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Posted November 13, 2020, 10:07 am
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Former Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer's trips to Augusta National have been emotional

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    Former Florida and Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer (right) has a close friendship with current Augusta National Golf Club Chairman Fred Ridley, and that resulted in a surprise present for winning the 2008 BCS national championship. [COLUMBUS DISPATCH FILE PHOTO]

As Urban Meyer turned onto Magnolia Lane after being invited to play Augusta National in the mid-2000s, his mind drifted back to his childhood in Ashtabula, Ohio. Growing up, the Meyer family didn't religiously follow golf, but each April there was one event Bud Meyer watched with his son.

“My father and I never missed watching Sunday at Augusta,” Meyer said. “The first time I was invited to play Augusta National, I teared up driving down Magnolia Lane. It brought back all the memories with my father.”

Meyer, who has won three college football national championships (Florida 2006, 2008 and Ohio State 2014), was first invited to play Augusta National as a guest of member Lou Holtz. After teeing off on No. 1, Meyer and Holtz saw a golf cart driving toward the fairway.

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“So we’re on No. 1 fairway and Jim Nantz shows up on a golf cart,” Meyer said. “He followed us for four holes. Nantz, us and Augusta – it was pretty surreal.”

A few years passed without Meyer returning to Augusta National, when his phone rang in 2009. The Gators had recently captured the 2008 BCS Championship and a University of Florida graduate wanted to congratulate the coach on the victory.

“We win the national championship and I get a phone call from Fred Ridley — a friend of mine,” Meyer said of the now-Chairman of the Masters Tournament and Augusta National Golf Club. “Fred says, ‘I have great news for you. As a gift for the championship, we’re going to invite you and Tommy Shannon to Augusta.’”

Shannon quarterbacked Florida from 1962-64, and later became principal owner of Outback Steakhouses in California. Meyer, Ridley and Shannon were nearing the end of their round when Florida’s football coach found a wooden bench on Augusta National’s second nine and sat down. Meyer gazed at his playing partners, then spoke from the heart.

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“I’ll never forget what he said,” Shannon recalled. “Urban looks up and goes, ‘I would rather be here with you people, at this location, on this day, than anywhere else on earth.’ It almost brought me to my knees. It was an incredible moment. That’s a statement you don’t say often. You look at your wife and say it when she gives birth to your child — you say it in moments like that. It was such a sincere ‘thank you’ from Urban to Fred. I was just a victim of circumstance. I happened to be there.”

During his visit with Ridley, Meyer stayed in Butler Cabin and also played the Par 3 course. His highlight was a birdie on the famous par-3 No. 12.

“I remember looking outside my room and seeing the fireplace where the green jacket ceremony takes place,” Meyer said. “Playing with a guy like Fred Ridley was incredible. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”