The Masters – a tradition unlike any other.
Flying standby – an experience unlike any other.
After a beautiful weekend in Nashville celebrating the new Mr. and Mrs. Perry Beasley’s marriage, I was forced to check back into reality. And nothing smacks you right in the face quite like the reality of missing Sunday at Augusta.
But as fate would have it – and doesn’t it sometimes seem that fate is the conductor of the Masters rather than the players themselves? – my journey from Nashville back to Minneapolis was filled with as many twists and turns as the back nine on Sunday afternoon. Both endings were just as satisfying and appropriate.
If you haven’t heard, Delta’s flights were just a teensy bit backed up this weekend. If you had the misfortune of traveling, then you know all too well what the scene at any airport in the country was this past weekend, especially one in the southeast.
All times are Central, extremely approximate and maybe even false.
11:10 am – Nashville International Airport Gate B3
We learn that our hopes of making the 11:10 flight from Nashville to the Twin Cities, and what I think is my only hope of being able to fully take in Masters Sunday, are crushed. No seats for you.
11:45 am – Nashville International Airport Gate B4
Nashville to Minneapolis isn’t going to happen today, so we’re forced to pursue other options. Flying into Atlanta, the hub of Delta and therefore the hub of airport hysteria, in order to then fly to Minneapolis sounds about as appealing as driving north on I-85. (If you’re reading this and don’t understand that particular reference…google it). So we go with Plan B – wing it. We list on a flight to Detroit, Michigan.
12:30 pm – Nashville International Airport Gate B4
This plane that is set to depart at 12:50, the one we’re hoping to get on, has been delayed since 8:30 that morning. People are sleeping, crying, whining, bitching, moaning and overall displeased with their current situation. Gate agents switch from handing out free snacks to ordering dozens of pizzas for the masses. It placates the tension, but only for as long as the customers are stuffing pepperoni pan pizza in their face.
1:05 pm – Nashville International Airport Gate B4
Masters coverage starts. I begin streaming it on my phone.
1:07 pm – Nashville International Airport Gate B4
People start boarding the plane. It’s not looking good for us. Also, right about now my dad texts me a picture of a raccoon sitting on a plush armchair in my grandmother’s living room. No relation to the story, but a pretty funny visual.
1:11 pm – Nashville International Airport Gate B4
Jordan Spieth’s tee shot lands in the fairway bunker on 1. The gate agent, bless his heart, is literally double fisting telephones, warding off angry customers as he announces last call for boarding. Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose walk to the first tee box. Five people miss this flight which allow Natalie and I two seats in the very back row.
1:40 pm – 10,000+ feet over the Tennessee
Using a loophole in the system, I access free WiFi on the plane and begin streaming the Masters live. Sergio is off to a hot start. Spieth…not so much. I got about 15 seconds of golf coverage in between every 30 seconds of loading time. It was a real up and down round out there.
2:50 pm – 10,000+ feet over Kentucky or Ohio, or who really cares
There is a medical situation on the plane. The guy in front of me jumps up to tell the flight attendants he’s a doctor. This outdrives my attention on a golf tournament. He tends to a young guy ten rows up, asking for sugar packets and orange juice. I have no idea what McGuyver did to this kid but he’s up and walking off the plane in no time.
3:35 pm – Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Detroit, Michigan
We haul ass to the exact opposite end of the airport to attempt to make the connection to Minneapolis. We get there and are told we aren’t on the standby list. We protest, but feebly. The last two seats, which we believe are ours, are given to an older couple.
3:55 pm – Max and Emma’s Airport Bar, Terminal A
We sit down for what will be the longest uninterrupted HD Masters experience today. Rose and Sergio are teeing off on #8. Matt Kuchar starts his run. Thomas Pieters starts his run. Spieth continues his plunge. Freddy Couples (?!?) is giving it all he’s got. Rickie Fowler is struggling but hanging around.
5:20 pm – Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Gate A12
No sooner did we leave the bar than I began streaming golf on Natalie’s phone (shoutout to unlimited data). Waiting for our seat assignments, I watch Kuchar send the crowd into a frenzy with his ace on 16. I watch Thomas Pieters drill birder after birdie. I split my attention between handing the gate agent my ticket and watching the tournament. I walk down the jet bridge and on the plane, to my seat with my eyes glued on the final stretch.
5:35 pm – Runway, Detroit Metropolitan Airport
We’re third in line to take off…fine by me. More uninterrupted streaming. By now, it’s clear that it’s a two man race for the green jacket. Charl Schwartzel birdies 18 to get to six under, but it’s too little too late.
5:55 pm – 10,000+ feet above Michigan
I gain access to WiFi again, thus ending my quality definition Masters experience for 2017. From here until nearly the end, it’s on again off again access to the Masters. I watch Sergio hit into the bushes but I miss him save par. I watch Rose maintain his lead through 15. I watch Sergio stick his approach on 15, but I miss his drill the eagle putt. I catch the replays once I can. His emotional fist pump gave me goose bumps.
6:15 pm – High above Minnesota
Rose bogeys 17 to make it an even draw at 9-under. We begin our initial descent into Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. At this point I know it’s a race against time until I lose internet connectivity. Both players drive into the fairway. We descend lower and lower. Rose gets a miraculous bounce on hi approach and ends up 20 feet away from the pin. Garcia, knowing what’s on the line, with all the pressure in the world, sticks his approach about 8 feet away. Talk about cojones.
I’m bouncing in my seat, nervous knowing my connection will go out anytime soon. Rose lines up his putt, the crowd and myself go still…and he slides it by the cup. That means if Sergio sinks his, then it’s game over.
He lines it up. The crowd goes quiet. The broadcast goes quiet. The plane was already quiet but I swear it feels like they know the scene. Sergio walks up to his ball, sets his feet and stands over his putt. This is it. I’ve rooted for Sergio for a long time, and I finally am going to see him win his first major in peak dramatic fashion. He checks his line one last time.
And then I lose service.
Gone. I’m in the purgatory below 10,000 feet where no WiFi is allowed but too high to gain data access. I’m stuck in limbo, what the hell happened?!?! I’ve got my phone in one hand with the frozen screen of Sergio standing over his ball, not moving and I’ve got Natalie’s phone in the other hand desperately refreshing the screen waiting for service.
6:25 pm – Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Runway
At last, Natalie’s phone loads. Garcia and Rose are standing on the 18th tee box. My heart sinks.
He missed it.
It’s over at this point, right? You can’t come back from missing the Master’s winning putt and still have the nerve to win a playoff hole, can you?
But then Rose sends his drive wide right, into the pinestraw and directly behind the wide reach of a magnolia tree. He has no option but to punch out. Finally…the break Sergio has been missing for the last 20 years. We begin deplaning. I’m watching the final as we leave the jet bridge. I walk out into a crowded gate full of people waiting to get on the plane I just left. Sergio is walking up to his ball. These people are sitting and staring, waiting to get on with their travel. Sergio stands over his ball. I wonder for a second, how do all of these people not care that this is happening right now! Sergio putts it. Tracking, tracking, it rims around the cup and it goes in.
He goes nuts. The crowd responds accordingly.
Finally, Sergio’s done it. He won a major.
Finally, we did it. We made it back to Minnesota.
P.S. – I want to say that watching Sergio win was a real pleasure. The youthful enthusiasm that he plays with is enjoyable to watch. He has come so close so many times over the years and I was happy to see him finally earn a green jacket.