Today’s story celebrates not only Masters Sunday but also a treasured friend who caddied for me and introduced me to my wife on a blind date. Lt. Colonel “Rockin” Ron Senac, a true living legend. 1998 was my toughest season on TOUR. I had lost my dear friend and fellow professional golfer Tommy Moore in May. My game suffered throughout the summer months and after finishing 139th on the money list, I had to head back that fall to the finals of TOUR School. It’s a six round tournament where I missed regaining full status for 1999 by one stroke. Heartbroken doesn’t even come close to how I felt. It was a difficult winter. In January of 1999, while practicing and planning for the year, my friend and financial advisor Tommy Brennan suggested that I use his friend Ron Senac as my caddy to get my game turned around. He said Ronnie is a unique person who will bring you some much needed positivity. Man was he right. I’ve never met someone like Ronnie. Let me introduce you to Mr. Rockin’ Ron Senac. He is a Tulane graduate who starred on the 1954 & 1955 football team as center/guard on the offensive line. He looks the part of a throwback football player from the 50’s. I think they were still using leather helmets back then. After graduation, Ronnie entered the Air Force and became a fighter pilot. He flew 383 missions without losing a wing man during the Vietnam war. After Vietnam he became a Top Gun instructor for the Air Force. Ronnie’s personality could be best described as the character Maverick from the movie Top Gun with all his confidence and bravado but with a physique of former offensive lineman. He lights up every room he walks in to and has never met a stranger. His tag line is “Hey baby, give me a hug.” And trust me, he hugs everybody. LOL. After speaking with Ronnie, we agreed that he would caddy at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Open, a Nike Tour event. From day one I immediately realized he was a special person. His attitude was infectious and his positivity was contagious. After a bad shot he would say “you’re doing alright. There’s no one shooting bullets at us.” He kept me grounded in the moment. That week I made a hole in one and finished 4th. As we walked to the car Ronnie said “I’m your lucky charm baby.” The next tournament was the NIKE Monterrey Open in Monterrey, Mexico. Ronnie quickly became a favorite among the caddies and pros. He held court every night in the hotel bar telling stories and causing trouble. They loved him. We finished 2nd that week. We were off to a great start. On the way back to New Orleans he says “baby, if we are going to keep doing this the rest of the year I want to fly us in my plane.” Ronnie had his own Cessna 210 airplane. I’m thinking to myself, I have to be the smartest pro golfer out there because I’m not good enough to have my own plane but I hired a caddy who does. The deal was made. I would pay for all the gas for the plane and small piloting fee to Ronnie. He would also get all the normal caddy fees during the week. It was on. I finally had a private plane. It’s a game changer. It’s Masters week. Since I wasn’t invited to Augusta and there were no other tournaments for me to play in, I stayed in New Orleans. I spent my time practicing and watching the tournament. The Masters is the only tournament I really enjoy watching on TV, I had watched it every year since the mid 1970’s. I can describe every hole on the course even though I have never seen it in person. Every week on the PGA TOUR there is usually a Monday Pro-Am. One of the most famous ones is the Hootie & the Blowfish Monday After the Masters. I was invited to play in this pro-am held in Columbia, South Carolina. It’s a fun celebrity pro-am followed by an awesome concert. Ronnie says “why don’t we take my plane and leave early Sunday morning?” I think this is perfect so we set our flight schedule. I told my parents about the plan and my dad says “I’ll drive you to the airport, I want to see this plane.” Which at the time I hadn’t seen either. I had no clue what a Cessna 210 looked like. It was a plane, that’s all that mattered to me. I was big time now, LOL. We show up and Ronnie already has THE engine (yes, just one) running. This plane was a flying Pinto. Ronnie called it “Buttercup.” My dad looked at me like I had lost my mind agreeing to fly in that thing. I said “dad, Ronnie’s a fighter pilot. We are going to be fine.” Cleared for takeoff. It was a perfect day. You could see for miles. We quickly climb in altitude to about 9,500 feet. 20 minutes into the flight we are over I-55 in Mississippi and I notice a car on the highway passing up our plane. I’m surprised by this so I ask Ronnie “how fast are we flying?” He says “about 80 mph, we are flying into the wind.” I said “well, there is a car passing us by on the highway below.” He comes back with “if you would putt better we could get a jet and solve this problem.” I laughed for 30 minutes over that one. We start talking about the Masters and Ronnie proceeded to rub it in that he had played Augusta National Golf Club twice. He went through every hole for both rounds. Trust me he didn’t break 80. I didn’t think it was very funny. I was a bit jealous but we were having fun. He asked if I had ever seen it. I told him no. His eyes lit up and he got on his radio headset. He had an idea.Somewhere over Mississippi or Alabama Ronnie radios the air control tower requesting a change in our flight plan. Ronnie says he would like to have clearance to fly over Augusta National. The tower replies “not our air space, you need to check with Atlanta control.” 30 minutes later we check with Atlanta control. The guy laughed, said “good luck with that one!” and passed us on to Augusta control tower. Ronnie didn’t like that the guy laughed that hard at our request so he changed up his approach. Another 30 minutes go by, Augusta tower is next. We are 3 hours into our flight and he changes it up a little bit. Ronnie radios the tower his request. “Augusta Tower this is Lt. Colonel Ron Senac requesting a clearance to fly over Augusta National Golf Club. I have a PGA TOUR player co-piloting today. He has never seen Augusta National; I would like to motivate him.” Tower control replies “what is his name?” Ronnie says “Kelly Gibson.” And the control tower guy says “I play golf and follow the PGA TOUR. You are the last plane cleared for the next 5 hours.” Ronnie was in fighter pilot mode now. We clear through some sunshine and clouds and then he drops the plane from 9,500 feet to 800 feet (which is barely above the pine trees) and starts banking. I want to remind you this was the first time I had ever been in this plane or with Ronnie piloting. We were turning so hard it felt like the wings and windows were going to come off. Out of nowhere, there it was, Augusta National. He dropped down right on top of the back nine. He started to yell “there’s Amen Corner! Look at all the flowers! Look at the people! There’s #16!” Then he makes another hard bank and my head is jammed against the window and my hands are holding on for dear life as we fly up #18 fairway right toward the clubhouse. My eyes were wide open and I was breathless and my entire body was frozen. It all happened so fast. All I could think of was that we were going to crash into the clubhouse on Masters Sunday. 15 minutes later we are landing in Columbia, SC and I am finally recovering from the shock of what just happened. I start busting him pretty hard. I was like “what in the hell was that all about? We could get in trouble for that.” He replies.
“Baby, that might be the closest you ever get to the back nine on Sunday at the Masters.”
Greatest jinx bomb of all time.