A Dozen Azaleas

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- I, like you Im sure, grew up watching The Masters on television. Each spring, a few of my closest friends would tell me they scored practice round badges and were headed south to Augusta. I would turn green with envy, but not as green as Augusta Nationals emerald fairways. How do I know how green they are? Well, finally, after 20 years of waiting, I saw them in person for the first time. Right now I am at the Masters walking this storied venue, talking with the best players in the world under the old oak tree and completely soaking up the atmosphere.
 
My cameraman probably wanted to kill me on Monday because I dragged him all the way down to the 14th tee to shoot video. Okay, I really went down there to take in all the sights, smell the Azaleas and witness the shotmakers hard at work, but I didnt tell him that.
 
You cant imagine, unless youve been there, how magnificent Augusta National is. Its simply amazing. Theres an energy that fills the air. It pads every step you take. Your feet never get tired of carrying you from tee to green. If its that special for a member of the media, just consider what its like for a first-time player.
 
In total, there are 12 first-timers competing in the 2002 Masters and all 12 are mesmerized. Paul McGinley of Ireland told me that the highlight of his trip so far is the practice round he played with Tom Watson and Ian Woosnam on Monday. Paul said he started on the front nine and absolutely couldnt wait to make the turn. At least three or four times, he was extended an invitation to play Augusta National in his free time, but he chose to wait until he qualified for The Masters to finally make a tee time.
 
Twenty-one-year-old Australian Adam Scott is also playing for the first time. Like McGinley, he played a memorable practice round. His was with his hero, Greg Norman. The Shark is a two time major champion but has been left at the altar three times at The Masters. For young Scott to share fairway space with Norman in this place must be an emotional experience. Believe it or not, Adam is not the youngest player in this years field. That honor is shared between a pair of 20-year-olds, U.S. Amateur Champion Bubba Dickerson and U.S. Public Links Champion Chez Reavie. These gentlemen are two of five amateurs continuing the tradition that Bobby Jones instilled in 1934, at the inaugural event. Amateurs are always invited.
 
If you want a great first impression story from 2002, look no further than Sony Open winner Jerry Kelly. Youve never met a man with more personality than Jerry. When I asked him to describe his most memorable moment thus far, he began with his educational putting experience on the lightning fast first green, then he started in on his drama at the 12th , otherwise known as the meanest little par-3 in golf. Remember this hole? You know the one. Tom Weiskopf made a 13 on it in 1980 with no more than a 7-iron in his hand. Well, Jerry Kelly stood on the 150-ish-yard hole and darted a short iron right at the flag. It hit once, bounced straight toward the hole and smacked the pin! It ended up two feet away, a tap-in birdie in his back nine debut. What a way to start the week!
 
The stories are endless. The talent is immense. If youve qualified to compete at Augusta National, then you deserve to be here. Once youve had a taste, its impossible to forget the flavor. Perhaps the first time is the best for many, but you have to believe that the second, the tenth, and the 48th consecutive start, in the case of Arnold Palmer, are just as nice as the first.
 
The Masters- its a tradition unlike any other. Can you believe its only Wednesday?