The timing had to be perfect, right down to the minute. The journey, covering hundreds of miles, was fraught with potential roadblocks – both literal and figurative. The very best case scenario, where every element fit together like the inner workings of an antique grandfather clock, would result in my arrival for a speaking engagement with a flop sweat-inducing three minutes to spare.
The story you are about to read is true. All of it. The core elements of the story revolve around outmoded concepts like persistence, commitment, adventure, legacy, and Georgia peach ice cream sandwiches.
While the most intense aspects of the story take place in April of 2018, every gripping drama these days has an origin story to help fill in the blanks. Mine takes us back 20 years, to 1999.
Having launched a career in broadcasting as a teenager (appearing in a series of very bad commercials for our family business), I became forever fascinated with the concept of telling stories in an effort to touch the hearts of an audience. Communication, media, and creativity became my passion. To this day, my company motto is, “We Tell Your Story.”
I also had a love for the maddening, confounding, exhilarating, timeless pursuit of golf. I loved everything about the impossible chase of perfection on the course, the life lessons the game teaches everyone brave enough to try it, and the remarkable number of stories associated with it.
In April of 1999, these passions collided and took the form of a new radio program called, “Michigan Golf Live” (MGL). With a modest radio network consisting of five stations small enough that a loud yell out your kitchen window might reach an audience equal to their collective signal coverage, we set out on a journey that recently reached the 20-year mark.
Every Saturday morning from April through August, our 12-station MGL Radio network celebrates the game with broadcasts on location from the top destinations, events, and tournaments in the state. There isn’t another program of its kind in the Midwest, and we’ve been blessed with consistent growth over all these years.
The 1999 launch and the entire first decade of MGL Radio was made possible by a partnership with the PGA Tour’s Buick Open, held in Grand Blanc until 2009. While that event was the highlight of our annual calendar, we also took MGL Radio on the road to major tournaments. Our proud history includes live, on-site reporting from US Opens, PGA Championships, Ryder Cups, and other Tour events from across the spectrum of big time golf competition.
I’d been everywhere, with one notable exception. Augusta National Golf Club.
It wasn’t for lack of effort. There was no higher professional goal than to be allowed to cover The Masters as an approved member of the media.
Every November, my best efforts at requesting media credentials for The Masters would be put to paper. Every January, a form letter of rejection would arrive, thanking me for my interest and declining my request.
Not easily discouraged, I would quickly follow up with a more personal plea…and then would receive back a more personal rejection along the lines of, “Yes, we know who you are and we still don’t want you here.”
I have those letters on display in my home office in much the same way as Captain Ahab likely had a mounted photo of Moby Dick hanging in his den. This was a personal quest, a mission, a cause. I would not be deterred or discouraged.
The display of annual rejection letters continued to grow to the point where I was only mounting the most recent edition, relegating the older slaps in the professional face to a “folder of shame” in an office archive.
Then, one day in 2018, the heavens parted. A blindingly bright ray of sunlight burst through the eastern sky and lit up my office with an injection of hope more powerful than a speeding locomotive.
Augusta National was introducing an amateur event for women – the Augusta National Women’s Amateur – the week prior to The Masters. If I could cover this new event perhaps it would also help serve as a door opener for future acceptance of my Masters application! Anyone standing nearby at that moment could clearly hear the grinding of gears in my bald(ing) head. Like a chess Grand Master, I was seeing the board several moves ahead and knew without any reservation that all the pieces were finally – finally! – coming together in my favor.
I quickly found the credential application information and sent in the form.
I received the rejection email (not even a letter I could frame!) within days.
Then, channeling my inner Charlie Brown, I lined up to kick the football yet again. This time, I came with some additional ammo. Friends with respected leadership positions in the golf and media worlds were kind enough to pen letters of support and recommendation to be included with my application. I was breaking out the big artillery for this epic effort. I would not be denied!
I was denied. Again. Thanks, but no thanks. We don’t have any room for you in the colossal new media center we just built. But hey, we do appreciate your interest.
Charlie Brown was laying flat on his back.
It had finally hit me. I would never be allowed to cover an event at Augusta National Golf Club.
As one who frequently delivers motivational talks to live audiences, I was forced to dig into my own material about resilience, persistence, and moving forward when life isn’t fair. We can’t sit around and mope or shut down our lives because we didn’t get our way. We must move on and prepare for the next opportunity.
That next opportunity arrived quickly, in the form of an invitation to join my son in speaking to a Father/Son group in rural Mid-Michigan. Their dinner was scheduled for the same Friday evening as the Augusta National Women’s Amateur practice round. At one time, I was sure those dates would be in conflict but now I was free to move on with life and accept this gracious invitation. Besides, what could be better than to team up with my talented son to share insights and encouragement with the men who would be attending this special event? I was honored to be invited and committed without hesitation.
The gentleman in charge of the Father/Son dinner began promoting the event, printing up posters, extending invitations throughout the region, and working hard to make it a very special evening for all involved.
When the email from Augusta National Golf Club arrived in my inbox, I almost didn’t open it. The last thing I wanted to see was another generic press release about anything to do with any event. It was now 10 days before the start of the ANWA and I was still a bit sore about the rejection.
I clicked on the email and quickly had my jaw hit the keyboard.
The precise wording of the message was, “I hope you are having a nice weekend. Your appeal regarding credentials for the Augusta National Women’s Amateur has been heard and we have approved Michigan Golf Live for one credential for the event.”
They were saying yes. They were saying yes! They were saying yes?
It was only a few days before ANWA week. I was committed to speak on the Friday evening of ANWA week.
