(This is not me)
River has been a caddy at Augusta National for 60 years. He started when he was 16 years old. He has caddied for President Dwight Eisenhower, John Elway, Peyton Manning, Gary Player…and me.
Well, not just me exactly. He’s a part timer now and was assisting guest golfers during Hospitality Week, which I was able to attend at the invitation of my sainted brother Tom.
“Nice to meet you River. First time I’ve ever met someone named River.”
“It’s my nickname” said River proudly through five teeth.
“What’s the back story?”
“I just flow.”
Here was a nice man in his seventies who is enjoying his semi-retirement. Someday, perhaps, I’ll flow as well, I thought.
Today would not be that day. I’ve never really been one to flow. I’m more of a lurch forward, suddenly stop, reconsider, double back, start over kind of guy.
And did I mention I was about to play Augusta National? I know, I know, it’s a bit unbearable.
Nonetheless, River offered some soon-to-be-unheeded advice.
“Just remember, you ain’t got no power over this course. Take it as it comes. Glide. You know. Flow.”
“Um. Okay. Thanks a lot River.”
“You about to play heaven.”
Suddenly it dawned on me. God didn’t want me to play. That explains my harrowing ordeal the day before. When I boarded my plane in Dallas, I was seated next to a Kenny Chesney looking fellow in an Affliction T-shirt who had smuggled a carton of Chili’s honey-chipotle, buffalo fried, southwestern chicken egg rolls onto the plane. I’ve never quite understood the context of a t-shirt that reads “Affliction” but about thirty minutes after his meal, found it to be a warning of sorts.
God then diverted my plane from Charlotte to Nashville and I missed my connection to Augusta so we drove through a torrential hailstorm to arrive at 11:30 the night before. Never one to be outdone where I am concerned, the devil dutifully delivered my clubs to the Augusta airport at midnight. We caught a scant 4 hours of sleep before heading to the course.
I woke up without a hint of fatigue. I knew right then it was going to be one of those days that no matter how much you tried to slow it down, you felt as though you were living in fast forward. I figured I was only going to come this way once in my life……so I might as well be as obnoxious as possible.
“Good morning!” I said to my first human encounter. “I’ve got a big day ahead of me….you know…playing Augusta National….”
“That’s nice…just order when you’re ready” came the reply from the drive-thru lady at Chick Fil A.
I was in fine mettle, but still, I was wary. You see, I’ve never really fit in with the “grip it and rip it, get up, get down, turn, fade, sit, hit it Alice” crowd. They’re able to compensate for their lame banter with 300 yard drives. When my lame banter runs dry, I am, as my dad used to call me on and off the course, a “short-knocker.”
Driving down Berckman’s Road I steeled myself for a heavy dose of pretentious prickness. But when we arrived at Gate 2 of Augusta National at 6:30 am, we were met by absolutely, top to bottom, the kindest, most accommodating people on the planet.
When you sit at the pinnacle of the golf world, you don’t have to try to be something you’re not. You know who you are. So you just…..flow.
We were paired with Andrew and Brent. These guys looked, and played, like Rory McIlroy and Jason Day. They walked to the first tee and promptly smoked drives right down the pipe.
I gave the starter my name and he scanned a lengthy list of potential Augusta invitees that probably read:
1. Bobby Jones
2. Jack Nicklaus
2765: The ghost of Sam Snead
37,424: The Choctaw Indian Casino long drive champion
177,289: AJ from Backstreet Boys
Jared Fogle from Subway
741,884: Tim Hoch
I know what you’re thinking. Why does he get to play Augusta? I could kick Tim Hoch’s ass in golf, Mah Jong, beer pong, calculus and backgammon, all at the same time. And you would probably be right.
But tough shit. I don’t make the rules. This was my turn. Besides, Sandra Bullock never even acknowledged my Twitter DM after she broke up with Jesse James, so don’t tell me about getting snubbed. Get over it.
The starter politely motioned me forward and I felt as though I was on the verge of perpetrating the largest sporting fraud since Shoeless Joe. There are some sports pairs that do not go together. Art Briles and ethics. Jerry Jones and humility. My golf game and Augusta National.
I had been anticipating this moment with equal parts excitement and fear for weeks. Now I was just consumed with dread.
My pre-shot thought process kicked in. Head still. Eye on the ball. I wonder if Big Foot is still alive. Wide swing plane. Kiss your left shoulder. Tuck your right elbow. Did I lock the rental car? Left arm straight. Turn over your wrists. Why do some people refer to it as a mute point instead of a moot point? Keep your head down. Finish high.
Then it hit me. Just flow. Hit the ball. Then walk to wherever it landed and do it again. Good or bad. Either way, deal with it.
And that’s exactly what I did. I didn’t lose my first ball until the 16th hole. I took in the azaleas, the blue skies, my newly formed camaraderies. I confirmed that Rae’s creek is not replenished every April with Paulina Gretzky’s recycled bath water (but I took a sip just in case). I stopped and smelled the pine straw which miraculously restored the olfactory nerves that had been burned by the Chili’s egg rolls.
When I finished, I ran in to River again.
“How was it?” he asked.
“No words. Didn’t play too great but…”
“Good. Good. Don’t matter how you played. Did you find your flow?”
“I did. I found my flow.”