What I Learned From My Lottery Round at Augusta National

Getting to play Augusta National is a dream for many, but a reality for just a few


The cruel thing about winning the Masters media lottery is you get three days to think about it. I appreciate your sympathy. The names are pulled on Friday morning and announced around lunchtime. So if you win, it’s on your mind for the next three days as you cover the Masters, the biggest work weekend of the year.

When I learned the good news, I went full Rory in my strategy for the intervening days. Rory has become infamous for cycling through every possible approach to his pre-Masters routine, both mental and physical. Do I talk about this to everyone all day and make it the biggest deal? It IS pretty big! Do I ignore it and focus on work? Do I put it on a pedestal as the greatest gift ever or simply carry on like it will be just another round? Do I hit balls or just show up and figure it out on Monday? Do I try to find Bob Rotella’s phone number?

I decided not to tempt fate by obsessing over all that could go wrong between lunchtime Friday and my lunchtime Monday tee time. Prodded by Andy, I mentioned I had won the lottery at the top of Friday evening’s Shotgun Start. A brief public acknowledgement of my good fortune, and then it was back to the Masters.

What followed is, I think, what has had the greatest impact so far. The range and number of people who reached out expressing how happy they were for me continues to be moving. We just made a quick mention of it on the podcast before moving on to the far more consequential golfers and rounds. I guess I should have expected some kind of response, but for me it has been powerful. I will never forget just how happy people were for me. It came from family and close friends, of course. It came from many colleagues in the media center who had seen the published list. I remember each one. It came in messages from people I don’t know. It came from ANGC members who know and cherish what they have. It came from people who will probably never step foot on the course. It was an incredible range of people who were just so happy for me. I felt unworthy of it, more than I did of the little old tee time itself! Hearing others express happiness for me is what had me emotional as I walked around all weekend at the tournament, more than any anticipation or anxiety about getting to play. 

I will now attempt to connect my experience receiving the most exclusive invite in golf with some sort of wider point on how the communal nature of the game really makes it what it is. You can let me know if I make it across the tightrope.

I thought a lot about why so many people were so happy for me. Clearly, it had a lot to do with my good fortune. But they also understood and immediately recognized that fortune, the same way we can relate to a shank, a great shot, or even the “‘when will you be home?’ text from a significant other on the 13th tee box” that fuels half the golf Instagram accounts. No two swings are the same, and you play a hole or shot differently every single time, no matter how often you encounter them. But there is a common understanding in all of it, from a round at the Old Course or Pebble Beach to a hole-in-one at your local muni. Golf is a solitary game but it is a shared experience. 

In a Sunday morning ESPN video essay, Adam Scott said of the green jacket, “It’s this mythical thing—something rarely seen but everyone knows about.” The same could be said of a tee time there. Both those who have played Augusta, and the many more who have not, understood the meaning of my great fortune. It was not lost on me, and of course I was grateful, both for the chance to play and for the support from those who were happy I got that chance.

I’d like to think I made the most of the opportunity. It was as special of a day on the golf course as I have ever had. If it’s not my favorite round ever, it is certainly up there. The good fortune was multiplied when I found out I landed a tee time with Chris Solomon of No Laying Up. Our careers mostly overlap, and I still remember our friendship beginning with some middle-of-the-night messages on Tom Watson’s captaincy during the 2014 Ryder Cup. I will now always remember him being the one to break the news to me that my name had been pulled and posted, asking me if I had plans on Monday. At about the same time three days later, we’d be sitting across the street in the strip mall church parking lot waiting for our set time to drive down Magnolia Lane and drop our bags in Craig Stadler’s locker in the Champions Locker Room. 

I hit the ball great, for me. The member tees, as you likely know, present a different test, and many of the bunkers are easily carried. I stayed in just about every hole, trying to work shots to different spots, recover, and hang on for dear life around the greens, which were firm and fiery and set up with the Sunday pins. I got Augusta’d at 9, where I drove it to the crosswalk, hit a wedge up that came back below the hole on the right-front edge of the green, then hit a putt that went halfway to the hole and all the way back down to the fairway. I thought I’d hit two good shots to get to the green and instead walked off with a triple bogey.

It sure was an exhilarating and enjoyable triple, though, and emblematic of the day. Even the weaker player can work it around there and feel like they’re playing pretty well while posting a double or triple. I didn’t think I really made a mess of any hole, except 11. That was a disaster. I wouldn’t consider what I did to be “playing” the hole, more just puttering around in the trees before tapping in with a triple. My visit to Amen Corner was perfect for being both disastrous and triumphant, and I’m not sure I’d want it any other way. The 12th was a high towering shot off the left field wall that came bounding down back into Rae’s Creek, less the result of an overclub challenge and more just a hideous yank. But there was incremental improvement throughout the visit to Amen Corner, as I went 7-5-4. I will take that birdie on 13 with me forever.

I remember every shot and exactly how I made the pars, doubles, and those triples, too. You can justifiably suggest the hype around the Masters is treacle, that the exclusivity and sentimentality around Augusta National is overwrought. But it is one of the greatest courses in the world and a canvas for our memories. To use Adam Scott’s framing, the “mythical” nature of the course meant I knew every hole in advance, and that would always make it light work to mentally memorialize exactly how I went around each of them. Guiding me throughout was my caddie, Bussey, who has looped there for more than three decades. He was the best company and a skilled sherpa, directing me to lag it to some spots that I had not contemplated. As a general tick, I would ask him how he was doing, and his response every time was, “About the same.” I would laugh each time. I finally asked him what precisely he meant by that and he said, “No point in being down or negative.” So I inferred that “about the same” meant Bussey is often up.

The course is the main character with a chance like this, but Bussey was one of the people that made the day even better. Another was Soly, a great friend whose work ethic and career I admire. I’ve played golf rounds and attended many pro events alongside him. They’ve all been a dream but this one certainly tops the list. I felt fortunate to get to make those walks off tees with him. When I made the birdie at 13, I grabbed him like we’d just clinched a point in Ryder Cup four ball. It was a blast getting to watch a friend, and a friend who can really play, get to experience this. I was so happy for him. 

Which brings me back to this shared experience as golfers. Getting to play Augusta National is not something that most can relate to, but the opportunity and course are known. There is a common understanding. Golf can be played in different ways in different places, but there is still a universal language. Perhaps the current disenchantment with the pro game lies at least partly in the way that it keeps moving further and further away from that language.

I did not win the lottery last year, but I was ecstatic that Andy got in and could not wait to hear all about it (even the backboarding, which I was keen to avoid this year). I wasn’t sure if I would ever play Augusta National, and certainly didn’t expect to. But I was happy he got to. This year, on Friday night, I saw our photographer Cameron in the middle of the Press Building. He is the best colleague you could ask for, working the hardest of anyone and completely unassuming. He didn’t win the lottery. He might not have entered, perhaps partly because he had been wanting me to win, was happy I’d won, and was thrilled that Andy and I were getting to play in consecutive years. 

When it comes to a chance like this, “deserve” has got nothing to do with it. There is no line to queue in. But the delight from those around you, and for you, is something I had not prepared myself for. Whether it’s holding yourself to a high standard at work or as a parent or as a friend, we are hard on ourselves. On the more daily and far more mundane matters, this was a good reminder to be selfless enough to be happy for others and to be grateful for those who care enough to be happy for you.

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