Dear Diary

Masters 2019: A guide to the fine art of hanging out at your first Masters

Award-winning illustrator James Yang put together a diary and portfolio of his maiden visit to Augusta NationalApril 8, 2019

EDITOR'S NOTE: We hired James Yang to do illustrations at Augusta National during last year's Masters, part of Golf Digest's annual First Impressions series by artists, photographers and writers. Turns out that despite his anxiety over fitting in, James is a funny dude who can write when he isn't winning awards for design. Here's his diary and portfolio—“It's almost like a surreal world”—with tips and cautionary tales for the next artist who takes on what he calls “this most awesome of gigs.”

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IF GOLF DIGEST ASKS you if you would like to be the artist for a few days at the Masters, the correct answer is, “FOR THE LOVE OF HUMANITY OH GOD YES.”

If you live in New York City, you will have a meeting. Editors and art directors will ask you to come to the office. It has a beautiful view of the city. You will see various writers ignoring the view and swinging clubs from their cubicles. It's OK to be judgmental.

• • •

They will explain what you can and cannot do at Augusta National. If you cross a line, you will be banished. I was not concerned until they mentioned, “No phones on the course.” That thing is surgically attached to my hand. It's OK to be freaked out.

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This is why you need to panic about your phone: There is a well-known story among the media about a reporter who blanked out and talked on his phone as he left the media center and walked onto the golf course. Security was on him immediately, and he was banished. The club eventually showed mercy but didn't let him back in until the next day. He is the parable who strikes fear in everyone.

• • •

The editors will also show you previous artwork for the same assignment. Many illustrators are legends or friends of mine who are insanely talented. It's OK to be intimidated, but do not burst into tears until you excuse yourself to the restroom.

Illustrations by James Yang

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OMG, you will get a press pass! You will have access to special areas, but most important, you have access to unlimited food and a restaurant at the media center. My eyes widened, and the art director, who knows me well, said, “I swear to God, do not come back with just sketches of food.” There is now a 98-percent chance that I will come back with just sketches of food.

• • •

The first day: You arrive and will be overwhelmed with getting credentials, figuring out the lay of the land, and soaking in everything that is Augusta National. I travel in Asia and believe Japan is the gold standard for service. Augusta is just as good. The media center is a huge, technological nerve center buzzing with reporters talking, recording segments and writing. It's OK after finding your desk to burst into tears from overstimulus, but first excuse yourself to the restroom and hide in a stall. Make sure to cry quietly, because there is staff inside the restroom.

• • •

The first day, I walked the course with Golf Digest's Alan Pittman. Everything I've been told about the course is true. The rolling landscape combined with the otherworldly foliage put you in a world that is too good for humans. Inspired, I start clicking photos, then sketch from memory back in the media center. After a couple of hours, it dawns on me that I've been copying art from the past few Masters issues. It's OK to excuse yourself to the media-center restaurant and eat a pimento-cheese or egg-salad sandwich while tears roll down your face.

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Speaking of sandwiches, we have an endless supply of pimento-cheese, egg-salad and other sandwiches in the media center. Some writers had multiple sandwiches at their desks. I was wondering how they could write in a food coma. One reporter said the secret is to compensate with equal amounts of coffee. I know another writer who had eight sandwiches in a day. While judging others, I look at my desk. It has two sandwich wrappers, and this is my first afternoon.

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Everyone will look busier than you because you're in shock. Next day, Golf Digest's John Feinstein sits next to me. He immediately sets up and starts making calls and writing. I look to the left, and Alan is editing photos and working on the next issue of the magazine. Behind me is the Swedish editor for Golf Digest typing and lining up interviews with Henrik Stenson and Alex Noren. I try to look busy, so I draw a golf ball with a face.

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My art director warned me not to show sketches to writers or editors. He knows my roughs give people heart attacks. Took a chance and showed a writer my drawing of a golf ball with a face. He has a heart attack.

Illustrations by James Yang

• • •

The staff at Augusta agrees with my art director. I had already developed a good rapport with the hostesses at the media-center restaurant and show my sketches for feedback. They say, “Listen to your art director.”

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Press passes are awesome, Part 1: Spent the morning at the practice range next to a security guard while watching Tiger. The guard occasionally shoos patrons away because it's a restricted area. One patron asks why he has to move but I get to stay. The guard says because I'm media, so move. This is the happiest day of my life.

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Press passes are awesome, Part 2: Visited the clubhouse where only members, players, guests and media are allowed. Gary Player chats me up to make me feel welcome, and it's routine to see the famous next to you. While I was shooting a photo of a hostess for research, a manager comes by and gently says photos of staff are not allowed for publication in any media. I show him my art so he can see how accurately I draw people. He apologizes and asks if I would like a drink on the club.

