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Why I can’t stop thinking about Augusta and the Masters

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As the PGA Tour continues on from the Florida Swing to the match play in Texas, it’s just a few short weeks until it rumbles into Georgia for the 80th Masters at Augusta National. And I already have goose bumps just thinking about it.

It got me thinking. Why is this tournament so special? Why is it so emotionally impactful on golfers, like myself? I can hardly concentrate on the current golf events with Augusta looming less than a month away. Why is this?

It’s probably because I have so many moments, highlights and memories from the Masters over the years; ones I share with many golf fans, and ones I’d like to share with you, the readers. I have to confess I’ve seen my fair share of this golf tournament, over 35 I can remember. But then again it’s my favorite major championship by far — I’m a Masters-holic!

The Annual Augusta National Invitational Tournament is all about tradition: the simple invite posted out to the players, the Par-3 Contest, Magnolia Lane and the Champion’s Dinner (what’s on the menu this year Jordan?). From the opening tee shot hit by a former Master to the Amateurs staying in the Crow’s Nest and the “Augusta” theme music welcoming the millions of golf fans tuning in from all over the world. Yes, I’m already humming it!

The drama when the leaders go through Amen Corner on the back nine on Sunday with Rae’s Creek meandering quietly, while simultaneously causing havoc. I’ll be sitting on the edge of my seat at around 9 p.m. in Ireland (+5 hours) screaming at my TV!

And that famous walk up the last hole, named Holly, on Sunday to the 18th green. We sit and watch the presentation of the Green Jacket to the winner by the previous year’s winner in the Butler Cabin. It’s all wonderful history stemming from Jones’ vision in creating the tournament, the one that all the Pros want to play in. I can’t imagine anyone turning down an invite unless injured. It’s always got the best field of the year.

I can’t truly recall my earliest Master’s memory, but I do remember Seve winning his first Green Jacket in 1980. I was only 13 then, but that was an amazing moment for me. He really shook up the golfing world the same way Palmer did in the 60s and Tiger did in the 90s. I remember Faldo winning back-to-back, and Crenshaw’s amazingly emotional week, the week after he carried Penick’s coffin in 1995. I remember Jack’s amazing back-nine surge with that massive, bloody MacGregor putter; I think everyone went out and bought one the following day. How about Freddie winning in 1992, where his tee shot at No. 12 came up short and started rolling down into Rae’s Creek, only for the golfing Gods to stop it miraculously on a few extra blades of grass. Freddie has been a favorite at Augusta ever since then.

Sandy Lyle’s outrageous 7-iron picked off clean as a whistle from the bunker on No. 18 to set up a winning birdie in 1988. And it was the Welshman Ian Woosnam’s in 1991 blasting it over the very same bunker with his driver, taking it out of play and going on to hole that putt iconically captured on film wearing those red plaid trousers!

My favorite year was 1985 when my golfing idol Bernhard Langer won. It was a great night, with my two brothers and I huddled round the TV late in Ireland. Seve, Ray Floyd and Langer were all in the hunt, and while my brothers were rooting for their men I was cheering on the German. So there was extra satisfaction when Bernhard pulled it off. His 8-iron on No. 17 to 10 feet and the subsequent birdie effectively sealed the deal.

And what about Woods’ total domination at his inaugural Masters after a shaky front nine? He changed the way course designers had to think from that week on to cater for the modern day “bomb and gouge” game. He owned this tournament for over a decade.

How about one of the most famous shots in golf, Nike’s marketing dream of him holing that crucial chip on the 16th with the Nike Swoosh logo hovering on the edge of the hole before it toppled in? Amazing stuff. It’s a pity he probably won’t be around this year.

But there have been plenty of other standout moments. O’Meara sliding in a putt on No. 18 to win. Lefty getting his reward for knocking on the door so many times. He should have won more — no one has hit as many spectacular shots as him. Remember that 6-iron he thundered out of the pine straw from the trees on No. 13? He stuck it to 3 feet and then missed the damn putt!

Who can forget the Jason Day/Charl Schwartzel duel, with the South African making birdies the last four holes to win. And what about Bubba’s ridiculous slingshot wedge from the trees? No one will ever know how good that shot was, probably not even Bubba himself.

