The Masters was over, the sun was sinking low in the sky, and I was standing by myself in the Champions parking lot in front of the Augusta National clubhouse. I had a notebook in my left hand, but there was nothing to scribble down at the moment. This was 2018, and Patrick Reed was somewhere else, trying on his new green jacket. I could hear polite applause in the distance. There were no television cameras around.

One by one, I watched as a stream of players left the clubhouse and headed to the parking lot. Another year of the tournament had come and gone. The past Masters champions, like Nick Faldo and Sergio Garcia and Danny Willett, went in one direction. They could walk right to their cars, a small, but sublime perk of owning a green jacket. The rest of the competitors had to hop aboard a golf cart and be shuttled far away, toward some inferior parking.

For nearly an hour, I waited, until the flow of players slowed to a trickle.

I wanted one last scene for a story I was writing, but the player I was hoping would emerge from the locker room would not show his face. Eventually, I overheard his manager politely ask a parking attendant if it was okay if someone pulled a car around. It had been a miserable day, you see. Another disheartening Sunday while in contention. No one wanted the player to have to suffer the humiliation of climbing aboard a golf cart at this late hour.

The parking attendant nodded. He’d make an exception.

Rory McIlroy wasn’t getting a green jacket (again), but at least someone could fetch his car.

I was in my fourth season of writing golf columns that year, and my assignment at the Masters was rarely – if ever – to write about the winner. I was tasked with mining disappointment. It was a role I’d grown to enjoy, because over time, it helped me better understand the power of Augusta National. For all its aesthetic perfection, for all the syrupy tales of triumph and destiny, the way the Masters could rip your heart out, and repeatedly rub your nose in that heartache with indignities big and small, was often just as interesting as the winner.

Greg Norman and Rory McIlroy do not like one another, nor do they have much in common in the way they view the world. For the past two years, they have butted heads and traded barbs, each believing they were doing what was right for the future of the game. But there was one moment when they found some sliver of community. When Norman appeared in an episode of ESPN’s documentary series 30 for 30, and re-lived his 1996 Masters collapse, McIlroy watched the film and was so moved by Norman’s candor and grace, he sent Norman a text message of appreciation. An olive branch.

“Hopefully, it reminds everyone of what a great golfer you were," McIlroy’s text read.

Few better than Norman could understand the validation the Masters dangles in front of you, know how much it stings when that dream is snatched away.

The exchange briefly mended their relationship, although Norman torpedoed the truce weeks later by telling a reporter from the Washington Post that McIlroy had been “brainwashed” by the PGA Tour. Even though the olive branch didn’t hold, it was a reminder that the Masters still floats above the endless squabbling over money and respect in the world of professional golf. Even sworn enemies can be bonded by the pain the tournament has caused. Imagine how fascinating it would be to attend a “Not Champions Dinner” with McIlroy, Norman, Lee Trevino, Tom Weiskopf, Davis Love III and Ernie Els. You might run out of wine before dessert.

The tug-of-war between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf hasn’t diminished the Masters, despite what LIV has tried to argue about the absence of players like Talor Gooch and Dean Burmester. It’s ultimately given the tournament even more credibility and power. We know from documents turned over to Congress last year that Yasir Al-Rumayyan wanted membership at Augusta as part of the negotiations between the Public Investment Fund and the PGA Tour, but that request went nowhere. An Augusta membership remains one of the rare things, at least for now, that cannot be bought.

Despite recent pleas from some of golf’s biggest names to speed up reunification — McIIroy and Bryson DeChambeau among them — the split has actually made this Masters even more compelling. This week, for example, will mark the first time in 2024 we’ll see Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm vying for the same prize, each getting to make the case that they — and not the other guy — are the best player in the world. We can take a few days and appreciate that Patrick Cantlay is (slightly) more interesting when he’s plotting course strategies as opposed to boardroom strategies. Or, if Xander Schauffle or Jordan Spieth climb into contention once again, the ache of previous disappointments here will linger like millstone around their necks.

It will even be a chance to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Phil Mickelson’s first Masters victory, and the 5th anniversary of Tiger Woods’ fifth Masters, without dwelling on a debate over which one is being selfish and which one is being naive. We may not have many majors left where the two of them are in the field, each convinced they might still have a chance. Time is a son of a bitch, and it’s coming for us all, but the fact that we can’t definitively write either of them off (Mickelson did, after all, finish 2nd last year at age 52; Tiger has made 23 straight cuts here, tied for the record) is another testament to the magic of the course and the tournament.

A Masters win by a LIV player probably won’t mean much for LIV. The league already has seven Masters winners — including Rahm, the defending champion — and their presence has not inspired viewers to watch in large numbers. But a Masters win by Brooks Koepka or Cam Smith or Joaquinn Niemann would do a great deal for each of their personal legacies.

This is particularly true of Koepka. If he were to capture a green jacket, that would be more evidence to support that the majors are all that really matter in this era. Koepka, after all, has approached golf’s regular season (on both the PGA Tour and LIV) with something resembling smug indifference, but he was so incensed after missing the cut at the Masters two years ago, he confessed he tried to put his fist through the back window of his Mercedes in the Augusta parking lot.

The parking lot, it turns out, has seen its share of angst.

Come Sunday, there will be a winner, and his triumph will be replayed for years to come, likely as part of a soft focus montage set to familiar piano music. That man will join golf’s most exclusive fraternity, and get to attend its most exclusive dinner. He’ll be invited back to the tournament every year, have a short but satisfying walk from the Champions parking lot to the clubhouse, and he'll be referred to as a Masters champion in his obituary when he dies.

Someone else will leave the property shaken and riddled with doubt. You might forget about their disappointment, but for them, that wound will linger.

If you want something badly enough, you have to risk how much it will hurt after you feel it slip away. That’s about when you realize you can’t put a price on the tournament you covet the most. Just a cost.

Kevin Van Valkenburg is the Editorial Director of No Laying Up.

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