There’s something about the second Sunday of April that brings my family together. Memories made at the Masters Tournament over the years bloom back to life as bright as the azaleas that surround the green on #12.
Masters week has been a part of who I am for as long as I can remember, and it all began when my dad became a volunteer for the tournament in 1981. As a golf enthusiast, he was simply hoping to acquire tickets to witness heaven on earth. Little did he know he would end up volunteering as a gallery guard for 32 years.
As kids, Masters week was an annual family vacation for my brother and me. Nearly every year during the second week of April, my parents would pull us out of school, load up the car and drive to Augusta, Ga. Like kids on Christmas morning, we’d be ready before the sun even came up. As we walked into Augusta National through Gate 9, I always felt a spring in my step. I was a girl on a mission. Someone famous was playing the game of his life on #12 and I didn’t want to miss it. As we made our way down to the most picturesque tee box in golf, I could always spot him from afar. There he stood at the tee in his yellow hard hat, perfectly-coordinated attire and one of the 20 pairs of golf shoes he had packed for the seven day excursion. The champion of my heart had saved me a front row seat to witness the greats like Arnie, Jack and Gary. So many Masters Memories have been made while “sitting in the Corner” with my dad.
I still remember sitting on the perfectly-manicured grass in the spectator section on #12 doing schoolwork while waiting for the next pairing to make their way up to the tees during the practice rounds.
Every year, I’d yell “Hook ‘em horns!” to Ben Crenshaw and wait in anticipation for Gary Player to crack a few jokes before hitting his tee shot.
I’ll never forget the year I met Greg Norman. Like most kids there, I was standing by the practice tees waiting for players to walk by and sign autographs when I saw him walk through and make his way to the clubhouse. With my Masters visor and sharpie in hand, I walked up to him and said, “Mr. Norman? Would you sign my hat please?” He snatched them from my hands as he said, “Get that pen outta my face, kid!” Surprisingly, he still signed the hat, just before throwing it back at me and walking off. Needless to say, I have not been a fan of his since then.
In 2009 Chris and I had front row seats during the final round and were spotted on tv when Phil and Tiger came through #12. When we returned to our car, both of our phones had an unthinkable amount of missed calls and text messages from friends. I’d say the Masters connection is one of the (many) reasons why Chris was lucky to marry me.
In 2010, we celebrated my dad’s 30th year as a volunteer—an impressive feat considering that if you miss a year you can’t have your spot back. Little did we know that in 2011, our first child would be born…during Masters week. Once I came to terms with the irony of the timing, I gave my dad permission to miss the birth of his first grandchild so that he wouldn’t lose his volunteer spot. He painted Amen Corner pink that day in celebration.
That decision was well worth it because in 2012, we celebrated Emma Claire’s first birthday in Augusta! Nothing could top the joy that beamed from my dad’s face as he proudly showed off his grandbaby to his “Masters Family” that year. Friends that watched me grow up through the stories and photos my dad shared on #12 every year were able to see the excitement he felt in bringing Emma Claire to her first Masters.
As the toughest ticket in sports, many people spend their whole lives trying to score the equivalent of a hole-in-one. So you can imagine the jealous looks I received when I walked in through the gates with one baby and two tickets. Two days in a row. Like mother, like daughter. She was one lucky kid.
I proudly admit I am spoiled to have so many great Masters Moments from over the years. Although it’s hard to pick a favorite, I will never forget my experience at The Masters in 1995 and 1996—and neither will my dad.
It was the Tuesday practice round of 1995. There I sat with my nose to the rope and my Kodak disposable camera in hand as Fuzzy Zoeller and John Daly made their way up to the tee on #12. Fuzzy was standing with his back to me as he eyed the pin placement when I asked, “Fuzzy, can I get your picture?”
“Sure. Come on our here, sweetheart!”
Wait, what? Walk out there—like on the tee box?! All I wanted was for him to turn around so I could get a good picture! I nervously looked at my dad and asked, “Dad, can I go out there?” My dad shook his head ‘no’ and said, “Absolutely not.” And then he lifted up the rope and winked at me. There I stood at ten years old on the tee of the most famous hole in golf completely naive as to how rare of an opportunity that really was. I handed my camera to John Daly and took my place next to Fuzzy.
