Perhaps you were the kid in the backyard passing a football to himself. Probably you complemented your thrilling catches and zig-zag runs with crowd noise, narration from Brad Sham, and an end zone dance. Cowboys win!
Maybe golf inspired your athletic fantasy life. It’s a little embarrassing to recall teenage me hanging on the yellow ropes at Firestone Country Club with the faint demented expectation that one of the competitors was going to pull a muscle and have to drop out. But someone had to play with Jack Nicklaus, if only to mark his scorecard. An official would scan the crowd and settle his gaze on me.
“You look like a good player, son,” he’d say. “Would you please fill in? America needs you.”
Something like that occurs at the Masters. Because they think of everything, Augusta National provides a fantasy guy. This gentleman is occasionally brought in—literally from the gallery– to even out the weekend field. His title is Non-competing Marker.
The NCM is invoked only for Saturday or Sunday rounds. As you know, as at other PGA tour events, they play in threesomes in the first two rounds in the Masters, and in pairs on the weekend. If an odd number of players make the cut in the Waste Management Open, for example, they simply pair up the three highest scorers, and off they go. But the twosome thing is inviolate in the year’s first major.
Jeff Knox, the current Non-competitor, and his predecessor, Danny Yates—both Augusta National members, by the way, and both U of Georgia graduates, and owners of impressive golf games–have had wonderful adventures as the NCM. Even though no one ever wanted to be paired with them, because seeing Jeff or Danny on the first tee means that you are in last place, and off the tee first.
“Don’t get too far ahead!” Competition Chairman Will Nicholson, Jr. told Yates more than once. “Slow it down.”
For the DFL competitor, however, the temptation to play fast and get it over with is strong. So it was for Jeff Maggert in 1994, when his 75-73-82 earned him the first Sunday starting time and a date with Yates.
No other group was in shouting distance when they came to the thirteenth hole. Both hit good drives. Yates’ two iron from 223 bounced onto the right edge of the green then trickled into the hazard. Maggert adjusted his aim. Perfectly. His three iron from 222 rolled into the jar for only the third double-eagle in tournament history, and the first one on thirteen.
“I think there was a high five,” recalls Yates, the 1992 Mid-Am champ, and the owner of an insurance business in Atlanta. Neither he nor Maggert are the emotional type.
Nor is Knox. Like Yates, Jefferson Knox is an unassuming man despite his accomplishments and his club membership. But while Danny flew under the radar during his years as a Non-competing Marker, Jeff Knox is a Thing. Because of two things: first is his absolute mastery of Augusta National’s greens—he owns the members tees club record at ANGC, a 61, and has shot 69 from the pro tees, and both gaudy scores were built on one-putts.
Thing two: Knox, 55, owns unofficial one-round wins former Masters champ Craig Stadler, former US Am champion and Dallasite Kelly Kraft, and—drumroll–Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia. Rory had a great time and didn’t mind but Sergio paid off on their modest wager and then refused to shake the am’s hand. Oh, Sergio…
“Jeff could beat half the field who made the cut,” said Jim Furyk in 2006, after not losing to his marker.
I’ll be in the gallery at the Nelson again this year. Although I play from the whites and I have a beer at the turn, I’m still available to play if a warm body is needed to keep someone’s score.
There are a thousand better candidates, obviously.
But I can dream, can’t I?