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AP photo by Matt Slocum / Fans arrive for a practice round ahead of the Masters on April 9, 2019, at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.

Bucket list.

The Masters.

For sports fans the world over, those two entities go together like dogwoods and azaleas, Amen Corner and Rae's Creek, Butler Cabin and the green jacket.

And if you're lucky enough to have attended the Masters even once, you've probably checked off the most coveted item on your bucket list.

Which is just what longtime local high school baseball coach and current mortgage lender Greg Payne thought he was about to do on Feb. 25, when he received a pair of Masters badges through a friend for this year's Monday, April 6, practice round.

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Staff file photo / Greg Payne coaches McCallie baseball players during a state tournament game against Memphis University School on May 22, 2014, in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

"Oh, goodness, I'd tried to get them every year for at least 10 years through the lottery," Payne explained this week. "I'd even started mocking myself on social media. When I didn't get them again this year, I posted a fake letter from Augusta National that read:

'Dear Greg,

Not now. Not ever. Stop applying. We'll never let you in!

Sincerely,

The Masters'

"But a friend of mine saw the post and asked me if I wanted to buy two of his four practice round badges. Of course I said 'Yes!' I've got them in my house right now."

The excitable Payne immediately returned to social media to flout his good fortune.

"Do you have Masters badges?" he gleefully asked. "Because I do!"

Then on March 13, two days after the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley released, in part, the following statement: "On Wednesday, March 4, we issued a memo stating that our plans to host the Masters Tournament, the Augusta National Women's Amateur and the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals had not changed. Unfortunately, (due to) the ever-increasing risks associated with the widespread Coronavirus COVID-19, we have decided at this time to postpone the Masters Tournament, the Augusta National Women's Amateur and the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals.

"Ultimately, the health and well-being of everyone associated with these events and the citizens of the Augusta community led us to this decision. We hope this postponement puts us in the best position to safely host the Masters Tournament and our amateur events at some later date."

Said Payne, recalling his worst Friday the 13th ever: "I was giving (baseball) hitting lessons, and my phone starts blowing up. Texts from everywhere. My friends were making fun of me, which I probably deserved. It was kind of like you thought you'd scored the winning touchdown, you'd spiked the ball, done a victory dance, then the touchdown was called back on a penalty. It was terrible."

So, at least for a month or three or six, Payne has his badges but no Masters at which to wear them.

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Staff file photo by Robin Rudd / Baylor baseball coach Greg Elie

Much like Payne, Baylor School baseball coach Greg Elie also landed some practice round badges through a friend for this year's Masters. Unlike Payne, Elie had previously won some through the lottery a few years ago.

"One of the coolest, if not the coolest thing, I've ever been to," he said Thursday. "You watch it on TV and you think, 'That's too good to be true. Nothing is that perfect.' Then you walk through the gates of Augusta National and it's even better in person."

His favorite memory from the experience of attending what is usually golf's first major each year?

"We got to watch (two-time Masters winner) Tom Watson," he said. "He walked right by us."

Elie's favorite souvenir from that Masters?

"I bought a polo shirt for myself and one for my son, who was just 1 year old," he said. "He's 5 now and just now growing into it."

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Staff file photo by Robin Rudd / Tony Webb

Tony Webb, who was the head high school football coach at Lookout Valley for 13 years and is now the offensive coordinator at Signal Mountain, has a story that will surely grow like a fish tale in the years to come about a friend who got Masters badges for the first time this year.

According to Webb, the friend received two badges for Saturday's third round. Two weeks ago, he was offered a total of $4,000 for those badges and turned it down. A week later, Augusta National postponed the tourney.

"Think he's not second-guessing himself?" Webb said.

Said Elie with a chuckle when told the story: "I love the Masters, but if somebody wanted to pay me $4,000 for my badges, I'd gladly watch it on the den sofa."

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AP photo by Charlie Riedel / Azaleas bloom overlooking the 16th green at Augusta National during a practice round for the Masters in April 2014. With the 2020 Masters postponed from next month, possibly to the fall, the course is likely to look a lot different when what is usually golf's first major championship of the year is finally held.

But Elie's been there. Webb's friend hasn't. Nor has Payne. At least not yet. And while no one has ever released the odds of winning badges through the lottery, most estimates have there being more than 10,000 applications a year for what may be only a few hundred badges.

That doesn't mean Payne intends to offer his two practice round badges for sale, regardless of when the tournament is played, which many believe will be in October.

"I won't get to see the dogwoods and azaleas in bloom, but I also won't have anything to compare it to," he said. "Besides, it's still the Masters, it's still Augusta National. And now I'll be able to say, at least as long as they have it, that I saw the first Masters ever staged in the fall."

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

 

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