“Are you smart enough to know how to work that thing?” Fuzzy shouted.
I thanked Fuzzy and was ready to walk back to my seat when he said, “Don’t you want a picture with him?”
“Well, I guess so.” Fuzzy chuckled as he instructed us how to pose for the picture.
“Alright, Daly. Let’s hope you don’t break the damn thing.”
I thanked them both and hurried back to my seat.
Fast forward to 1996—the year I got Tiger’s autograph (which I still don’t care about), Greg Norman had a Masters meltdown (thank you, karma), and my dad almost got fired.
During Tuesday’s practice round, I brought a copy of my pictures with Fuzzy and John Daly, along with handwritten thank you notes for each of them (my parents taught me well). As they approached the tee, I held up the pictures and yelled, “Hey Fuzzy. Do you remember this?”
His caddy walked over to retrieve the photo and delivered it to Fuzzy, who was standing on the far side of the tee box. As he inspected it, I asked, “Would you sign it for me?” My dad quickly said, “Honey, you can’t ask for autographs on the course.”
Fuzzy shouted, “Oh bullshit, Bob!” The crowd erupted with laughter. And my dad’s face turned as bright pink as an azalea.
Fuzzy pulled out a sharpie and signed the picture, then handed the pen to John Daly who signed the other picture. Then, with sharpie in hand, John walked over to my dad, who was crouching down as low as he could get into the corner, as if he thought he could become invisible. But you can’t hide that bright yellow hard hat.
He pulled the cap off the sharpie and pressed down on my dad’s hard hat leaving his mark in bright. red. ink.
“What are they gonna say about THIS, Bob?” Fuzzy shouted from the tee box.
I’m sure it seemed like an eternity for my dad, but the pair finally hit their tee shots and set off to cross Hogan bridge over Rae’s Creek on their way to the green.
And just when my dad thought it couldn’t get any worse, he turned to see a reporter from The Augusta Chronicle talking to me.
“My name is Amy, and that’s my dad. His name is Bob Marslender. That’s spelled M-A-R-S…” At that point, my dad was likely thinking ‘Oh S-H-I-T.’
The next morning, the front page of The Augusta Chronicle had a picture of Arnie at the dedication of his statue in downtown Augusta. And just below it was the picture of my dad and John.
“This is it,’ my dad thought. ‘I’ll never be allowed to step foot on this course again.’
His autographed hat was replaced with a new one and not a word was said about it the rest of the week. After the final round on Sunday, he made his way back to the volunteer station.
“Badge?” The volunteer director said.
My dad reluctantly handed him his badge before he started to walked off, head hung to the ground.
“Here…take this with you,” the director said as he handed my dad a black trash bag. When he got to the car, he opened the bag to find the autographed yellow hard hat. He was certain it was his parting gift and that Fuzzy and John’s antics (and my big mouth) had lost him the only job he ever truly loved.
He had to wait an entire year to find out his fate from the golfing Gods. Thankfully, he was granted forgiveness as he received his volunteer packet in the mail the next spring.
That infamous yellow hard hat and the two autographed photos still sit in my dad’s office today.
As a kid, I had no idea at the time just how lucky I was to be able to attend the Masters year after year. But the older I got, the more I understood that the Masters really is something special. It is sacred. Or as Jim Nantz once said, it is “a tradition unlike any other.” With traditions like the Tuesday night Champions Dinner, Par 3 Contest, caddies’ uniforms, honorary starters and coveted green jacket, The Masters truly is a tradition unlike any other. And thanks to my dad, it is a family tradition that is passed down from one generation to the next.
I’d give anything to be “sitting in the Corner” this week with the champion of my heart. It is my favorite place to spend time with him.
Even though I am watching the tournament from home this year, I think if I listen closely enough, I will still be able to hear the roar of the crowd on Sunday as the leaders take their final shots on #18 in the hopes of earning that green jacket.