What I’m Hearing: Christine Brennan spoke with Tiger Woods after the first round of the Masters and found out why he’s feeling so confident.
USA TODAY Sports
AUGUSTA, Ga. – If you want to watch the Wimbledon finals from the best seats at Centre Court, become friends with the chairman of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. He’s the person responsible for handing out invitations to the Royal Box, where Kate and Meghan sit when they attend the oldest major championship in tennis.
At Augusta National Golf Club, site of this week’s Masters, the most coveted viewing area is not only open to the public, but it’s also organized and governed by the patrons themselves.
Every morning when the gates open at 8 a.m. and fans are allowed on the course, hundreds of people power walk (running is not allowed) across the first and ninth fairways. The mass snakes around the 17th green and 18th tee, then goes past the 15th tee box before proceeding east, down the hill, to one of golf’s shrines, Amen Corner.
Herbert Warren Wind was the first person to refer to the lower half of the 11th hole, the 12th and the tee shot on the par-5 13 as Amen Corner back in 1958 in an article for Sports Illustrated. Every year, it is the spot for momentous shots and epic collapses.
Once there, golf lovers from all walks of life open their green collapsible chairs and set them in neat, tight rows on the gentle slope around the 12th tee.
Here you will see polo shirts adorned with logos from swank private clubs like Maidstone, Seminole and Sleepy Hollow, as well as t-shirts from places like Harley Davidson of Mason, Ohio.
‘The best place to be’
Joan Chittenden, who is 82 and lives in Clemson, S.C., has been coming to every tournament day at the Masters for 60 consecutive years. You can always find her sitting in the back of the seating area behind the 12th tee.
“Don’t tell anybody about this spot because we’ve got enough people,” she joked Thursday morning. “I love everything about this hole. The people, the marshals, the roars that you hear, the scoreboard.”
About eight rows in front of Chittenden, wearing a bright yellow shirt and a black turban, sat Ranjit Mankoo. He lives in England, just outside Bath, and he received tickets to attend Thursday’s opening as a 70th birthday present from his sons.
“This place is amazing. I couldn’t find a single weed anywhere,” he said, marveling at Augusta National’s superb condition. He came to Amen Corner because you can see two greens at the same time.
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“It seems like the best place to be,” he said with a smile.
First come, first served
If you want to place a chair near Amen Corner, there is no need to butter up Fred Ridley, Augusta National’s chairman. It’s open to all, first come first served. There are security officers and a handful of marshals present, but in most cases things run smoothly without them.
For example, almost everyone leaves to watch golf on other holes at some point, but they put a business card or an identifying mark on the back of their chair so they can find it later. While they are away, strangers often sit in vacant seats, but when the owners come back, the squatters smile, get up and go someplace else.
Still, there are a few times each day when having authority on hand is necessary.
At 8:55 a.m. Thursday, a man dressed from head to toe in apparel decorated with names of Las Vegas resorts started pleading with one of the marshals.
“I’ve come all the way from Japan to see Hideki Matsuyama,” he said. “Can you help me get a good seat?”
The marshal explained that all of the chairs directly behind the tee markers had been placed there by patrons very early in the morning. Those people wanted to see stars like Matsuyama close up too.
“Let’s negotiate,” the man said, desperately trying to find a way to get his chair into a prime spot that was already packed.
“My recommendation is to take that one spot that’s open over there,” the marshal said, referring to an opening in the fifth row, slightly to the left of the tee markers.
Realizing that what works in Vegas won’t work on this holy ground, the man removed his green chair from its carrying case, set it down in the vacant spot and headed toward the concession stand.
It’s the little details at Augusta
Spending a day at Amen Corner reveals a lot of things that never show up on the television broadcast.
Unless you are seated near the 12th tee, you will never see the groundskeeper, dressed in a white jumpsuit like the caddies, who picks up the divots and stray pieces of grass on the tee box after each group hits. He also fills the freshly made divots with a mixture of green sand and grass seed.
The TV broadcast also never shows the groundskeeper who races onto the 12th green with a long, thin pole and whips excess sand off the putting surface and the surrounding grass after golfers hit from the bunkers.
Florida’s Richard Burke and Scott Doles have each seen those things because they have been making the pilgrimage to Amen Corner for over a decade.
“Look, this is an iconic place if you are a golf fan,” Burke said. “This is Mecca. The opportunity to come here is a privilege, so you’ve got to take advantage of it.”