Scanning the first-round Masters pairings sheet like a diner with a menu, I selected Group 24, the 12:35 p.m. starting time, a tasty-looking combination of Andres Romero, Boo Weekley and Chad Campbell. I was about to have the most involving spectator experience of my life — but it ended in disgust.
Campbell, as you may recall, birdied the 1st hole — and the next, the next, the next and the next. While we watchers got a little verklempt at this display, the moonfaced Texan remained cool, playing away from sucker pins on 6 and 7, managing a great two-putt on 10 and saving par on 11 with a 10-footer. As the afternoon deepened, dozens of newbies joined his gallery, red-faced and breathless. Could the tournament leader get it to six under?
He could, and did. Laser-guided irons on 12 and 14, and feathered pitches on 13 and 15, yielded short birdie putts. As he holed them, spectators punched the air on behalf of the stoic hero. Campbell was through the looking glass now, nine under after 15. Three pars would tie the course record of 63. Then he hit it to about 12 feet above the hole on 16, and we knew that the lowest-ever score in the Masters was possible, even likely.
The standing ovation as Campbell ambled past the reflecting pond to the bean-shaped green became a churchlike hush. Campbell prepared to putt. Suddenly, into the silence, from the bank of spectators came a loud voice: “COME ON, CHAD. LET’S GET IT TO 10, BABY!” And just like that, the moment was lost, the mood was broken, the magic flew away. Campbell barely two-putted. He hooked his drive into the pines on 17 and bogeyed, then bogeyed 18 as well. In the end Campbell produced a rarity — a disappointing 65 at Augusta National.
What happened? Spectators singing solo between points in tennis or between shots in golf often evoke an amused reaction, but this patron got no laughs. Just as there’s an etiquette to being around a pitcher in the midst of a no-hitter, there’s one for the golfer going very low. You don’t talk about the thrilling possibilities and you don’t insinuate yourself into the outcome from the sidelines. And you consider the stakes: This was the Masters, not the frickin’ FBR Open.
They were pulling for you out there, Chad, a reporter said in the aftermath. Campbell nodded. “Yeah, I heard ’em.”
He probably wished he hadn’t.