By Brian Quinn.
Ever wondered what it‘s like to play Augusta National?
For most golfers, it represents a dream come true but the reality is that you are statistically more likely to make two holes in one during a round than you are to tee-off at Augusta National. However, many in Irish sports media have won the golden ticket over the years, and I’m blessed to say that I was one. So, how does it happen and what’s it like?
Each year on the Saturday night of the tournament, a handful of journalists are keeping their fingers crossed that their name will appear on the board in the media centre to see if they have been selected to play the famed course on Monday. For the broadcasters, there is a cocktail reception on the Saturday evening and the hope is that someone walks up to you and discreetly hands you an envelope with your invitation to play on Monday. Upon receiving this invite, I resisted my natural inclination to hug the bearer of the invite and run around the room high-fiving strangers. Inside though, that is how I felt.
I didn’t sleep well on Sunday night, but the main nightmare scenario was avoided. There was no extension of the tournament into Monday because of bad weather or a play-off. If that happens your golden ticket is void. Thankfully, Jordan Spieth rinsed his ball twice in Rae’s creek and Danny Willett went on to wear the green jacket in regulation time.
You turn up at your appointed tee time – not earlier – and you get to drive yourself up Magnolia Lane, which I did at about 3mph. Then you head through the famous clubhouse to the Champions Locker room which is reserved only for past winners. I walked past the lockers of the greats, Tiger, Jack, Arnie and I got to place my belongings in Bernhard Langer’s locker, a player whose talents I had always admired.
Off to the world-class practice area. I was advised to spend more time on the practice green to get the pace of the lightning-fast greens. I started hitting a few warm shots with the clubs I had borrowed from an Australian colleague. I hadn’t brought my own clubs this year, as I didn’t think I was going to be picked.
All was going well. I liked his wedges. My caddie ‘Slim’ measured my yardages. The irons I liked too, as it was not dissimilar to my own. The 3 wood I liked. And then I took the head cover off the driver. The Nike Sasquatch Sumo. Quite probably the ugliest driver ever made. A sort of square-shaped yellow and black oddity. Even Slim winced when he saw it. I could have lived with the look of it, the main problem was all I could hit was a 40 yard left to right slice shot.
I left myself too little time on the practice green, having spent too long trying to master the Sasquatch. At Augusta National, everything runs on schedule. So, it was no surprise that I was called for my tee time early. I was very nervous over that first tee-shot. Everything was moving bar the ball before I unleashed my new trademark 40-yard slice. Relief set in as the ball carved its way from left to right down the first.
At Augusta National, many holes have a tunnel effect from the tee – so the 40-yard slice was going to be an issue later on. But for now, we were off. Delighted to be putting from 15 feet for birdie on the first was tempered by the fact that when I missed I had a 16 footer for par. The greens are like glass.
There is nothing more boring than getting stuck with a golfer who wants to talk you through his entire round shot-by-shot, so I’ll spare you, but on a course that has 18 signature holes, every hole was special – not just Amen corner or 16 or 18. On each hole, you remember a shot that one of the greats hit.
‘That’s the spot where Bubba hit from the trees on 10’.
‘That’s where Phil hit from on 13.’
‘That’s where Tiger chipped in on 16.’
Scott’s putt on 18 and it keeps going.
Some holes made me look very foolish and on others, I felt like a golfing great. Thankfully, my playing partner insisted I use his driver from the 8th onwards. I don’t think he could bear looking at the Sasquatch either.
TV doesn’t prepare you for many things at Augusta, such as how hilly it is walking down 10 or up 18. It feels claustrophobically tight hitting the tee shots on 7 and 18 and, if you are a fader, 9, 14 and 17 feel extra tight too. The landing areas on the greens are so small. The 3rd green looks about 3 yards deep from the fairway. While the 15th green looks like a ribbon when you are standing at the top of the hill with a long iron in hand. All of it though is perfect. Simply perfect.
As the wind whispered through the tall Georgia pines, there was a profound sense of history surrounding me as I made my way around the course. As I reached the 18th, I tried hard to breathe it all in for I was sure it would never happen again. Every year around about late March and early April the feelings and memories come flying back.
I will be glued to the coverage this week with a sense of nostalgia and excitement. Hopefully, an Irishman can challenge for the jacket one year.
‘That’s the spot that Shane pitched in to win on 18.’