AUGUSTA, GA.— The noise. Roar after roar filled the Georgian countryside Sunday as the last of the stick-weilding athletes performed one miracle shot after another on the magnificently manicured test of golf called Augusta National. Thousands of spectators were treated to a display of excellence where millions of dollars of future earnings hung on every shot.
Although the drama played out around the world for tens of millions on television, no photographic device could ever capture the electricity and tension in the air. One moment there was not a sound as the crowd watched, sometimes in disbelief, as these magnificent strikers-of-the-ball tried to pull off some seemingly impossible shot. Then there would be a tremendous swelling of a united bellow as another miracle shot was unveiled.
Then Lefty pushed a shot that hit off the railing. It bounced into the brush and he was left with a shot from which he could never recover. His partner unbelievably absolutely shanked a shot on the par three and he was done. And then Bubba pulled off a hook out of the woods that turned disaster into victory. The crowd, which moments before had stood in hushed disbelief that he had hit it into the pines, went absolutely bonkers.
There is no substitute for being there. Yes, you can actually see more on television in your living room. And yes , the crowds here can be a little overwhelming, but if you arrive early and run like the devil you can get a seat on Amen corner that puts you right on top of some of the most exciting action. Or, you can get up in the left hand corner of the stands at the 15th green and watch 15 and the par-3, 16th two of the more difficult holes on the course.
Go on masters.com and apply for tickets for next year. Even if you only get to see a practice round, you will never forget the experience.
I arrived on Wednesday. The Golf writers Association of America has its annual meeting at the course on that morning. As often as I have been here I am always awed by the place. The moment you step out onto the Augusta National course your senses are simply assaulted with its beauty. You cannot imagine that there are that many shades of green. In the early morning light, the shadows from the stately pines play across the perfectly manicured fairways that are pocketed with the brightest white sand traps you have ever seen.
The second thing you notice is the tremendous changes in elevation both on the fairways and on the greens. Television makes the course look a lot flatter than it is. The ninth green is on top of a knob next to the first tee. You can hardly see the flag on this tiered green from the fairway. Next to it is the eighteenth green. The climb up to it from the landing zone of the drive is steeper than you can imagine.
The greens are no different. They are a lesson on how to make play as difficult as it can be by tiering. For example, on the par-3 sixteenth green there are several spots where the pin can be placed that are almost inaccessible. The back right location is about the size of a small bathroom. Unless you drop the ball in about a ten foot circle next to the pin, there is no way to birdie the hole. I am sure you saw on Sunday how the ball can feed down to the hole if you make the right shot into the slope on the right center.
It is not just an occasional hole where this happens. Each of the eighteen are a study in position play. The first hole gets very little public attention, yet it is the third hardest hole to make par on the course. All day for four days the drive has to go to a spot which opens up the green. The approach shot has to land not just on the green but to a specific spot on the putting surface. Every shot can bring rewards, many shot can be a disaster. Risk-reward is everywhere.
I tell myself I go to the Wednesday morning meeting and evening banquet because I am a good organizational guy. The truth be told I doubt I would go if the meeting was held in almost any other spot.
Wednesday is the last practice day for the pros. They casually stroll the course, often playing several balls from different locations on the fairways. They check out lay-up spots, chip from areas around the greens where they might miss long or wide, and they test the depth of the first and second cuts. Once on the green, they practice putting to the different locations where the pins will be placed during the four days of the competition. Every one takes mental notes and the caddies are busy scribbling in their shot books, recording how the ball behaves when rolled from different landing spots.
The tournament on the par-3 course on Wednesday afternoon is a wonderful tradition that gets far less coverage than it should. This course adjacent to the National is one of the prettiest runs you could imagine. The thousands of ticketed practice rounds patrons line the tiny fairways and greens as the pros play some absolutely marvelous short shots to some very tricky greens. It is an accuracy contest without peer.
The players bring their offspring with them to act as caddies. It is golf the way it should be played. Friendly competition, lots of laughs with no pressure. The kids even get to putt the last putt on the ninth hole. The pros interact with the crowd in ways they simply can't afford to once the real tournament starts.
The winner ot the tournament will hit about 280 shots more or less over the next four days. Some will be great, some bad, but most have to be spot on. The best in the world line up and have at it. In the end, the most skilled do wind up in the last group of seven or eight on the last day. Then, wondrous skill, determination, strength of character and a great deal of luck will determine the winner. For first timers like Bubba Watson, their lives will be forever changed. No matter what the future holds, he will always be able to wear the symbol of a Masters champion... the green jacket.