Just about every patron at The Masters wears a hat. Most are caps -- team caps, golf caps, company caps. Some are visors. Maybe you'll spot a rare fedora on the bold or the old. But this is not the Kentucky Derby. Here, hats are for shade.
And then there's Richard Van Frank's hat.
Van Frank, 60, is attending his 13th straight Masters this week, but his hat has been here every single year since 1964. That's when his father, Robert, brought a simple sun hat to Augusta National and appended his tiny, circular entrance badge to it. This was done somewhat often back then, but these days most patrons just wear a lanyard or drop the pass into a shirt pocket.
Richard's dad kept his badge, No. 6312, and labeled it with the name of that year's winner: Arnold Palmer. That happened to be the last major Arnie won. In '65, Robert Van Frank came back, and and added the new badge to his hat. He did the same in '66, and '67, and soon his beloved hat looked like a Christmas tree with tiny Masters ornaments growing all around.
Robert died in '93, and the hat fell apart in 2001, but Richard replaced it and kept coming to Augusta to honor his dad and to maintain the hat tradition. He even built a trophy case at his home in Cincinnati where the hat can remain on display year-round.
This year is the 48th in the Van Frank hat history, and Richard is here with his mother, Maggie, who is now 86. The hat -- or at least one of the two hats -- has attended nearly two-thirds of all the Masters tournaments. If you want to know who won the Masters in a particular year, just find the badge and flip it over.
Richard's favorite year was 2001, when Tiger Woods won. But every year is special. Richard walks the course the same way -- "Clubhouse first," he says, "18th green Sunday, Amen Corner to see the flowers" -- but as long as he's here and his mom's here, he's satisfied.
Because if the hat is here, Richard's father is here. And that's even more important than the hat itself.
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