(WJBF) – “Maybe it’s time to start thinking about having a baby.” My wife and I were celebrating 5 mostly-blissful years of marriage in the year 2000. We’d reached the point where talks of family expansion and unspoken pressure from in-laws was commonplace. Juli suggested we shift our focus from ourselves to our future. But I wasn’t feeling it. Not yet. I already had a baby and its name was Augusta National.
Broadcast journalism is my lifelong love. My little brother and I used to invite the neighbors over and do newscasts for them. I was 10, he was 6. We’d put on Dad’s ties. We made microphones out of aluminum foil around Lincoln Logs. We’d sell little bags of chips and cans of soda to our audience. Our top stories included a cool toy someone got for Christmas, or a strange dog that wandered down our street, or who had the best fort in their backyard. Breaking news before its time. Informative. Innocent. Bobby remains my favorite co-anchor.
That childhood coverage gave way to the real world, of course. I moved on from the makeshift set on Morningside Drive to the daily grind of local news. Our brotherly broadcast became a distant memory. The rundown of neighborhood updates displaced by a steady diet of robberies, commission meetings, and fender-benders. Then came Augusta.
The anchorman in this midsize market was running for mayor and they tapped me to replace him. Different city, same coverage. City leaders still argued, mugshots still got posted, and fenders still got bent. It gets old. But in the “Garden City” you get a break. You always know in the back of your mind that Spring is coming. It gives you hope. It can get you through even the most mundane, monotonous nightside shift. I will read a million regular stories on ordinary daily life as long as you give me something extraordinary every year. Give me The Masters.
There’s nothing like it. It’s the only major golf tournament that’s played at the same course at the same time every year. The first full week of April is so special and it’s been that way since 1934. It is a part of us Augustans. Even if you can’t stand the sport and can’t take the traffic, you know that life is different that week. I think life is better.
Arnold Palmer used to hit the ceremonial tee shot to open The Masters. Patrons would show up before dawn to line the fairway just to get a glimpse of the legend. I used my “local knowledge” to find the perfect position to greet Mr. Palmer when he returned to the clubhouse. The 4-time champion never could avoid me and I don’t think he ever wanted to. I stood between him and his family breakfast but he always stopped to talk. He always acted as if it was the most important interview in the world. And during his final years, he always got choked up. We both did.
There was the time my 13-year-old son said hello to Tiger Woods as he left the member dining area. Sam still gets chills from that. There was the chat about playing in windy conditions with Hall of Famer Nick Faldo. There was the afternoon under the big oak tree talking SEC football with Verne Lundquist. That place and those moments are a part of the fabric of this town and I’m deeply grateful.
Today brought another Masters moment. Everybody saw it coming but few wanted to believe it. Few wanted to accept that there would be an email from Fred Ridley on Friday the 13th. Of course the chairman made the right call. He says the health and well being of the citizens of Augusta had a lot to do with it. There was no other choice. There is a crisis in our world right now and it commands our entire focus. But it still hurts.
This marks my 20th year of covering The Masters. The Augusta National Golf Club has a really kind thing they do for us veteran reporters. When you reach the 20-year mark, they send you a beautifully written letter and ask if you’d like to bring a guest. Juli was finally going to get to see what this special week was all about. I was going to take her behind the scenes to see what life was like in the fanciest media center on earth. We can wait.
A lot has happened since we talked about expanding our family 20 short years ago. We have 2 wonderful sons. One of them was born Masters week 2003. I’ve only witnessed 2 of his actual birthdays. I have to work the tournament and schools are out that week, so he’s always on Spring Break. Hey Jack, I’m gonna be there for your 17th!
That upcoming birthday celebration is a silver lining to a pretty cloudy day here. I get the big picture. I understand that curing the Coronavirus beats crowning a champion. Maybe we can do both before the end of the year. I pray for those battling the illness and those who are treating, researching, and racing to beat it. Though when my prayers have been said, I’ll still be mourning the Masters.
Brad Means anchors the weeknight newscasts on WJBF NewsChannel 6.
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