The Masters That Never Was, Part III: A scare at the Champions Dinner, and Phil being Phil

champions dinner

Ed. note: This is the third installment of The Masters That Never Was, a fictional account of how the Masters Tournament might have played out had it been conducted this week at Augusta National Golf Club.

New to this series? Click here for previous installments: PART I | PART 2

*****

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Tuesday-night Champions Dinner, hosted by Tiger Woods, had a scary moment during the cocktail hour when Patrick Reed, the 2018 champion, found himself gasping for air when a piece of sashimi got stuck in his windpipe. Sources at the dinner told GOLF.com that 91-year-old Bob Goalby, the 1968 Masters champion and a Korean War veteran, saw Reed struggling for air and yelled, “Give him space!” Goalby then performed the Heimlich Maneuver on the 29-year-old Texan, providing immediate relief.

Once Reed’s breathing had returned to normal Woods raised a glass and said, “On behalf of the American Ryder Cup team, I’d like to make a toast to you, Bob — because we’re gonna need Pat at Whistling Straits!”

Sergio Garcia then spoke up: “Well said, Tiger — all you have to do is make the team.”

There was a moment of pained silence and then Woods returned to his conversation with Trevor Immelman, pointedly ignoring Garcia.

Reed later told the AP, “I’m blaming my swing coach for that whole wrong pipe thing. He’s been telling me to loosen my jaw in the backswing, which supposedly allows for more rotation in the spine. Now, because of him, I have too many swing thoughts when I’m eating.”

Asked by GOLF.com if he had performed the Heimlich before, Goalby said, “Coupla times. Shoot, Pat Reed was easy. Once, in New Orleans, I had to do it on Bill [Casper], to dislodge a fried oyster! Gawd almighty, that was a struggle.” Billy Casper, the 1971 Masters winner, weighed well over 250 pounds at times during his long career.

This was not the first incident involving appetizers at the Champions Dinner, at which the defending champion picks the menu and picks up the tab and sets the tone. In 1996, Ben Crenshaw’s Texas theme included a tray garnished with jalapenos. Jack Nicklaus, mistaking one of the spicy peppers for an ordinary pickle, popped the whole thing in his mouth. “I will tell you, he was hurtin’,” Crenshaw said. It is a story that gets told almost every year but none of the champions ever tire of hearing it, Nicklaus included.

*****

Winning a green jacket comes with induction into the game’s most exclusive society, the Masters Club. The Tuesday night Champions Dinner is the one time a year the members of the Masters Club gather, although even deceased winners are still considered members. Different Augusta National chairmen, in their roles as honorary members of the Masters Club, have attended the dinner with different attitudes. One former chairman suggested to Tiger that he sit next to Vijay Singh, perhaps as a way to loosen up the taciturn Fijian. “Nah — I’m good with Jack and Marko,” said Woods, who each year sits between Nicklaus and Mark O’Meara.

The festivities always begin with cocktails in the lounge adjacent to the Champions Locker Room, though some players wander onto the back veranda. (According to lore, then-club chairman Billy Payne once scolded Fred Couples for removing his jacket on a sultry evening.) Covering a dark wooden bar in the lounge are trays of olives, light green in color and nearly as big as golf balls, another lasting legacy of Clifford Roberts, the eccentric co-founder of the club who procured the scrumptious treats from a secret source. During this year’s cocktail hour, according to sources in the room, there was a spirited discussion of the memoir Tiger is writing, to be called Back. “I gave him the title,” Gary Player said. “I said to him, standing right here, when he was down, vedddy, veddy down, ‘You’ll return, Tiger — you’ll be back!”

Tom Watson rolled his eyes at the suggestion. “It’s a rather obvious title, Gary,” he said. “Any of us could claim credit if we wanted it. Which we don’t.”

At 7:30 p.m. sharp the players posed for the annual group photo in the locker room, younger champions in front, older ones in the back. Tiger was blowing on Garcia’s ear until Watson growled at him to stop. Once the photo was done the champs moved to The Library, where dinner would be served. The door that leads into the room is emblazoned with the Augusta National seal, about waist-high. Every year, Sam Snead would kick the seal on his way in.

“About 10 years before he died Sam came through and said, ‘Oh, the old man can’t do it anymore,’” Goalby recounted. “Gary [Player] said, ‘Mon, I never thought I’d see the day when the great Sambo couldn’t kick that seal.’ So Arnold says, ‘I’ll bet you $100 he can kick it if he tries again.’ Sam went back out and kicked it just like he was raising his hand at school. I know Arnold and Sam split that hundred of Gary’s.”

Ben Crenshaw played nine holes Tuesday, then was his usual charming self at the Champions Dinner.
Ben Crenshaw played nine holes Tuesday, then was his usual charming self at the Champions Dinner.
getty / photo illustration

Crenshaw, as host of the evening, offered these opening remarks:

“On February 2, 1949, at 8:30 in the morning, Ben Hogan and his wife Valerie were driving east on Highway 80 outside of Van Horn, Texas. The area was shrouded in dense fog. As the Hogans came up a hill, a Greyhound Bus came charging at them in their lane, trying to pass a truck. We all know what happened next. The Accident.

“Many wondered if Ben Hogan would ever leave his hospital bed. But rise he did, to even greater heights. I always believed his was the greatest comeback in this great game’s history. But Tiger, somehow you’ve topped it. Come up here, I’ve got a little something for you.”

Observing another tradition, Crenshaw produced a gold locket in the shape of club’s famous logo. Inscribed on the outside was Tiger Woods 2019. Inside the locket was an etching of the iconic clubhouse.

