By Laura Levering
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Sgt. Kayanna Johnson and Spc. Obi Okechukwu are proof you don’t need to be golf fans to appreciate the sport. They are also proof that spending one day at Augusta National can vastly change a person’s perception of golf.
Johnson, Good Shepherd Chapel NCOIC, and Okechukwu, religious affairs specialist with U.S. Army Garrison, were among dozens of Servicemembers who experienced part of the 2018 Masters Tournament. The world-renowned tournament was played April 5-8 at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta. Prior to the tournament, golf contenders spent three consecutive days practicing on the course.
Johnson and Okechukwu attended practice round two on April 3 thanks to the generosity of Robert Amos, a local resident and golf fan. Amos said he reached out to the Fort Gordon Garrison commander so that he could give a couple of Soldiers a chance to go.
“I’m not sure that folks outside the military have a true appreciation for the sacrifices all our Soldiers make every day,” Amos said. “It was nice to share something with them that they might not otherwise have an opportunity to do.”
Having heard nothing but positive things about the Masters since being stationed at Fort Gordon, Johnson and Okechukwu accepted Amos’ invite without hesitation.
“When I first got here, everybody talked about the Masters,” Johnson said. “It’s like a once in a lifetime thing.”
Johnson said she was most excited about having a chance to see golf legend Tiger Woods, whom her husband admires, and basking in the beauty of the course’s greenery.
“When I spoke to Mr. Amos on the phone, his challenge for me was to see if I could find a weed out there, basically trying to emphasize how beautiful the course is,” Johnson said.
Not knowing what to expect, Okechukwu did a little research online prior to attending. But what he saw in images and described in words did the sights and sounds little justice.
“When we got to the course, I thought, ‘oh my goodness, this is like a metropolis,’” Okechukwu said.
Crowds of people in the midst of open, perfectly manicured grass, flowers, and trees. Spectators lining fairways in complete silence, broken moments later by the sound of a swinging club and soaring golf ball, ending with an applause.
Johnson said she was most surprised by the large number of people there were yet how quiet it was when a golfer was teeing off.
“When you think about an amusement park, football game, or something like that and how loud and chaotic it can be … but it was really quiet out there,” Johnson said. “We could actually hear the ball soar through the air.”
Then there was the surprisingly inexpensive “grab and go” food including the infamous pimento cheese sandwiches and peach ice cream sandwiches; a brand new golf shop stocked with Masters memorabilia and 64 registers to assist customers; and as Okechukwu pointed out, an absence of cell phones, litter, and pesky insects.
“It was so cool,” he said.
One unique aspect of practice round days is that fans have a chance to see golfers up close as they walk the course in preparation for the tournament. And although cell phones are strictly prohibited inside Augusta National, patrons are permitted to bring cameras during practice days, but not during the tournament. Johnson was unable to fulfill her goal of getting Tiger Woods’ autograph for her husband, but she did manage some close-up photographs.
Nor did she find any weeds, to her amazement.
“We talked about it the whole time we were there, and I could not find one,” Johnson said.
Amos said one of his goals was to show Johnson and Okechukwu as much of the course as possible in hopes they would gain an appreciation for the history and beauty of the course. Judging by their reactions, Amos’ mission was accomplished. Both Soldiers plan to enter next year’s lottery in which Fort Gordon Servicemembers will have an opportunity to purchase tournament badges through a partnership between Augusta National and the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. Furthermore, Okechukwu said he plans on looking into attending other golf tournaments.
“I told my husband it was amazing and that we need to find a way to get tickets in the future so he can go,” Johnson said.
As for Amos, longtime Masters patron, the experience was different from any other he had.
“I really enjoyed interacting with the Soldiers, learning about what they do, and coming away feeling good about the quality of men and women in the Army,” Amos said.