This week and next, in my final columns for this esteemed journal, I’m going to indulge myself in describing two memorable days in my time in Las Vegas.
The most surreal 24-hour period in my 45 years here unfolded from the evening of Monday, April 2, 1990 to the following evening. As most hardcore UNLV hoop fans recall, on that Monday night the Runnin’ Rebels demolished Duke 103-73 to win the NCAA basketball crown in Denver. I watched with friends in celebration from my Las Vegas home, then hurriedly packed for a night flight on America West Airlines to Atlanta, Georgia, and on to Augusta. I had been given a week-long, full coverage pass to the Masters and a home I would be sharing with Les Garland, one of the founders of MTV.
15 players entered the 1986 final round within four strokes of the lead. Among them past champions and others searching for their first Green Jacket.The most surreal 24-hour period in my 45 years here unfolded from the evening of Monday, April 2, 1990 to the following evening. As most hardcore UNLV hoop fans recall, on that Monday night the Runnin’ Rebels demolished Duke 103-73 to win the NCAA basketball crown in Denver. I watched with friends in celebration from my Las Vegas home, then hurriedly packed for a night flight on America West Airlines to Atlanta, Georgia, and on to Augusta. I had been given a week-long, full coverage pass to the Masters and a home I would be sharing with Les Garland, one of the founders of MTV.
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 8, 2020
For a lifelong golfer, this was tall cotton. I got to Augusta around 9 a.m. EST and took a cab to the course to watch one of the official practice rounds. The taxi driver said it would be easier if he didn’t take me to the front gate, that he knew a secret entrance.
When he dropped me outside a thick stand of Georgia pines, with no sight of rolling green fairways, I wondered if I’d been punked. He told me to thread my way through the trees, and I would find the 11th hole of Augusta National, and a good spot to start my viewing.
I did as told, and when minutes later I found the gallery ropes on the left side of the fairway, and just a few dozen spectators, I breathed relief. There I was, on the most hallowed golfing ground in America, still reveling over the UNLV triumph of just a dozen hours before.
As I watched a threesome of golfers and their caddies moving toward us, I was pleased to see my close friend, and former Oregon Duck golfer Peter Jacobsen, in the group. With him were Tom Kite, Payne Stewart, their three caddies, and one other gentleman I didn’t recognize.
Peter’s tee shot was not 30 yards from my position, and when he saw me he barked out my name and waved for me to cross the ropes to the fairway. I shook my head, “No.” I certainly didn’t want to be evicted from this illustrious property five minutes after arriving.
Peter was insistent and yelled again, “Jack, get in here. You’re fine.” As soon as I moved toward him, a marshal was on me like a Velcro jacket.
“Get back out there,” he said, loudly. “Hey, Marshal,” Peter interjected. “Don’t you recognize Doctor Sheehan, from Las Vegas? He’s my golf psychologist. He’s on my team.”
The marshal justifiably looked suspicious. “Aw, come on, Peter,” he said. “Is he really?”
Peter didn’t blink. “If you’re gonna make him leave, you have to boot out Bob Rotella, with Tom Kite.”
The bespectacled Kite, whom I’d met several times, was nice enough to come to the rescue and said, “He’s good, Marshal.”
The Marshal had no option but to concede. So for the next four hours I walked down the middle of the fairways of Augusta National, onto the greens and tee boxes, and got a privileged eagle-eyed view of the Masters home, in tournament condition.
When Peter’s round was finished, I joined my friend and host for the week, Las Vegan Tommy Armour III, who successfully used the same excuse for me to join him inside the ropes. Because I was walking with only players and caddies, I was handed pens and programs for autographs leaving nearly every green. I initially refused, saying things like “You don’t want mine,” but both Peter and Tommy encouraged me. “Hell, just sign any name,” they said. “They won’t look at it until they get home.”
So there were a number of young fans and a few adults who were enjoying reading the autographs on their programs that evening, who were surely surprised to see that they not only had signatures from Paul Azinger and Nick Faldo, but also one from Panamanian drug lord Manuel Noriega, who had been imprisoned three months prior.
As I said in my opening paragraph, it was an unforgettable 24 hours of my life.