Let’s not forget the disasters? Norman’s back-nine collapse to hand it to Faldo. Or how about local boy Larry Mize’s impossible chip in on No. 11 to snatch it from Norman yet again. The White Shark probably holds the title of Closest, but no cigar to getting a Green Jacket. And what about McIlroy’s implosion in 2011, starting with that snap hook off No. 10? At least he appears to have learned from that “harshest of lessons” when it would have destroyed many others careers.

I’ll always remember Curtis Strange standing over his second shot on No. 13 on Sunday in 1985. He spent ages deciding what to do and eventually decided to take the second shot on with a fairway wood. The commentators were screaming at him to put it away and lay up. And of course the ball got wet, along with his chances of victory. I clearly remember his shocked look as the ball came back into the water, hands on hips hips shaking his head. It must have looked good to him, but as we know even the slightest degree offline on the National is punished mercilessly. I guess that was a lesson in risk taking at Augusta that many more have graduated in.

Other disasters? Remember Seve’s duck hook into the pond on No. 15 in 1986 on what sadly turned out to be his last realistic attempt at winning. And how about all those who had one arm already into a Green Jacket only for it to be removed. Arnie taking a six at the last to lose it. “Ahhgghhh!” Kenny Perry bogeying the last two holes and then losing a playoff to Angel in 2009. Scott Hoch missing a tiddler? Car Crash TV!

AugustaNational

But let’s not forget the perennial winner each year, the course itself. It always looks spectacular in bloom and blemish-free, made to look even better on our HD televisions. Regular watchers know the course pretty well, so everyone wants to know what changes have been made for this year. A new tee, a relaid green, how’s the rough, what the greens will be running on the stimp… And I wonder how hard they are going to set it up this year? It always draws criticism with impossible pin placements, shaved greens and slopes down to the creeks to catch an over-hit or under-hit shot, punishing the 95-percent-or-less shot. Yes, we’ll hear from a bunch of pros who will complain that the course is tricked up. But the members don’t want to see the course being ripped apart. They want to see some pain and tears. It’s kinda like the masses baying for blood at the Colosseum to see a top pro running up a snowman.

So for me it doesn’t really matter who wins this year. As long as it’s an exciting tournament. And this year it is promising to be a great one. So many top players are hitting form at the right time, and everyone is out to stop Rory from winning his own personal Grand Slam of Majors. Yes, I am unashamedly biased to see the wee Irishman win; he’s one of our finest and will have all of Ireland cheering him on. But it’s going to be tough with Spieth, Day, Dustin, Scott, Bubba and a host of others featuring. Will Stenson become the first Swede to don a Green Jacket. Or how about the inform and former jacket-winner, Schwartzel?

One things for sure, there will be celebrations and tears. Fist pumps and curses under one’s breath. Skill and nerve under an intense cauldron of pressure. So who will prevail?

So let’s be having you, 2016 Masters. Let’s see what spectacle you will unfold for us. Let the sun shine, the flowers bloom and the birdies commence. My beers are already chilling in the fridge!

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Mark Donaghy is a writer and author from Northern Ireland, living in the picturesque seaside town of Portstewart. He is married to Christine and they have three boys. Mark is a "golf nut," and is lucky to be a member of a classic links, Portstewart Golf Club. At college he played for the Irish Universities golf team, and today he still deludes himself that he can play to that standard. He recently released Caddy Attitudes: 'Looping' for the Rich and Famous in New York. It recounts the life experiences of two young Irish lads working as caddies at the prestigious Shinnecock Hills course in the Hamptons. Mark has a unique writing style, with humorous observations of golfers and their caddies, navigating both the golf course and their respective attitudes. Toss in the personal experiences of a virtually broke couple of young men trying to make a few bucks and their adventures in a culture and society somewhat unknown to them... and you have Caddy Attitudes. From scintillating sex in a sand trap to the comparison of societal status with caddy shack status, the book will grab the attention of anyone who plays the game. Caddy Attitudes is available on Amazon/Kindle and to date it has had excellent reviews.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Cyd

    Mar 25, 2016 at 9:31 am

    After researching facts about Augusta, Smizzle is right

  2. Mason Storm

    Mar 23, 2016 at 10:37 am

    For the people who talk about how much harder the US Open is. The US Open is typically played as a par 70 they are taking 2 par 5s and turning them into par 4s. If they turned 13 and 15 into par 4s at Augusta the scores would be similar to the US Open on most years. Just look at the guys who have won the masters and guys who have won us opens and you will see what course produces better champions. You don’t see names like Michael Campbell’s, Webb Simpsons or Lucus Glovers winning the Masters in the courses long history.