I quickly began scouring the ANWA schedule of events and flight schedule. The two qualifying rounds would start on Wednesday, with the field advancing to the Friday practice round and Saturday’s finals. So, I would have the potential of spending a couple days on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National Golf Club while covering a big time event there.
This was a dream come true, even if I would need to leave earlier than desired.
I booked my flight (at peak spring break rates), reserved a rental car, and found a tiny apartment on Air BNB. I was officially on my way to spending three days working at Augusta National!
I kept reading and plotting. This is where the insertion of the sound of screeching brakes would be ideal.
Those first two rounds of ANWA qualifying? They were being held at another site altogether. The ladies were playing for the privilege of advancing to tee it up at Augusta National only on Friday and Saturday. Before that, they would be at an exclusive, private resort called, “Champions Retreat” about 30 minutes from Augusta National.
My first two days at the ANWA would be spent at another course. When the ladies finally got to Augusta National on Friday, I would have to depart the premises by 10:15 a.m. in order to make my flight back to Michigan, where I would then drive at a rate of speed not recommended (or allowed) in order to arrive at the venue for the Father/Son dinner with five minutes to spare before our speaking engagement.
The timing had to be perfect, right down to the minute, or not only would I be late for (or miss entirely) the speaking engagement, but I would’ve departed Augusta National for naught.
By the way, the idea of backing out of the Friday evening speaking engagement was never on my radar. The opportunity to share a platform with my son meant more to me than a 20-year dream of covering a golf event at Augusta National. What higher honor and thrill could there be than to share a message with the potential of impacting a generation of young men and their dads? Along with that, my father had gone to great effort to be in the crowd that evening. On top of those reasons was the fact that I had made a commitment and was determined to honor it.
Having said all those “morally correct” things about the speaking gig, that doesn’t mean it was easy to pack up my backpack a few short hours after entering the stunning Press Building at Augusta National. I wanted to stay, to work, to make memories. The short time I had on the property as a member of the working media went by in a flash. I spent those fleeting moments exploring the entire building and marveling at the excellence and attention to detail that I’ve never seen in another venue.
I spent some time on the range talking with a player, coach, and caddie from Michigan. All of them were giddy with excitement at being able to play the hallowed Augusta National Golf Club. Who could blame them? Anyone with even the slightest golf heartbeat would be moved to tears at the opportunity to tee it up here. I even located the coveted Georgia Peach ice cream cookie sandwich and devoured it at a time when most southerners were still buttering up their grits for breakfast.
But I was heading home for a much more important reason. I needed to share a story and make memories with my son.
If you have the “Mission Impossible” or “Indiana Jones” theme music handy, this would be an excellent time to cue it up. The unlikely journey was about to begin. It was time to go home.
The timing had to be perfect, right down to the minute.
The drive from Augusta National to Atlanta’s colossal airport is listed as taking 2.5 hours. That estimate, of course, assumes a smooth commute with little traffic and no delays for construction or accidents.
I would then need to return my rental car and catch the shuttle to the main terminal where Delta Flight #3312 was going to take me back to Flint, MI. Departure from ATL was scheduled for 3:09 p.m. with arrival in FNT at 5:11 p.m.
From there, I would jump in my car for a drive of 90 minutes to the venue where the Father/Son dinner was being held. My son would be waiting there. He had instructions to start without me if needed. I had also recorded a video that began with these words – “if you are watching me on video right now, something has gone terribly wrong with the timing of my journey home.”
That 90 minute drive needed to be completed in 75 minutes to allow me to sprint into the church as the Father/Son dinner was concluding and the presentation was to start.
Out of breath yet? I was.
Shockingly, the drive was flawless. Not a single interruption of the needed pace on a gorgeous Friday morning in Georgia. The rental car return and shuttle ride to ATL were so smooth I was now somehow running ahead of schedule. My TSA Precheck scooted me through the security line rapidly and in no time I was at the gate.
Stages 1, 2, and 3 were completed and they could not have gone any better.
Finally seated on the Delta flight, it looked like the plan was hitting on all cylinders. The drive was free from delay. The rental car return and shuttle process was flawless. The flight was on time. This was an epic run of —
“This is your Captain speaking. We’ve got a minor mechanical issue that needs to be addressed before we are cleared for departure. We should be under way shortly.”
This was it. The perfect timing I needed was ruined. My entire elaborate plan and my sincere desire to fulfill a career bucket list item while also honoring a prior commitment had just been lost in the mysterious haze of an unidentified mechanical issue. I didn’t have 10 minutes to spare. Heck, I didn’t have 5 minutes to spare. I even upgraded my seat so I could be the first one to sprint off the plane and run to my car for the supersonic drive awaiting me in Flint. Now, it wouldn’t matter.
In the history of commercial aviation, there has never been the repair of a mechanical issue in less than 2 hours. You know it. I know it. The plan was about to implode.
I actually laughed out loud, overwhelmed by what clearly had to be a vivid display of the incredible sense of humor on the part of the Creator. As a person of faith, I don’t believe in coincidence or fate or luck. I believe all things are orchestrated with intent and purpose, even when those things aren’t readily evident or convenient to our personal timing or plans. There is a God and I’m not Him, so this must be one of the most creative reminders of that reality. The whole thing struck me as rather humorous and maddening at the same time.
And then, this happened.
“Good news from the flight deck. We’ve addressed the issue and are ready to push back from the gate. Flight attendants, please prepare for departure.” The total elapsed time from initial announcement to resolution was less than 12 minutes. Delta came through with an on time departure and landing when I needed it most.
So you’re saying there’s a chance!
I hit the ground literally running in Flint, jumped into my car and began my imitation of a NASCAR champion as I rolled into Breckenridge, MI at 6:26 – 4 minutes before we were to begin the presentation.
The timing had to be perfect, right down to the minute. And it was.