clubs," Wozniacki said. "It was all his fault."
Of course, I don't know what their romance is really like. And that's the point: They aren't obligated to tell us. But the celebrity aspect is inescapable, whether they want it or not. They have chosen to embrace it. If you follow them on Twitter, you know that they occasionally do things like this tweet from McIlroy …
Happy Valentines Day everyone!! Especially to you @CaroWozniacki!!
… complete with emoticons. Just too cute. A month ago, when McIlroy withdrew from the Honda Classic (and then handled the mini-tempest gracefully), there were rumors the two would break up. McIlroy calmly refuted them. It was another indication that, whatever McIlroy and Wozniacki do, they won't let the media dictate the terms of their relationship.
"It was good to have her out there," McIlroy said. "It was a nice way to spend a Wednesday afternoon. It was her first time at Augusta. I wanted to show her a good time."