Illustrations by James Yang

• • •

You will be in shock again just as you're getting over your first shock. Next day, when I return to the media center, everyone is writing their second story. I go online to read their first stories. Feinstein wrote about the old oak tree and clubhouse, which resonates with my experience at the clubhouse. Golf Digest's Max Adler has a story about Tiger's career and uses classic literature as a metaphor. I don't know if Max researched them or knew his references, but it's impressive. Panicked, I draw a sketch of two golf balls holding hands.

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How not to impress golf writers: I told Golf Digest's John Huggan, a Scot, that Mick Fleetwood is my dark horse to win it all. He says, “You mean Tommy? Mick is the drummer.” I double down and stick with Mick so I don't look stupid.

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Everyone is scared of their phones. The No. 1 goal is, don't get banished. There are hard rules that get you kicked out and fuzzy rules that get you kicked out. My Facebook page is run the same way, so I'm scared. Several times, writers rush off, then quickly rush back, horrified that they almost took their phone on the course. Feinstein almost did it twice in one day, but I think he does it for the adrenaline rush. The one time it happens to me, I stare at the phone in my hands like my hands don't belong to me and burst into tears. Trauma therapy is definitely in my future.

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I don't know why, but you keep seeing the same golfer no matter where you go. Francesco Molinari has the best-looking staff bag on tour. It has bold Italian stripes, distressed leather and great design, so I took several shots of his bag at the practice green. Afterward, I kept running into Molinari. I'm at the range in the morning, I see Molinari. I'm wandering holes in the afternoon, and there is Molinari. I go to tee boxes the next day, and Molinari is hitting. My apologies to Molinari and his team if I threw him off his game. It must be disturbing to see a middle-age Korean male in a Masters bucket hat and gangster sunglasses stalking you.

Illustrations by James Yang

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Walk like Fred Couples. Couples is a walking genius. His walk takes less effort, but you cover more ground. You also become better-looking. Mrs. Yang is a choreographer, and I can't wait to show her my new walk.

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The Masters needs more rules. At the Par-3 Contest, I'm waiting in line at a public restroom. A man walks in with a sandwich in his mouth and walks out with the same sandwich in his mouth. I look for a member in a green jacket to suggest a new rule for banishment.

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Press passes are awesome, Part 3: The pass makes it easy to approach anyone. Security guards and I joked with each other whenever a patron did something nuts. Volunteers on the course were shocked to learn I grew up in Oklahoma, and we swapped childhood stories. Augusta has a constant stream of drivers in carts to take you from the media center to the course. One driver and I would crack each other up while talking about our day. The press pass gives you instant friends.

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More about Gary Player: I talk to other writers about my encounter with him. I was freaked because he was talking like we'd met before. The writers tell me Player has an excellent memory for people. I FaceTime Mrs. Yang, and she says I did meet Gary Player many years ago, with our nephew in Hong Kong. She also said Gary probably mistook me for someone else.

Illustrations by James Yang

• • •

Good news: You start to adjust. Bad news: You become too adjusted. While in a room with Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and a few reporters, my mind wanders to egg-salad sandwiches. Another time, a correspondent for ESPN and I are at the range watching Tiger and Rory. We're both from New York and talk about the Yankees because his main gig is baseball. We leave while Tiger and Rory are still hitting. You actually think to yourself, I can catch Tiger or Rory anytime. It's crazy how the special seems normal.

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Do not make this rookie mistake: While on the course with Alan, I tell him the idea for my next children's book. He says it's beautiful. I confess I'm freaked because I told my publisher it will be a masterpiece. Alan says editors like it when you underpromise and overdeliver. Back at the media center, an editor asks how I'm doing. I say I have an epic idea. As he walks away, I punch myself repeatedly in the face.

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Finally: My last day, ideas for art start forming, and I have purpose. I'm fitting in at the media center by writing, editing photos and sketching ideas. While working, I'm constantly eating sandwiches, MoonPies and cookies. The cookies at Augusta are like cookies that the cookie gods save for themselves. It's good that this is my last day. I would add 100 pounds and lose all dietary discipline if I stay longer.

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Take one last look, then burst into tears. Before catching my flight, I say goodbye to all the writers and photographers, then go down to the course for one last look. Feinstein sees me and walks over to say goodbye. I walk to my editor-in-chief to thank him for trusting me. As I leave the media center, the hostesses hug me. They say they had a great time and hope to see me next year. I go to the bathroom and burst into tears in my favorite crying stall.

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Press-pass prologue: Next morning in Brooklyn, I go to a café with my pass and ask the barista for a free coffee and muffin. He wants to know WTF is the matter with me.

I'm really going to miss Augusta.

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