A year ago, four days before Tiger Woods won his fifth green jacket at The Masters, Brandon McManus had his own moment in the spotlight at Augusta National. The Broncos' kicker caddied for former Masters champion Zach Johnson during the annual Par 3 competition, and Johnson let McManus play the ninth hole during the Wednesday event.
As this year's iteration of The Masters begins, we spoke with McManus about how he got the opportunity to caddy for Johnson, what the rest of his trip to Augusta National was like, his thoughts about this year's tournament and more.
Aric DiLalla: How did you end up caddying for Zach Johnson in the Par 3 competition?
Brandon McManus: "My mom used to watch "The Bachelor" all the time, and I continue to watch it with my wife now. Ben Higgins, who is a Denver resident, was the Bachelor. I met him a couple times in Denver and became pretty good friends with him, and he knew Zach personally. So that's kind of how it started initially. He said, 'Hey, I do this event with Zach Johnson in Iowa.' We had Casey Kreiter on the team at the time too, and Zach Johnson's a big Iowa football fanatic … growing up there just outside Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
"Ben said, 'Hey, I'm going to his charity golf event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa,' and I said, 'Well, I'd love to go. See if he'll have me.' He has a pro-golfer section and a celebrity section. … I went out there a couple of years ago and did that event, and that was really the first time I met Zach and we kind of built our relationship off of that and I always went back in years after that and continued to go back and support his foundation and the event.
"One year I said, 'Hey, it's a bucket list of mine and my dad's. I want to take him to the Masters to go down there to Augusta.' He said, 'I'll get you tickets, no problem.' I said, 'Sweet.' He was able to get me two tickets. I wanted to bring my brother-in-law too — he's a big golfer and played golf in high school — so I ended up buying an extra ticket for him online.
"About a week or two before we went down to the tournament, Zach reached out to me … and he asked me if I wanted to caddie in the Par 3 competition. I almost thought he was joking. He was dead serious, and it was a moment that I'll never forget. It was truly spectacular, even just being on those grounds, walking that course and having the opportunity to put on the white apron and walk inside the ropes with these tour players and these other caddies. It was an experience that I'll never forget, and it's definitely up there with winning the Super Bowl."
AD: You were able to hit a shot during the Par 3 tournament, right?
BM: "I hit the tee shot on the ninth tee box. The year before me, Jack Nicklaus' grandson had a hole in one on that hole. [Johnson] said, 'I'll let you hit a shot.' So we kind of talked about it on hole four or five. He asked if I wanted to do it, I said I'd love to. We were playing with Jimmy Walker and Billy Horschel on the Par 3 competition there. So he said, 'I'll let you hit Jimmy's club because he's taller than me.' So we came around to the ninth tee and Jimmy's caddy and Billy Horschel's caddy hit shots and I didn't want to ask, 'Hey Jimmy, can I hit your club?' And Zach didn't speak up at all, so I hit Zach's club. I needed to find an excuse somewhere. I don't know how far it was, maybe 120, 130 yards. It was over across the whole water, the ninth hole. And there's a bank with all the fans on the hill just behind the green. I was like, 'Man, I hit this really far.' I was nervous and all of a sudden you see the crowd starting to stand behind the green, because they saw it started to come at them, but it landed right at their feet just off the green, just to the left side. Zach ended up letting me play the whole hole. It was an amazing experience."
AD: How did the nerves compare to kicking a 50-plus yard field goal?
BM: "Not the tee shot. When I get on the green it is. For some reason, I cannot figure out putting. I haven't mastered [it] yet, and every time I step over putts, not even just there — every time I'm putting at my local course in a normal match, a three-foot putt is much more nerve-wracking than any 50-yarder in the Super Bowl for me. Hitting the tee shot on the ninth tee box into the green, I wasn't really nervous. I was just super excited. What a dream come true to be able to do this. It was amazing."
AD: You were able to eat lunch in the clubhouse before the tournament, I believe. What was that like?
BM: "The lunch was up there with the whole experience too. Obviously, Zach being a former champion, I was able to eat in the locker room because there's a champions' locker room and then there's a locker room for all the other players. The funny thing I didn't know about is up in the attic is [a place] where the amateurs stay. They don't stay at the hotel or Airbnbs. The amateurs stay in the attic of the clubhouse, and there's bunks up there and that's where their lockers are. I thought that was just such a unique thing that I never knew about. Zach invited me to lunch. You have lunch in the locker room. There's tables and a server and we're sitting down and Sergio [Garcia] was having lunch with some people and all the other former winners. Gary Player is standing there getting changed at his locker and I introduced myself to him and the food comes out and he sits down and he pretty much grabbed the French fry off my plate. He called it a chip being down there from South Africa. It was funny. I was soaking up everything just learning from them about the game of golf and about their careers and tips that they were talking about the course, [and] the environment … on Sundays when they had the lead going in. It was just such a surreal experience growing up watching Gary and watching Zach win a couple years before I had the chance to meet him was really cool. A bunch of other people [were] coming through, like Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson. Right after lunch, we had to go putt right before we went to tee off for the Par 3 competition. We went up to the putting green and that's where Justin Thomas was and Tiger. So I met Tiger and Tiger's caddie Joe LaCava, who is a New York Giants fan and wears a Giants shirt underneath his caddie bib for every Masters. [It was] just an experience to be there — it was a priceless experience. I couldn't put any amount of money on it."
AD: Obviously The Masters is at a different time this year, and you'll be preparing to play against the Raiders this Sunday, but will you still try to find time to watch?
BM: "Absolutely. I'll still wake up at my normal time on Sunday, and there will be tee times going off. Sunday is obviously a special time. … This whole week starting [Thursday], I'll be dialed in watching. It's a magical place, a place I would love to go play. Haven't had the chance to. I've been there, but would love to have the chance to go down there and play. ... Technically you're not supposed to ask. You never ask to get to get invited there. Whoever is the member will invite you. I'm a huge fan of the game of golf. It's the most difficult and challenging sport, mentally, in all of sports. Obviously, that says a lot coming from a kicker who has a very mental position."
AD: Any picks for us this week?
BM: "I still love Tiger. Anytime he's there, I think he has a chance to win. I know he's not playing up to par with what he would like to and he'sgetting older and this is the first time they're playing in November, so the conditions will definitely be different. The ball won't go as far. But I still like Tiger, but if I had to go with someone else, I like Xander Schauffele. He's always up at the top here and hopefully this could be his year."