Amen to a good ending

Published 2:49 pm Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I wasn’t in church this past Sunday, but I was sitting in the “Amen Corner.”

The music was provided by chirping birds and the roar of the crowd.

The stained glass in the background was the mosaic of colors provided by azaleas and dogwoods.

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It was the final day of the Masters Tournament in Augusta; one of the premier sporting events in the entire world.

The day began long before dawn as my brother, Ernest, and I awoke at a friend’s house on Lake Sinclair. There were seven of us, all good friends, from Iowa, California and our host who is an Englishman that has long called Atlanta home.

It was my first time to visit Lake Sinclair, a Georgia Power lake near Milledgeville. There were many twists and turns on the roads leading to the house, so many that our GPS had not mapped many of them. That may help explain how we found ourselves at the dead end of a road before dawn without a clue as to how we got lost.

We arrived at our base, which was the Augusta Country Club, a course even older than Augusta National. It was founded in 1899 and is where Bobby Jones played golf during the winter as Augusta is about 10 degrees warmer than Atlanta. From there we took a shuttle to the Masters, bypassing the thousands of cars parked in every conceivable location near Augusta National.

We hit the gift shop first since it was an hour and a half to the first tee off. I am always amazed at the crush of people buying hats and shirts of every imaginable color just to get the little emblem of the United States with a golf flag that is the symbol of the tournament.

Next door there is a UPS station to conveniently ship your items back home if you should happen to be flying. In fact, so many people fly in from around the world that Delta adds extra jets to accommodate the crowds.

By now, there were thousands upon thousands of chairs already set up. Despite the gigantic crowds, they can be left unattended without fear of them being taken or removed.

We settled in just above the green on No. 2, a vantage point that allows you to see several holes at the same time. It is a spectacularly beautiful place made even more so by the efforts of a small army of groundskeepers. Despite pine trees everywhere I never saw a pine cone on the ground all day long.

The grass is like a fine green carpet with a weed simply not allowed anywhere on the property. The azaleas seem to know to always bloom during this week of golf, with the dogwoods floating bright white blossoms in every direction.

Even the towers holding the many television cameras are painted green to blend in with the landscape. In fact, the trademark Masters green color blends in so easily that it is as if nature itself cooperated.

The sandwiches are also covered with a green plastic wrap. I had been thinking about those egg salad sandwiches all week. I don’t know that I ever eat egg salad except when I visit the Masters, but they are just as good as I remembered and a bargain at only $1.50.

It is amazing that a crowd of 50,000 can be so quiet that you could hear a pin drop. They can quickly erupt into a roar in response to a good shot or a groan at a missed putt. The experienced patrons, as the fans are called, know in which direction each hole is located and can judge who is playing well by the distant sounds.

These are people who are seriously into golf while watching the best players in the world. Although I no longer play, you cannot help but appreciate the talent these players have. Time after time they would rescue themselves from the sand traps or the trees with a shot landing within feet of the pin.

Considering the fact that no cell phones, pagers or cameras are allowed on the course, there is really nothing to do but watch golf, talk golf and eat sandwiches. Payphones, almost a relic with today’s technology, are located discreetly along the course if you simply have to contact the outside world.

The leaders did not tee off until after 2:30. Despite all the negative publicity about Tiger Woods, there was an enormous throng of people following him. Crowds 25 deep would circle the greens and fairways for a glimpse of the No. 1 ranked player in the world.

But in the end, it was Phil Mickelson who rose to the challenge despite his own pressures of the past year. With his mother and wife both receiving cancer treatments, it seemed impossible that he could focus under the intense pressure of the day.

His prayers were in fact answered at the same Amen Corner with back-to-back birdies and his calm confident play took him to the clubhouse to claim his third green jacket.

What athletes do in their personal lives may in fact be their own business. But it wasn’t hard to see that this crowd was pulling for this 39-year-old man, whose wife had summoned the strength to be with him in Augusta. He wasn’t alone in shedding tears as the country saw him claim his reward.

Sometimes a story has a really good ending. In this case, I can only say “Amen.”