Eyes wide, mouth agape and hands outstretched, Herb Waterhouse is sitting at the kitchen table of his Johns Creek home, imitating a once in a lifetime reaction that's he's seen more often than most folks.
“You’ll think you’re in the Garden of Eden when you go in the front gate,” Waterhouse says, talking about the Masters tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club. “I fell in love with the place as a result of the beauty of it, and of course, the game that I love.”
It wouldn't be hyperbole or exaggeration to say that the 88-year-old eyes of Waterhouse have witnessed some truly incredible moments in sports.
He was at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh on Oct. 13, 1960 when Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off home run to lift the Pittsburgh Pirates to a World Series win over the New York Yankees. He was also in the Georgia Dome on Jan. 30, 1994 when Dallas running back Emmitt Smith rushed for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns, leading the Cowboys to a Super Bowl victory against the Buffalo Bills.
Waterhouse’s sports journeys include three World Series, three Super Bowls and the Olympics. He has a room full of memorabilia, ticket stubs, hats and photos to prove it. He is, in every sense of the term, a mega sports fan.
“The only thing I’ve missed on my bucket list is the Kentucky Derby,” he says. “I’ve been to a lot of big things, but nothing touches the Masters.”
For Waterhouse, there is no singular event in the world of sports that tops the annual golf tournament in Augusta. He went to his first Masters in 1953 and secured his ticket by marching up to a small booth made of plywood, purchasing it for $12.50.
Since that day, the tournament couldn’t keep him away.
Waterhouse has been to every Masters since. His appearance in Augusta last week marked his 66th consecutive trip to the tournament.
“I was ready to throw in the towel after last year,” he says between coughs. “The pollen is getting to me… But they (his grandchildren) talked me into keeping the streak alive, so I think I’ll keep going until I’m 90.”
Waterhouse suffers from arthritis, has had two knee replacements and a bout with vertigo, so getting around an 18-hole golf course isn’t as easy now as it was in 1953, when he was 22. But modern technology has helped. Last year he began using a motorized scooter to get around the course. This year he added a vanity plate: “66TH MASTERS.”
“I’m proud because I haven’t bumped into anybody with it, yet,” he says with a laugh.
Waterhouse has four children, 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren with a 10th due this summer. For the days he doesn’t attend the tournament, the tickets get split between them.
Waterhouse thought that the tournament this year had a bigger crowd than more recent ones due to the pleasant weather and Tiger Woods’ comeback attempt.
Seeing Tiger back on the course was cool, and seeing Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler duke it out for the win on Sunday was a fun moment too, but for Waterhouse, it’s the emotions of spectators seeing the Masters for the very first time that last forever.
“It’s a wonderful thing to see the rush that somebody as a sports fan feels when they get there,” he said.
Waterhouse is a native of Thomasville, where he was raised on a farm until his family relocated to metro Atlanta when he was 9 years old. He went to the University of Georgia and majored in journalism for a bit before switching to business.
He got into the steel business and ran his own company from 1966 to 1987 before selling it. A few years after, he started a company with his son-in-law that is still active today, Valiant Steel & Equipment.
Waterhouse’s first time in Augusta was with a business partner, and both were fans of Ben Hogan, the pro golfer who was recovering from a near-death incident after being hit by a Greyhound bus. Hogan had bounced back by the time the 1953 tournament rolled around and he smashed the Masters scoring record, shooting a 274.
Hogan’s record stood for 12 years until Jack Nicklaus hit 271 in 1965. Waterhouse was there for that one too.
He also happened to be standing near the 6th hole with a customer in 1972 when Charles Coody hit a hole-in-one.
“I’ll never forget the look on that guy’s face,” he said.
Waterhouse’s favorite golfer is Arnold Palmer. He was a proud member of “Arnie’s Army” and his prized possession is a framed photo autographed by “The King.”
Waterhouse has seen them all at Augusta.
Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus, Woods, Coody, Phil Mickelson, Nick Faldo, Gary Player, Jordan Spieth, and now, Patrick Reed. The list goes on and on.
“I’ve been blessed to see some of the true greats,” he said. “You can’t name one I didn’t see.”
The only streak of Waterhouse’s that runs longer than his consecutive visits to the Masters is his marriage to his wife, Mildred.
“She’s still with me after 66 years,” he said. “I married the year before I started going to the Masters, and she was kind enough to give me her blessing to keep going.”
Waterhouse will turn 89 in November. Will he be in Augusta next year on his scooter during the first week of April?
“Sure,” he says with a laugh. “God willing, I’ll be around.”
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