Frankie O's Blog: A tradition unlike any other

Frankie O's Blog: A tradition unlike any other
April 8, 2011, 2:26 pm
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Friday, April 8, 2011
Posted: 9:24 a.m.

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Hello friends! This time of year always reminds me of the dreams of my childhood. Most of the other kids dreamed of being a fireman or astronaut, for me it was something different. I always wanted to grow up to be Jim Nantz. And since I still havent grown up, maybe theres still a chance! Think of it: This guy (No, not me, yet!) gets a front row seat for three weeks to two of the best sporting events and he does it every year! Although I have to admit, not having to sit courtside and watch the NCAA mens title game might have been a blessing, since while I watched it at home I kept falling asleep. That game took basketball back a few years. Maybe a few dozen.

As I laid in a dreamy daze, with the constant clank of the rim coming out in staccato bursts from my surround sound, drowning out my snoring, I wondered if all the one-and-done players had watered down the talent level of division 1 basketball so much, that this is what were left with. Dont get me wrong, the win or go home drama of the tournament make it must-see TV and the best reality show ever. The fact that all of the best players of college age are in the pros makes some of the college games hard to watch from a pure basketball standpoint. That is if you enjoy watching wide-open players actually making shots. The NCAA has some problems. Im not sure I would get a lot, or ANY, dispute on that. But as long as CBS throws gobs of money at them, and all of us fill out our (losing) brackets, I dont see the NCAA in any hurry to solve any issues. But maybe they should take a look at the Fighting Illinis Jereme Richmond and see if they can learn anything from his brief experience as a student-athlete. Of course, this is if they have any spare time from suspending coaches for NEXT year, while they participate in post-seasons THIS year.

Then Jimbo gets to stroll up Magnolia Lane and sip Arnold Palmers in Butler Cabin. As Ive told anyone who will listen, my Masters experience is probably the sporting event of my lifetime. Watching on TV in this world of Hi-def, is for any fan, completely mesmerizing. Going there in person blows that away. I went there in 2007 and will never forget it. In a world full of hype, few things can measure up. The Masters is one of them. I was on a waiting list for practice rounds tickets for ten long years before I got invited. For me it was important to be invited. I know for many, some of the August National traditions may seem a little country club stuffy, but I think theyre kind of cool. They have their ways and unlike a lot of others theyve earned the right.

One is that they are very proper. Being as such, I didnt want to gate-crash. Ive been offered the opportunity to buy tickets over the years, but that didnt seem right. I wanted to walk in through the front door as an invited guest and not worry about having passes that werent legit. For ten years I sent in my application. Notification of winning is in September, and for nine years my mailbox was empty. Then, I received my application for 2007 in May of 06. In the Masters edition of my Golf World magazine, I read a full page article written by a guy from New Jersey who had been sending in his applications for 10 years before he hit. He wrote of how special it was to spend a day on the grounds with his dad and brothers. The joy in what he was writing jumped from the page. To say I was jealous would be an understatement.

So it was without much expectation when I sent in my application that July. Philly guys always see the worst in any situation. Life moved on and I was immersed in it. Then one day, without even realizing what time of year it was, I went to get the mail. Shining like a beacon, there was a yellow envelope in the middle of all of my junk mail. Once again, I think Im pretty grounded and realistic about what life has to offer and I realize what is important in it. Still, when I opened the letter and saw what it said, you could not wipe the smile off my face. I immediately called my father and buddies to tell them the good news: Were going to Augusta! My wife told me to take the phone outside since I sounded like I was 15. Augusta National! Wow! I dont know if I anticipated going anywhere more. In the sports bucket list, this was at the top. That I had 6 months to think about it made me crazier than normal.

We were going for two days: Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday was for exploring every inch of the course. Wednesday was for watching the Par 3 Contest while sitting next to Ikes pond. When making our travel arrangements, we realized that the Final Four was in Atlanta. We were flying there on Monday, the day of the National Title Game. Why not? Even while we were in the Georgia Dome, watching Florida pound Ohio State, (I would normally would have enjoyed this, but our obnoxious suite mates (Thats right! We watched from a suite! Bo-Ya!) were from Florida, and they made it impossible to root for the Gators, so I couldnt cheer for either team.) our thoughts were a hundred miles away.

We arrived in Augusta at 2:00 a.m., but still had to drive by the front gate just to make sure we were really there. Bleary-eyed the next morning at 7:30 a.m., we entered the grounds. It was other-worldly. Things looked familiar, only more brilliant. It was like going back in time. The vibe was awesome. It was like everyone around you was in on it too. The first couple of hours were dizzying. There was so much to take in. Amen Corner, Sixteen, 2.00 beers! After sharing a pimento and cheese sandwich (yuck) for lunch, we did what I have always dreamed of. We walked the course, from the first tee, shot by shot. We met tons of people, were awed by some of the natural beauty and talked to every Marshall we could. Talk about golf encyclopedias! These gentlemen have been there forever and were more than pleased to share stories about what they have seen. After the round we all hugged at the eighteenth green. I will always remember that walk. There was only one thing that could top that and that was the Par 3. The atmosphere was like being at a family picnic. But instead of hanging with your uncles, you got to watch Jack, Arnie and Gary. How cool is that? It was one of those days that you wish would not end. As close to perfect as you good get at a sporting event. Although as you looked around, at everyone you were sharing this time with, you knew it was more than that. Its hard to comprehend, but being there was cooler than I ever thought it would be.

As I watch The Masters I always go back to that time. Each tournament brings a new story that golf fans can cherish. Very rarely can I say that theres been a dull one. I try to watch as much as I can and become riveted with the battles for golfs elite to earn the coveted green jacket. And since 2007 as I watch, its with a smile in my heart, as I remember seeing all that is on the screen before me in person. In 2007 I had a small slice of what my boy Nantz gets to experience every April. He is one lucky dude. And for the time I had, so am I. Now if I could only grow up.