“That makes five of these,” Tiger said, dangling the locket, “though I think Elin got two of them in the divorce.”

Everyone laughed.

“I don’t have to tell you guys how much it means to be standing up here. Only you really understand it. A very few of you in this room were lucky enough to have known the great Bobby Jones. I of course did not. But I’ve often thought of his quote: ‘I could take out of my life everything except my experiences at St Andrews and I would still have a rich, full life.’ I feel exactly the same way about Augusta, Georgia.” Here Woods’s voice grew thick with emotion, and he needed a moment to compose himself. He pounded his heart twice, signaling the end of his remarks and that it was time for dinner was served: chicken and steak fajitas, a nod to the excellent Mexican food of Woods’s youth in Southern California.

Watching Reed meticulously cut his food into tiny pieces, chairman Fred Ridley whispered to Woods, “Bob Goalby didn’t just save Patrick Reed, he saved this tournament.”

*****

The excitement at the Champions Dinner incident capped off a busy practice-round Tuesday at Augusta National. A Richmond County sheriff arrested an overseas visitor after an unusual scene at the club’s main entrance, at the intersection of Washington Road and Magnolia Lane.

According to police and eyewitness accounts, a 41-year-old man identified as Yegor Mondelslovinavich, visiting Augusta from his native Ukraine, attempted to enter at the members’ entrance. He had the appropriate badge for the Tuesday practice round. The problem was the defendant spoke halting English and did not appear to understand that he was at the incorrect entrance and that he was not permitted to bring in his personal golf bag, which was filled with persimmon woods and Wilson irons that dated to the Eisenhower administration.

“This is practice round, no?” Mondelslovinavich said. “I want to practice.”

“Sir, the course is open to contestants only and your entrance is on Berckmans Road,” a uniformed club security officer told the man. When the security officer approached him, the man grabbed a 1-iron from his bag and started swinging it at him. Joe LaCava, the veteran caddie who works for Woods and who rents a home a short walk from the entrance, saw the unfolding fracas. He tackled the man to the ground, grabbing the 1-iron from him and tossing it under a nearby magnolia tree.

In a brief interview with Tom Rinaldi of ESPN, LaCava said, “I told the guy what Trevino used to say: ‘Even God can’t hit a 1-iron.’”

The man was charged with disorderly conduct and unlawful impersonation, presumably of a professional golfer. He is being held pending arraignment. His practice-round badge was confiscated and destroyed at the Augusta Pet Crematory, with the arresting sheriff serving as witness. On Twitter, the actor Sacha Baron Cohen hailed Mondelslovinavich as “my brother and comrade.” Calls and emails to Cohen’s publicist by GOLF.com to ascertain the exact nature of their relationship went unreturned.

*****

Other moments of this Tuesday were closer to ordinary. Phil Mickelson, who turns 50 in June, stopped to talk to reporters under the giant oak and explained his unusual decision to play a practice round with the same Yonex clubs he used in his first Masters as a professional, in 1993.

“I was given a study done by researchers at the University of Auckland several weeks ago, when I was there on a coffee tour,” the lefthander said, sipping from his logo’d Yeti while chewing bright blue gum. “It was a study on the aging process of a group of native people on the Chatham Islands, you know, the Pacific archipelago. And what they found is this group of fisherman — excuse me, fisherpeople; Amy and the kids have been reminding me to use gender-neutral terms when it’s appropriate to do so — completely resisted the normal aging process. And this was of particular interest to me because my maternal grandfather was a fisherman himself, although he aged in conventional ways, for a man of his time and place.

Mickelson got creative with his equipment choice Tuesday.
Mickelson got creative with his equipment choice Tuesday.
getty / photo illustration

“In any event, these Chatham Island fisherpeople, at age 60 had the energy levels and the brain function much more commonly associated with people in their 30s. And what the study found was that outdoor work and exposure to sun and wind, actually — and this is counterintuitive — actually retards the aging process, in physical terms. But more significantly, their, let’s call it, loyalty to the traditional fishing methods of their ancestors, in regard to cotton nets and single-line fishing rods, had the effect of helping them maintain mental acuity. And the researchers believe that modern post-urban living, in which great numbers in the populace are forced to process ever-changing technologies, accelerates the diminishment of mental acuity. Hence, my decision to, you might say, roll back my technology.”

“So, you’re actually going to play the tournament with those clubs from 1993?” Bob Harig of ESPN asked.

“No, are you kidding me?” Mickelson said. “Why would I possibly want to give up all that distance and technology. I just wanted to mix things up a little for today.”

Tuesday is the last full day of practice the players get before the tournament begins. On Wednesday, the course is closed in the afternoon, so the greenskeepers can prepare it for the tournament. That also means the players have one less excuse to not play in the Wednesday afternoon Par-3 tournament. “Oh, I’ll be there,” Phil said. “I’ve challenged Tiger to a little match. We’ll see if he has the stones to actually show up.” Woods typically skips the Par-3.

“Sounds like a craven marketing ploy,” said Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post. “You gonna be debuting a new button-down?”

“Ah, the enemy of the people,” Mickelson said. He was smiling. Cannizzaro also covers the New York football teams and Mickelson enjoys chatting him up, looking for inside information he can parlay into success in his fantasy leagues. “I’m not at liberty to say any more. Let’s just see how things play out, shall we?”

The Day 4 recap from The Masters That Never Was will be published on GOLF.com on Wednesday evening.

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