Forget about Jackâ€™s magical 65 in 1986 or Arnieâ€™s birdies on 17 and 18 to seize his second Masters crown in 1960. Or Leftyâ€™s rally from three back against Ernie Els in 2004. To me, there will always be one round more memorable than any other at Augusta National.
It came on Monday, April 14, 2008, roughly 12 hours after Trevor Immelman put on the green jacket. I was among the several dozen to win a drawing the club has each year for the media. It feels like winning the lottery. Only better.
I received the news around noon the day before, and from that moment on, the loudest roars I heard were the ones in my imagination. They were deafening.
I paid extra close attention to the pin placements. I took note of the contour of the greens. I saw signs of danger I had never seen before. I didnâ€™t do this because I wanted to know what Immelman or Brandt Snedeker or any of the other contenders might be thinking. I did it because I needed to start thinking:
Would I aim right to avoid the water at 11?
Would I go for the pin at 12?
Would I try to use the slope at 16?
Satisfied with my initial diagnosis, I went back to the media room to watch the final round. I did not care who won. All I cared about was that there would be no sudden-death playoff. A playoff, if it went too long, meant they would have to finish on Monday. Monday belonged to me -- and my dreams.
Fortunately, Immelman did what he was assigned to do. He made sure there was not the slightest drama at the end. Iâ€™ll always be grateful.
I wrote my column and drove to the house I rented a few miles from the course. There was nothing to do but wait. And, oh yeah, call everybody in the free world.
I called a mental game coach, my golf instructor, and all my friends. I wanted them to be jealous. They were.
Sleep? You serious? I tossed and turned, checking my cell phone every five minutes. I knew what I would do if I overslept.
Iâ€™d shoot myself.
The invitation I was given in the press room said "the practice tee will be open to warm up but we ask that you not arrive more than 45 minutes in advance of your tee time." My tee time was 8:02 a.m. At precisely 7:17 a.m., I pulled up to the gate. I was not about to miss one second of my allotted time.
I was soon warming up on the range. Next to me was my very good friend, Tom Cunneff, an editor at Links magazine, who'd be in my foursome. Tom and I had played dozens or rounds together over the years. Without uttering a word, we knew this would forever be the one we'd talk about.
After 20 minutes, it was time. I was ready. I could hit balls for 20 hours and still not become the player I never was. I would have to bring my usual game, whatever that might mean.
The sun shining, the temperature brisk, we teed off on No. 10 which is, arguably, the toughest hole on the course. It was eerie to see a scoreboard nearby with the names of the contenders which had yet to be taken down.
I put a tee in the ground, and took a few practice swings. There were about a dozen people watching. I was about to hyperventilate.
The ball traveled 200 yards toward the middle of the fairway. I was amazed that I did not whiff. I still am.
Without giving a shot-by-shot blow -- donâ€™t you want to kill people when they do that? -- letâ€™s just say there were some definite humbling moments, such as the four-putts at 14 and 18, and the quadruple bogey at the par-3, 4th when I reached the front bunker and then airmailed my second shot into the bushes.
Yet there were also some heroic moments that will live on long past the failures.
At the 145-yard, treacherous par-3, 12th -- we played from the membersâ€™ tees, which total 6,365 yards compared to the prosâ€™ 7,445 yards -- I hit a seven iron over the green. I was esctatic. I was not in the water! Better yet, I got down in two, canning a 15-footer. I had parred 12! Take me now, Lord.
At 15, the famous par 5 with the pond in front, after two solid shots, I was only about 120 yards away with a great chance to reach the green in regulation. That chance ended, thanks to a muffed chip that still left me 80 yards from the putting surface. I was staring at a big number -- a very big number.
Somehow, though, with a wedge, I got the ball to stop about 10 feet from the pin. I made the putt for par. Seve sure could have used that in '86.
At 16, I sent my approach into the bunker on the left. Although I had avoided the pond, I faced an extremely delicate chip. I am terrible from the trap. Anything was likely to happen here, and none of it was very good.
Again, I lucked out. I took advantage of the slope, the ball curling back to within a few feet of the flag. I made the putt for par.
I parred 12, 15 and 16. Thatâ€™s all that mattered. Not the final score, which will remain my secret.
When the round was over, Tom and I ate lunch. I had a plane to catch in Atlanta, a few hours away. Yet I couldnâ€™t bear to leave the property. Maybe I could find a cabin no one used, and hang out until the following April.
I did leave, of course, though the memories will never be taken away.
It was a day unlike any other.
-- Michael Arkush is the golf editor for Yahoo! Sports.