Like so many golf aficionados this weekend, Lorenzo Ward will have his television tuned to the Masters.
After so many years of being there in person.
“This will be the first year I’ve missed in a long time,” says Fresno State’s new defensive coordinator, watching Thursday’s first round on his office set. “Sure I’d love to be there because it’s just so great.”
Ward doesn’t know the exact number, but estimates he’s attended Sunday’s final round about 20 times. One of the first was in 1997, when Tiger Woods lapped the field by 12 strokes to win his first major. He has also played Augusta National Golf Course twice thanks to connections of Steve Spurrier, his former boss at South Carolina.
“The course is spectacular – there’s not a leaf, even a speck of dirt, out of place,” Ward says in his syrupy Southern drawl. “You can take your shoes off and it feels like you’re walking on carpet.”
The course is spectacular – there’s not a leaf, even a speck of dirt, out of place.
Fresno State defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, on Augusta National
Augusta, Georgia, home of the Masters, is 70 miles from Columbia, South Carolina, Ward’s home for the past seven years. So it was an easy drive down Interstate 20. But he’s been attending Sunday at the Masters since his days as an assistant at Tennessee-Chattanooga from 1994-98.
In fact, Ward only began playing golf as a condition of employment. After spending the 1993 season as a graduate assistant at Alabama, his alma mater, he got the opportunity to interview for the Tennessee-Chattanooga defensive backs job with Mocs defensive coordinator Buddy Green.
“The very first question (Green) asked me was, ‘Do you play golf?’ ” Ward recalls. “I said, ‘Never in my life.’ And he said, ‘Well, this interview is over.’ So I said, ‘I can learn.’ ”
Learn, Ward did. Green tapped a friend, who happened to be golf coach at Florida State, to send a set of irons. They were adorned with an “FS” emblem.
“That was my first set of clubs,” he says. “I played for a year and couldn’t break 90. I’d get mad and break clubs. So I told myself, ‘If I’m going to do this I need to take a lesson.’ So I did, took six lessons, and it soon got to where I could shoot in the 80s. Then with a little more practice it got to where I could shoot in the 70s.”
These days Ward sports a 5-handicap.
Pretty darned good for an amateur, except during those times when he played Augusta National.
“First hole, I hit driver that left me 102 yards to the green,” Ward says. “I took out my sand wedge and hit the ball about 3 feet from the pin, which was in the back of the green. It spun and rolled all the way off the green and back onto the fairway.
“The caddie turned to me and said, ‘Welcome to Augusta.’ Those greens are so slick, and it’s set up even harder for the pros.”
(Golf) is relaxing because you can go out and play for 4 hours, and it’s just you trying to control a little white ball.
I ask Ward if any of his balls landed in Rae’s Creek, the infamous water hazard that flows along the back of the 11th green and in front of the 12th.
Ward shoots me a stern look: “I didn’t hit any balls into Rae’s Creek.”
“Yeah, I did,” he says with a smile. “I hit two of them in there to tell you the truth.”
With that, Ward lets out a hearty laugh. I laugh right along with him.
Ward has been to Augusta National so many times that he knows many of the peculiarities.
For example, no beer is sold during Sunday’s final round until noon. (Folks start lining up at 11:30 a.m.) Caddies and other employees cannot accept tips. And while the Masters is well known for providing cheap food to spectators, most notably $1.50 pimento cheese sandwiches, the gift shop is a different story.
As one of Ward’s fellow Gamecocks coaches discovered on his first visit.
“They’ve got all these shirts (on display) and each one has a number on it,” Ward says. “Might say 15. Might say 16. Something like that. And so he didn’t pay any attention that those were the numbers of the shirts. He thought they were the price. So he ordered four or five shirts and when he got to the register it was like $378.
“I had a good laugh over that. He said, ‘Don’t tell nobody.’ But of course I did.”
When Ward got the job to resuscitate Fresno State’s defense, golf clubs were the first thing he had shipped out.
In January, when Ward got the job to resuscitate Fresno State’s defense, golf clubs were the first thing he had shipped out. The 48-year-old has played at San Joaquin and Copper River multiple times and is looking forward to trying out Fort Washington on Monday in a fundraiser for team orthopedist Eric Hanson.
Ward’s family did not move West. Tara, his wife of 23 years, opted to remain in South Carolina so their 19-year-old son Lorenzo Jr., a freshman at The Citadel military college, has a place to go when on weekend furlough.
“It’s like I’m in the military,” he jokes. “I’ve been shipped off to Iraq.”
Except, I point out, he gets to play golf.