LITTLE ROCK — The long-hitting left-hander with a preference for pink and an appreciation for the unpaid help made a lasting impression on the 13-year-old toting the scoreboard for the golfer’s threesome at the Nationwide Tour event in Fort Smith.
The player handed the young man a couple of golf balls and thanked the people who had walked with him for 18 holes. "It was a big deal for the guy to recognize you," John Thomas said. "I was just a guy holding a sign."
On Sunday, Thomas reveled in Bubba Watson’s victory at The Masters. "It’s really cool that I walked with him before anybody knew who he was," Thomas said. "He’s the same guy he was back then."
Thomas’ father kept him updated via text on Sunday while Thomas took care of business, covering Razorback tennis for the school’s athletic department. Thomas finished in time to see the last few holes and the playoff.
At Fort Smith, Watson failed to win one of the few spots available in the Monday qualifying, but got in as an alternate. Eighth with one round to play, he shot two-over-par in the final round and finished tied for 15th. His paycheck was $7,838. He earned $1.44 million at Augusta.
The winner at Fort Smith in 2003 was Zach Johnson, also a Masters champion.
Former U.S. Amateur and British Amateur champion Steve Melnyk told a story last week about how there was a media Calcutta during his days helping CBS with its Masters coverage.
This particular year, a media member who shall go unnamed imbibed too much and passed out, oblivious to the bidding on the various tournament participants. The first name drawn was that of Jack Nicklaus and, when nobody said anything, somebody volunteered that the man on the floor would bid $500.
Two days later, the man learned he had bid on the 46-year-old Nicklaus. On April 13, 1986, he collected the pool of $25,000.
Twenty paces from a checkout line in the middle of many are the few steps that lead to a place to package and ship the logoed merchandise checked off The Masters shopping list.
The convenience of the UPS facility — clearly marked by a green SHIPPING on a white background — and the helpful workers in the gift shop are for the thousands who purchase caps, shirts, ball markers and other items with the recognizable planted flag or the magic word, Masters.
The gift shop is open only during Masters week and the price of merchandise offered online is jacked up about 100 percent. Like the on-course vittles, prices are more than reasonable.
Those $49.95 caps go for $20.
Inside the store, shirts are grouped according to price, and there is one of each on display above the bins. For $65, dark green is No. 1 and yellow is No. 8. For $75, there are 39 styles, including stripes.
Each is neatly packaged in clear plastic, pricetag attached, in bins. In the middle of the small store are rounders draped with windshirts, jackets, and other paraphernalia.
Although the stock has been expanded some in recent years, particularly in the women’s and children’s area, it is fairly basic. It’s the logo that counts.
Before the tournament began, somebody offered up Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods vs. the field. Knowing that many of the players in the select field have no chance, I would have taken the trio. Mickelson always plays well at Augusta National, I thought McIlroy was the player to beat and that Woods would be in the top 10.
I would have been all in on McIlroy and Woods tying for 40th, 15 shots behind Watson.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is email@example.com.