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Posted April 8, 2019, 6:34 pm
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Boyette: Big oak the place to be during Masters Week

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    Craig Stadler speaks with 2019 World Golf Hall of Fame inductee Dennis Walters during the first practice round of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, Monday, April 8, 2019, in Augusta, Georgia. [MICHAEL HOLAHAN/THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE]

Ben Crenshaw was trying to hold court underneath the big oak tree at Augusta National on Monday, but he kept getting interrupted.

The gathering spot for Masters Tournament invitees, club members and their guests, assorted media and other personalities has been the go-to place for more than 80 years. The live oak was planted when the original clubhouse structure was built in the late 1850s, which makes the tree around 160 years old.

Photos: Masters Monday Practice Round

For those with access inside the ropes around Augusta National’s clubhouse, standing under the big oak is the best thing this side of a Berckmans Place pass.

Crenshaw, a two-time Masters winner, was explaining the changes on No. 5 to a group of reporters when Bob Goalby came out of the clubhouse.

“I remember when you played college,” said Goalby, the 1968 Masters winner. “I remember I told Tommy Aaron, I saw you on the range, and I said there’s one of those hotshot amateurs.”

Crenshaw first played in the Masters as a long-haired amateur in 1972. He played in 44 consecutive Masters, and his two wins (1984 and 1995) are each the stuff of legend.

“Good to see you,” Crenshaw told Goalby. “Glad you’re here.”

About that time Peter Jacobsen stopped by. The NBC golf analyst hammed it up with the two former champions.

“I’m sorry, what’s your name,” he joked as he thanked Crenshaw for his help on a recent telecast.

Aaron, the 1973 winner, poked his head over Crenshaw’s shoulder to see what the fuss was all about.

Crenshaw said he and his wife, Julie, “love being here.”

“You just say to yourself, how lucky can you be to play that many times,” he said. “The whole thing’s a festival. You keep seeing people. Everything is just so familiar.”

Not far away from Crenshaw, Dennis Walters was busy as he had conversations with Tiger Woods, Craig Stadler and Jacobsen. He doesn’t have a green jacket, but he will go into the World Golf Hall of Fame this summer.

For those who don’t know Walters’ story, it truly is inspiring.

A car accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, but he’s been able to keep golf in his life through The Dennis Walters Golf Show.

“I think it means a tremendous amount to me because of where I started this journey 45 years ago in a hospital bed,” Walters said between well-wishers. “I don’t even know if I can play golf. I have to invent a way in order for me to play golf.

“Then you go on a 42-year odyssey, over 3 million miles, over 3,000 performances, that’s quite a journey. To be recognized like that ... I just couldn’t be more grateful.”

Four-time winner Woods spied Walters as he made his way from the clubhouse to the putting green near the first tee and stopped to chat.

“Tiger is getting the Ben Hogan Award. I congratulated him because I won it in ‘78,” Walters said. “A few weeks ago, Tiger was at my course (Trump Jupiter) playing with the president and Jack Nicklaus. Tiger came over and congratulated me for getting into the World Golf Hall of Fame. I said, ‘Wow, who would have ever thought I’d get in before you?’

“I saw him here, and I said congratulations to you for getting the Ben Hogan Award. That’s another thing I got before you. We had a big laugh on that.”

Walters once did a show at Augusta National for its members.

“I hit a hundred balls off the first tee,” Walters said with a laugh. “That’s like making the cut in 25 Masters. But I hit them all in the fairway. How are you going to miss that fairway?”

Crenshaw has missed a fairway or two in his day, but putting was always his thing. He was telling the story about his 60-foot birdie putt at No. 10 in 1984 when Jerry Pate, who had stopped by earlier, popped in again.

“Are you still talking?” Pate asked. “You can outtalk me. That’s hard to do.”

Crenshaw has met every Augusta National chairman and played the tournament when the course had bermuda greens. So he is qualified to comment on all things Masters, and the golf history buff gets the appeal of this rite of spring.

“We know the golf course, we know the holes,” he said. “The way the leaderboard was invented, all of the stuff, some of the firsts here, it’s familiar to a lot of people. It’s a spectacle every year.”

The same holds true for the scene under the big oak, Crenshaw said.

“It’s the same it’s always been,” he said. “Tradition.”