A True Masters Tale

My wonderful father-in-law Pete knew Frank for many years; probably most of their lives. They belonged to the same country club and played golf together many times. Their wives were friends and had grown up together, too.

I met Frank in 1984, when I started dating my now wife and making what seemed like weekly trips to visit her parents and her high school friends. I wasn’t complaining because a weekend in Dayton usually meant golfing with Pete and his buddies. I played with Frank and his sons-in-law several times, and got to know him a little bit in the process.

In the fall of 1991, Pete just happened to mention to Frank how much he’d love to one day go to Augusta and see The Masters Tournament. Frank responded in a surprising way.

“You really want to go? I’ve had tickets for thirty years. You can take mine.”

While I wasn’t there to witness it, I can just imagine the look on Pete’s face. How did he know Frank for this long and not know that he had Masters tickets?! Apparently Frank had tired of going at some point in the late 60’s or early ’70s and just stopped going. For reasons that aren’t clear, he kept getting the tickets thought. Thank goodness.

Come April 1992 and Pete goes to Augusta for the first two rounds, and has the time of his life. I was very happy for him–jealous, but very happy.

At some point during that summer, Frank and Pete were playing golf again and the subject of The Masters once again came up.

“You know who would really like going to Augusta?,” Frank said to Pete. “Your son-in-law, Mark would really like it, wouldn’t he?”

I have no idea what Pete said in reply, but I’m pretty sure it was something like, “DUH!!” The next time I was with Pete, he told me of the offer. To say that I was stunned and elated doesn’t do it justice. Two passes for all four days of the tournament. A dream fulfilled.

Thanks Frank!

So on Tuesday, April 6, 1993 with my best friend growing up at my side–the brother I never had, the best man at our wedding and the guy who could never figure out how to beat me on the golf course*–we headed for Augusta. Being novices and the internet and Google not having been invented yet, we struggled a bit on lodging and ended up staying about an hour outside of Augusta in South Carolina. On the drives to and from the hotel, we had a running bet on the amount of road kill we’d pass. It was always double digits as I recall.

Back then, the practice rounds were open to the public. All you had to do was walk up and buy a ticket. The real reason for going early was that you could take pictures during practice. The camera wasn’t the greatest and the day was full of glare, but they’re some of my favorite photos. My impressions of the golf course and the experience of being there are beside the point of this piece. Suffice it to say that it’s the most beautiful inland golf course I’ve seen and one that has much more dramatic changes in elevation that you’d ever imagine from watching on TV.

On Friday after the second round I bid farewell to my friend and went to the Augusta airport to meet my golf nut father, who was going to join me for the tournament’s last two rounds. It is an experience that he still talks about, and one that I’m so happy to have been able to share with him.

With us standing nearby, Chip Beck laid up and 15 and basically conceded the tournament to Bernard Langer, who won his first green jacket. As the leaders headed up 17, my dad and I headed back to Amen Corner for one  last look–one undisturbed by the mobs of people (make that “large numbers of patrons”–the members of the Augusta National Golf Club frown on “mobs”, just ask Jack Whittaker).

There are few places prettier than a golf course late in the day, when the sun is low and the shadows of the trees get long and stretch across the vast green of the manicured acreage. This is true of any golf course, but in the gloaming of that spring evening, in the shadow of the hundred-foot tall loblolly pines, the beauty of the place left us speechless as we walked.

We spent the night in Atlanta and flew out early the next morning. I was already composing the Greatest Thank You Note of All Time in my head. There was no way I could do that experience justice in a few lines of a note to Frank, but I tried.

I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t think about subsequent visits to Augusta with Frank’s tickets. After all, he was tired of the hassle of going to the tournament.

I know many people who have gone to the Masters; some who go every year with clients. I think that the way the tickets came to me make my trip there infinitely more meaningful and special. I’m glad that’s how I got to go.

. . . . . . . . .

Later that summer, I heard the awful news. Frank had had a heart attack and died. Although not a young man, his passing was too soon and quite sad for his family and those that cared about them. And no, the subject of what was going to happen to the tickets never came up.

. . . . . . . . .

While my own Masters story ends there, at this point the story of Frank and the Masters Tickets took an interesting turn.

When the 1994 Masters ticket application arrived, not surprisingly Frank’s widow returned it to the Club, telling them of her husband’s passing. Several years later Frank’s widow remarried, and to a real golf fan, no less. Her new husband heard the story of the legacy of the ticket. Hearing it, he…ahem…strongly urged her to contact Augusta National and see if she could get the tickets back. (Had it been me, it would have been “YOU DID WHAT? YOU GOTTA GET THOSE TICKETS BACK!”)

Among the truisms in American sports is that the Masters pass is the toughest ticket to get (without scalping). The waiting list for getting tickets was established in 1972 and closed in 1978 when it became so long that those at the back of the line had no realistic chance of making it to the front in their lifetimes.** It was in this “there is no waiting list” period that Frank’s widow contacted AGNC to tell her story.

It worked. When no one else could get tickets; with the list closed and no hope of getting tickets in your lifetime, she got four tickets for as long as she wanted them.

Miracles happen. The men in the green jackets have hearts after all. Amazing.

And every April, I thank God for Frank Furlong.

 

 

* He finally beat me a week after the birth of our first child, when I was in such a funk that concentrating for more than 15 minutes was a stretch, let alone four hours. Since then, he’s been playing twice a week and is now a 3 (and yet he still is reluctant to give me the five shots I deserve! Old habits die hard.) and beats me like a drum.

**In 2000, the Club reopened the waiting list briefly. A history of what’s happened since then is here. I’ve won the practice round lottery once, in 2009, and was able to take my son there–something for which I’m eternally grateful.

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