  3. Cyd

    Mar 23, 2016 at 7:23 am

    m fizzle

    It is better to be thought a fool by keeping your trap shut then to open said trap, insert both feet and remove all doubt you are a fool of epic proportions.

    Of course you do that on a regular basis around here.

    • Double Mocha Man

      Mar 23, 2016 at 11:47 am

      Nice paraphrasing.

    • MarkB A

      Mar 23, 2016 at 11:28 pm

      LOL! M. Smizzle sounds like a hater and religious bigot. Nice job.

    • Charlie

      Mar 24, 2016 at 8:09 am

      Christian? I must’ve missed a post somewhere.

  4. prime21

    Mar 23, 2016 at 6:29 am

    Golf League Tracker, did you not read about Jack’s back 9 surge with his MacGregor putter? Exclusionary? Certainly. But the same could be said of any private club, by definition. Boring? Never! Even when someone is running away with it, there are records to be broken and next years invitation to be earned. Who cares who’s field is stronger? What place has a stronger influence on the field? Not one. Like Fenway, Daytona, The Kentucky Derby, Wimbledon, there is only one Augusta. It is the most iconic venue in golf & has produced more memorable moments than any other event.

  5. Weekend Duffer

    Mar 22, 2016 at 11:01 pm

    US Open is still the best. Love seeing these guys get eaten up by real difficult courses.

    • Ricky Hoffman

      Mar 23, 2016 at 9:02 am

      The Masters poos all over the US Open

  6. Double Mocha Man

    Mar 22, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    Sheesh! I had no idea the Masters had a theme song. Just called my local public track to see if they have a theme song. Ah, the humiliation of laughter over the phone. I won’t be playing there again until they do.

  7. Charlie

    Mar 22, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Every tournament is limited field.

    50 of the 86 players are top 50 in the world. Yep, amateurs and 60 year olds…

    • Double Mocha Man

      Mar 22, 2016 at 7:47 pm

      But their greens are bikini waxed.

    • MarkB A

      Mar 22, 2016 at 10:15 pm

      Haters gonna hate. Just muzzle Jim Nantz fawning and obsequiousness.
      Roll on Bubba, Phil, Adam, Stenson or even Zack Johnson. It should be a good show.

  8. Henrik

    Mar 22, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    I love The Masters but PGA Champ has the best field every year of the Majors.

    • MarkB A

      Mar 22, 2016 at 10:16 pm

      No The Open is better.

    • Jam

      Mar 22, 2016 at 11:12 pm

      I don’t understand how the PGA claims that. There are club professionals in the field that wouldn’t beat mini tour players.

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I am an ardent observer of self-destructive things I see golfers do and hear golfers say, and one that really gets me is when I hear someone stand on the tee and proclaim, “This is a birdie hole.”
Really? How do you know when you haven’t even hit your drive yet, much less your approach? If you’re a 12 handicap, let’s say, there are really only 5-6 “par” holes out here; how can you think this one is a “birdie hole”?

This game is tough, and making birdies is the toughest achievement out there. Very few are made without hitting two better-than-average shots, or at least one remarkable one, whether the approach or the putt. Think about that for a minute. You could be a scratch golfer and never make one! Eighteen pars and a bogey or or two will get you to scratch on most courses. If you are an 8 handicap, that means you average about 82 or so, which equates to 8 pars and 10 bogeys in a round – what are you doing thinking about making a birdie at all, much less while on the tee?

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So let’s assume you got off the tee well, now what? When you face your approach shot, my advice is to figure out which side of the green gives you the best chance of getting up and down and the least odds of facing a short-side difficult pitch. And there’s never anything wrong with targeting the fat middle of the green, regardless of where the pin is located. On most courses, a ball in the dead center of the green will give you a half dozen or more reasonable putts, and the rest will not be overly long or difficult. The next round you play, just stand in the middle of the green after you are done and survey the putt that ball position would have given you.

Here’s another interesting and enlightening drill for you if you find yourself out for a day of learning on the golf course. On each hole, after your drive and approach, play a second ball from the “safe” side of the green, just as if you had missed your approach to this safe side. Then hit a pitch or chip and putt it out. Keep that score on along with the score you actually made and see how you come out.

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Of course, I find a 73 or 74 with only one or two birdies more fun than a 78 with 3 or 4. You might not.

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