It was a day of firsts, as it was the first time I’d been down on a Wednesday for the Par 3 tournament and the first time my wife and five-year-old daughter had been at all. My job, as assigned by myself, was to make sure they had a great time and got to see everything they wanted to see.
In my daughter’s bedroom, among the expected children’s books, are the tournament guides from the 2012 and 2013 Masters. The ones they give all patrons (for free) when they walk in the gates. For a while, she was obsessed with the Past Champions. I would read them to her and quiz her on them most nights before bed and she could name practically every winner dating back well into the 70s (not necessarily in order) when she was four. She could tell you Horton Smith won the first Masters. We've moved on from that and she’s forgotten most of them by now. Now she likes looking at the large course map in the center of the booklet and I have to read the key to here and point out where everything is.
I bring that up because there is a little section on the map labeled “JR” section. It’s adjacent to the driving range and lines the walk the players make towards the main course. Come to find out Wednesday, it’s a gated off area just for kids under 16 to stand and try and get autographs.
So when we walked through the gates, we immediately waited in easily the longest line I've ever seen just to get into the pro shop to buy a flag for autographing and an extra chair. After that, we dropped off our chairs at a great spot right by the walkway at the eighth hole on the par 3 course and went searching for autographs.
In my mind, we would hang out on the range for about 30 minutes and let her get a few and move on. And that’s what happened. Her first autograph was Kevin Stadler, followed by Chris Kirk, Jim Furyk and Kevin Streelman. She was sad when she narrowly missed out on Ernie Els, but that would have a happy ending eventually. Stadler and Kirk signed more than their fair share of autographs for the kids, but I was really impressed by Streelman and Furyk signing for every kid, even though Furyk couldn’t manage to crack a smile. More on that later.
My wife really wanted to see Adam Scott and Luke Donald on the main course. Go figure. So, we walked the back nine backwards in order to catch as many players as possible. I enjoyed watching players skip balls across the water, with Zach Johnson hitting a beauty while we were there. We caught a few holes on the front, including the amazing walk down the roadway separating the par-5 second from the par-5 eighth. I know nothing about flowers, but it has to be the most colorful part of the course, which scored major points with the wife.
Then the real fun started. We returned to the seats we left at the eighth hole for the par 3 contest and players would sometimes stop to sign on the way down the walkway where we were stationed. That meant a second chance for my daughter to add to the names on her flag. I would tell her the names of the players walking down the hill her way and she would start to try and call out, though rather shyly. In general, she would usually get about one in three for each threesome. She picked up players like Ryan Moore, Stewart Cink, Steven Bowditch, Justin Rose and Ernie Els that way. (She was happy to check Ernie off her list.)
My favorite story from that was how she landed Jonas Blixt. The Swede didn’t see her and had just passed, signing for someone a few spots down. In what I could only describe as a half-whine / half-moan five-year-old voice, she said “Jooonaaass.” He turned back, smiled and said, “Well that got my attention.” Then as he signed, he looked up and me and joked, “Does she usually get what she wants?” He has no idea.
Not long after, the groups stopped signing. I caught eye contact with Bill Haas as he was walking down our way and asked if he would sign for my daughter. He politely (and in detail) explained as he was walking that they had been instructed on the eighth tee that they couldn't stop to sign because the tee box was backed up, but they would sign for kids after the ninth green.
So off to the ninth green we go. Once again, I had to send her in on her own to a 16-and-under area. It’s hard for a dad to watch his five-year-old daughter not realize that she is being out-jockeyed for critical autograph position and be powerless to it, but such is life. In the end, she still racked up and many of the players were amazing to the kids.
While she may forget, I will absolutely never forget Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player teeing off on nine and walking our way. She recognizes all their names (remember the Masters memorization from earlier?), so I explained who they were before they got there. Arnie hit his shot in the water on nine, and I noticed as he made the long walk towards the green that he didn’t look so good. He didn’t even make it to the green and left the course. I genuinely hope he’s OK, because that’s not like the King. Gary Player signed a ton of autographs for kids, but she was unfortunately missed. But Jack. He stood there and signed for every single kid. He signed her Masters flag right in the center.
- Guys who aren't considered the “A-List” of golfing celebrity were especially cool to the kids. Boo Weekley, D.A. Points and Jimmy Walker (yeah, I didn’t call him A-List and he leads the FEC points) stand out as being really good and patient with the kids.
- Rory signed a ton of autographs, but my daughter just missed him. She did get Dustin Johnson in the same threesome, who also took his time and signed for every kid. I get the sense from readers that DJ is often vilified, and he's never been my personal favorite, but my opinion changed for the better in that regard on Wednesday.
- K.J. Choi and Y.E. Yang signed for everyone. Matt Jones did the same thing with a sometimes-screaming toddler in his arms that refused to go to his wife.
- Jose Maria Olazabal and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano hit all the kids, but Miguel Angel Jimenez only signed a few. As you would expect, he had an attractive blonde on his arm and the kids weren't offering wine or cigars.
- Ken Duke’s daughters made green and yellow bracelets and handed them out to the younger girls, which my daughter proudly put on her write immediately.
- Furyk came through and I told my daughter that she already has his from earlier in the day, and didn't need to get it a second time. When he got to her, she pulled her flag back and he recognized that she already had the signature. He said in a very tender voice, “Want me to sign it again?” She looked at him and looked back at me. I think he took that as a “no,” rather than that she was confused, and he started laughing. It was the first time he broke away from the Jim Furyk serious face.
- Gary Woodland’s wife (caddie) handed my daughter a ball while the guys were still down the line signing and she almost didn’t understand that she was supposed to take it. Luckily she did.
- The last signature she got came from a player in the very last group. Matt Kuchar. As easy as it would have been for him to write his name down as quickly as possible for the remaining 10 or 15 kids and head on down the road with his own kids, he took his time and joked around with the remaining children. Some of the older kids were asking for balls and gloves, so he handed them out based on some simple trivia questions, like where he went to college.
You hear the slogan on the PGA TOUR that “These guys are good.” I can tell you that so many of them were yesterday, and I don’t mean on the golf course.
Final autograph list reading from the flag in no particular order: Y.E. Yang, Matt Every, GFC, Craig Stadler, Jason Day, Victor Dubuisson, Steven Bowditch, Justin Rose, Derek Ernst, Dustin Johnson, Ernie Els, Graham DeLaet, Stewart Cink, Wayne Grady, Ken Duke, Kevin Streelman, Gary Woodland, Boo Weekley, Mike McCoy, Peter Hanson, JACK FREKIN NICKLAUS, Jose Maria Olazabal, Joost Luiten, Jim Furyk, Mike Weir, Jimmy Walker, Matt Kuchar, D.A. Points, Jonas Blixt, Jamie Donaldson, K.J. Choi, Ryan Moore, Jordan Neibrugge, Kevin Stadler, Chris Kirk, Matt Jones, Marc Leishman, Ian Woosnam, Steve Melnyk, Nathaniel Crosby, Hunter Mahan, Lucas Glover and Brendon de Jonge.
What an amazing day. Normally when I attend an event I’m watching everything I can from the players in an effort to learn something not found on a stat sheet. Wednesday was different, and I bet I didn't watch 15 shots all day. I was too busy watching my wife and daughter soak it all in. For a day, it was great just being a fan and a dad!