AUGUSTA — With the majority of the state’s school students on spring break, many teachers and staff members are trying to get a little rest and recreation before the final stretch of the school year.

For Rus Rainey, an assistant football coach and head boys golf coach at North Cobb, his idea of recreation is taking care of thousands of patrons looking for just the right hat in the Masters merchandise building at Augusta National Golf Club.

As far as rest is concerned, Rainey said he would figure that part out later.

“Getting up at 4:45 a.m. every morning to go to Augusta National isn’t so hard,” said Rainey, who is staying with family in Augusta during Masters week. “Walking out there, it’s like the holy grail. But that first day back at the house, getting up at 6:15 a.m. to go back to school, is tough.”

Rainey originally got the job in 2019 after answering an email he had received from his sister-in-law. He was all set to get started in 2020 when COVID-19 bumped the Masters back from April to a no-fan November event and postponed Rainey’s arrival until the spring of 2021.

Rainey said he is having a great time during a nine-day stretch that began with the Augusta National Women’s Amateur last Saturday and runs through the end of the Masters this Sunday.

Rainey is no stranger to the tournament. Before landing his current position, he said he had been to the Masters 10 or 11 times, mainly during practice rounds. He has enjoyed the opportunity to see many of the greats play, including Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson. One year, he saw Nicklaus, Mickelson and Hale Irwin play nine holes.

Rainey, who said two of his other favorites are Tom Lehman and Payne Stewart, said one of his favorite things was to attend the tournament with his son, Robbie. The first time they went together, they had their picture taken in front of the clubhouse in Founders Circle, and they replicated the same picture every time they went, from the time Robbie was 6 through 10, 14 and 16 years old.

“Everything looks the same, only Robbie has gotten bigger,” Rainey said.

While Rainey still enjoys heading out to the golf course whenever he gets a chance, he said he has a blast taking care of people and offering advice when they come into the merchandise building. When it comes to picking the right hat, Rainey asks if it’s a gift, if it is for the shopper themselves and if it is going to be consistently worn.

For first-time visitors to Augusta National, Rainey offers the following:

“I tell them to go walk the course, because TV doesn’t do it justice with all the elevation changes,” he said. “Go see Amen Corner (holes No. 11, 12 and 13). If you want to sit down and watch for awhile, go to the par-3 16th and put your chair halfway between the tee and the green on the opposite side of the pond. If you do that, then you can see players hit their approach shots into the 15th green, see the players tee off on No. 16 and then see them on the green. Plus, there is a concession stand nearby.

“I’ve had a lot of guys come back and tell me, ‘Thank you. That was awesome.’”

Rainey’s position has also allowed him to rub elbows with some pretty famous people.

Earlier this week, World Golf Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez came through the building. Last year, soon-to-be NFL top pick Trevor Lawrence came through the shop. Outside the building, Rainey has had the opportunity to see ESPN golf analyst Michael Collins, Lehman, Irwin, hockey icon Wayne Gretzky and two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw.

However, Rainey’s favorite might have been former San Diego Chargers kicker Rolf Benirschke.

“Last year, he came in while everyone was wearing masks because of the pandemic,” Rainey said. “He came up to the counter and I said, ‘You look familiar. Have we played golf before?’”

At that point, Rainey said Benirschke’s friend began to ask, “Do you know the San Diego...”

“Before he could say ‘Chargers,’ I said, ‘Oh my. You’re Rolf Benirschke,’” Rainey said. “Yeah, I know who you are.”

They talked about the 1981 AFC Divisional playoff game between the Chargers and Miami Dolphins, when San Diego won the game in overtime on the backs of the performance of Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow. They also spoke about the “Freezer Bowl” the following week, when the Chargers played in the AFC Championship game in Cincinnati, when the wind chill was minus-59 degrees.

“You never know who you’re going to see out here,” Rainey said. “Benirshcke told me, ‘You knowing who I was made my day.’”

Meeting some interesting people has also led to some major transactions. Rainey remembers two specifically.

“I had a guy, an executive for Delta — he bought 250 hats,” Rainey said. “He bought three dozen of this style and four dozen of that style to give away to clients.”

The other was a bar owner from Chicago making his first trip to the Masters. He found Rainey, and it was the right person at the right time.

“I’ve never been here, and I don’t know if I’ll be back,” Rainey remembered the man telling him. “I own a sports bar, and I’m here to spend money.”

With Rainey’s assistance, the man found approximately 75 hats, 40 shirts and a few other must-haves.

“After we got done, he gave me a big hug over the counter,” Rainey said. “He told me ‘Thank you,’ and that this had been great.”


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