Joining Allenby's Team, a Bucket List Reality
April 27, 2010
By Peter H. Devin
When my wife, Andrea, and I saw the movie “The Bucket List” a couple of years back, I thought it totally made sense that I would create a list of my own. But I figured such a list would be way in the future, so I paid it no mind. On September 9, 2009, that all changed. After a year of testing because of speech difficulties, I was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. And so the story begins.
ALS is a disorder of the motor neurons of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control the action of voluntary muscles. For unknown reasons, the motor neurons die and the muscles they control no longer function. ALS gradually causes paralysis. A person’s intellect, heart, digestive system, eyesight, hearing and emotions are unaffected. There is currently no cure for ALS, and most patients live three to five years following diagnosis.
It took us a few days to even gather the strength to tell our son, Ryan, his wife, Julie, and our daughter, Chelsea. My wife, Andrea, and I sat in our backyard at the table where we have had so many family meals and memories together, and I said to everybody, “Dad has ALS.” The tears were immediate and long; shock and disbelief followed. We all hugged and held each other, with no words coming out other than to say we would fight this together.
My speech is difficult to understand because I’ve lost those neurons that control the larynx and voice. So although I still have good mobility and strength to golf and get around, I have all but lost the ability to speak. I now communicate by typing into either an app on my iPhone or a communications device that speaks for me as I type into it what I want to say.
Now that I am in a spot in my life where I should make a formal bucket list, Andrea and I have prayerfully determined to live, focusing on our faith in God and spending quality time with family and friends.
And going to the Masters.
When we began to tell friends and family last fall about my disease, there was an immediate outpouring of love and support from all over the country. People from my Alpha Tau Omega college fraternity, my colleagues at Nordstrom, where I’ve worked for more than 20 years and a community of friends and family have rallied around Andrea and me. We totally have felt blessed and honored to have so many friends who truly care.
Last December I was playing golf with some college friends, and they were asking me about my bucket list. I said if I had one, going to Augusta National to watch the Masters would be on it.
So a week prior to this year’s Masters, Andrea couldn’t keep it a secret any longer. My brothers from ATO had planned a trip for us to go to Augusta. Naturally, I was, as they say, over the moon with excitement; and I sent a message of thanks to my buddies Jeff, Dave, John and Rick for organizing the whole thing. Later I learned that more than 20 guys and their families had pitched in and were involved. I am so grateful for great, lifelong friends. Additionally when we notified our friends at home that we were going, another long-time friend, Cary, called us and told me that his friend, PGA TOUR pro Robert Allenby, had two badges for us for Wednesday’s practice round and the Par 3 Contest.
Then the unthinkable happened. Robert asked Andrea via text message if I would like to caddie for him in the Par 3 Contest. Andrea said yes before even talking with me. I love that she knows me too well.
We arrived at Augusta Regional airport on Monday night of Masters week, where friends picked us up. The next morning when my friend David dropped us off at Augusta National, the Masters was upon us.
Joyce, Augusta National’s head of security, was amazing as she helped me get authorization to take my voice machine on the grounds. She was gracious and helpful toward my unique situation.
As we made our way to the course, the crowd dissipated because of the expanse of the course. I just took it all in—the water, the hills, the azaleas and the endless pine and dogwood trees. Seeing the buildings, the leaderboard, with its flags atop, and the landmarks, Augusta National signatures, was a thrill.
After spending the day watching golf, that afternoon we met Robert Allenby, who was so kind when we got together on the practice green in front of Butler Cabin, and he welcomed us to Augusta. He introduced me to his regular caddie, Joe Damiano, who gave me instructions and where to meet for the Par 3 Contest.
Meanwhile, Kimberly Gay, TOUR pro Brian Gay’s wife, contacted Andrea and asked if we could spend some time with them. Andrea and I couldn’t believe that Robert, Brian and their families and friends were so welcoming given that this was the biggest golf stage of the season. We were overwhelmed with joy and gratitude as these PGA TOUR stars and their families would be so kind to complete strangers.
On Wednesday, we met Robert and Joe again on the practice green. I then went with Joe back to the clubhouse to don my white coveralls and check in with the security. Inside the caddie house, Jesse “Gray” Moore, the Masters Tournament’s long-time attendant, assisted me with my white coveralls and made certain my number and hat properly fit.
Then strolling beside the clubhouse, we went to the starting hole at the par-3 course, built in 1960 adjacent to Ike’s Pond and the members’ cabins. The nine-hole course is kept in pristine shape just like the main course. The crowds were amazing and large as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player had teed off just two groups ahead of us. The Par 3 Contest seems to have children as its target audience as many of the players have their kids or grandkids caddie for them. What’s really cool is that each of the players takes time to sign autographs for hundreds of children throughout the afternoon.
The experience for me was somewhat surreal. To be at the Masters was already amazing. Even better was meeting the players and the caddies. But then to be inside the ropes at the Par 3 Contest, caddying for Robert Allenby while the crowds watched and ESPN broadcast was almost unbelievable. I cannot get over how Robert and the other players handled themselves. Robert was gracious, kind and accommodating to everyone but made sure to always stay in conversation with me, especially when my speech is so hard to understand. The fact the Masters started the next morning, I was amazed at how the TOUR pros kept their composure and completely kind demeanors.
Robert played the first two holes of the Contest beautifully, and we were 2-under going to No. 3. By the time we were through, we were at even-par—no thanks to my three-putt on the ninth green. Yes, when Robert teed off on the ninth hole, he told me that I would have to make a long birdie putt to make it good. I responded with, “What? I’m not putting for you.”
“Yes you are.”
After his tee shot, we took the walk around the lake to the green, and in front of ESPN and thousands of patrons, Robert said, “Just tap it because it will go a long way on these greens.” So I tapped it, and it went about 3 feet—which was, unfortunately, about 20 twenty feet short of the hole. I putted again, and the ball went right by the hole, long by 2 feet. I then tapped it in. Even-par 27.
If I did have a bucket list, my experience at the Masters would have been on it. My friends and the people there made our experience very special. To all the people who made my trip possible in the sunshine of Georgia, I’m grateful—grateful for the pimento-cheese sandwiches, the homemade chocolate-chip cookies, our extended time at Amen Corner and the kindness of Brian Gay and Robert Allenby. Our experience was like no other I had ever enjoyed. Both Andrea and I will cherish our time with the gracious people under the dogwoods and pine trees of Augusta National.
Peter H. Devin lives in Newport Beach, Calif.
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