Golf: Mastering Augusta

by Peter Flynn

The second weekend of April is always a special (I’d even go as far as to say a delicious) time for golf fans. It’s US Masters time. It’s like Christmas when you were a kid.

The challenging Augusta National layout in conjunction with the tournament’s mystique and quirky traditions present a thorough examination of a golfer’s fortitude, tactical acumen, skill set and sense of daring. For the final pairings, the last nine holes on the Sunday afternoon are usually played in a cauldron-like atmosphere. Signature Augusta roars regularly waft through the stately Georgian pines. A thunderous roar from the patrons can signify an improbable eagle. A collective groan can signify a golf ball finding a watery grave in Rae’s Creek. The treacherous boom-or-bust nature of this stretch of holes, particularly around Amen Corner (holes 11, 12 and 13) can create sudden and seismic shifts to the tournament leader board. In the world of golf, the US Masters is nonpareil for drama.

For nearly 30 years, I have risen at sparrow-fart to watch the US Masters on the idiot box. Unfortunately, this has also meant putting (not the golf stroke) up with incessant Ray Drummond advertisements and the nauseating theme music used by host broadcaster CBS.

While watching recent US Masters, thoughts have invariably turned to Greg Norman and his failed quests to secure the prized Green Jacket. What a saga. The Shark suffered so much pain, anguish and wretched luck at Augusta. He was mown down by a rejuvenated 46-year-old Nicklaus in Jack’s turning-back-the-years victory in ’86 (this was the year that the Shark led all four majors into the final round). The Golden Bear emerged from hibernation with a back-nine score of 30. The following year, Georgian Larry Mize committed highway robbery by holing a 140-foot chip on the second play-off hole to kill the Shark. As Mize danced, clapped and then eventually composed himself, the Shark studied his lengthy, downhill birdie putt in shock. He had defeat in his eyes. From the apparent tenseness of his jaws, it seemed his teeth were being ground together with some force. He missed his putt. Another Shark demise.

In 1996, the Shark and his arch-nemesis Faldo ‘duelled’ in the final round. Shark started six shots clear. Surely this time the golfing world thought. Mentally-fortified Faldo was imperious and shot 67. Mentally-flawed Shark was a shambles and shot 78. You sensed he was never destined to win when an eagle chip on the 15th hole that should have dropped inexplicably didn’t. In response, the Shark collapsed to the ground in mock death as if shot by an imaginary marksman.

Enough of the Shark for it brings on melancholia.

The 2005 edition provided the catalyst to get off my derriere and organise to go to Augusta. On the 16th hole of the final round, Tiger produced that chip shot. You know the one. The ball with the prominent Nike swoosh hung over its intended destination for about two seconds before dropping into the cup and into golfing folklore. In the subsequent tumult, I spotted two blokes at the back of the green in sheer delirium. They were high-fiving, hugging, performing silly handshakes, play-slapping and frankly on the verge of dry-copulating. It was then that I experienced one of those moments of complete clarity. I said to myself stuff it I’m going.

So in 2007, as a result of those two blokes carrying on like they’d snagged the quaddie on Melbourne Cup Day, my old china Al and I made the pilgrimage to Augusta.

The two-hour wait at the overcrowded and dangerous Atlanta Bus Station was character-building. The toasted sandwiches purchased at the Atlanta Bus Station were even more so. The circuitous Greyhound bus trip from Atlanta to Augusta via Athens and Fort Gordon (Jayne Mansfield lived there at some stage) was interesting to say the least. At the start of the journey, the not-to-be-messed-with bus driver laid down the law in no uncertain terms about unsociable behaviour. In code, the driver was warning the passengers not to murder any of the other passengers or there would be consequences. At least there were consequences. Amazingly, we made it to Augusta unscathed.

From the Augusta Bus Station, Al and I caught a left-jab to the much overpriced Augusta Travelodge. The route along Washington Road took us past Magnolia Lane and a glimpse of the clubhouse. Al closed his eyes and looked away. He didn’t want to see Magnolia Lane for the first time in this way.

Washington Road reminded me of the Princes Highway around North Geelong. This busy road houses a myriad of take-away food outlets, hotels and motels that have added a zero to their nightly rate, the odd bar and the famous Wild Wing Café. The family restaurant chain, Hooters, had the John Daly tour bus parked out the front each night. Daly lived in the bus for the week and was absolutely sozzled when we went to meet him during one of his ‘meet the fans’ sessions. He was as gone as Iggy Pop was when ‘singing’ I’m Bored on Countdown or Oliver Reed was when appearing on Aspel.

Badges to the US Masters sold out in 1972. Each year, shonks, small-time entrepreneurs and desperados line Washington Road in the hope of procuring badges to either on-sell at extremely inflated prices or to actually get into the course themselves. Al and I purchased our badges through a reputable ticketing company prior to departure from Australia. At least we hoped it was reputable. We were sans badges upon arrival at Augusta.

It’s fair to suggest we were both rather on edge as we traipsed off to pick up our badges. I was issued with my badge early on. Al had to wait until nearly the end before his name was called. He was sweating as profusely as Pat Rafter. After about an hour, we strutted triumphantly out of the hotel with our badges. We were also made patently aware that losing our badge would set us back a lazy $10 000 US. I thought of Keith Miller’s definition of pressure. “Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse” he said in reference to his fighter-plane experiences. Each of us now had our own Messerschmitt.

The plan the night before the first practice round was to have a couple of refreshers and hit the hay early. After refreshing at the Wild Wing Café until closing time and getting two hours sleep, Al and I walked in a sinusoidal manner along Washington Road. We were like two teenagers coming home from a New Year’s Eve piss-up. We were a heady mix of alcohol-drunk and excited-drunk.

We entered the course, probably a little tachycardic, but very relieved that our badges weren’t bogus. Al’s eyes became watery as the realisation that he was fulfilling his lifelong dream hit home. I couldn’t get Annie’s digital camera to work to record the moment.

As we waited at the crossing point to the first fairway, the first golfer we saw strolling down the first was Tiger Woods. As he strode past (probably having had as much sleep as us), Al and I looked at each other and uttered the question that was to be uttered a million more times that week. How long has this caper been going on for?

We followed Tiger for the full 18 holes that morning. Our feet didn’t touch the ground. And yes, there were no weeds on the golf course. We got goose bumps standing behind the famous 12th tee. What a temptress the 12th hole is? We continually expressed our amazement at the aesthetic beauty of the 13th hole. We couldn’t believe how much the 10th hole drops vertically from tee to green (about 30 metres). We couldn’t believe how hilly the course was. In essence, we were in disbelief.

The visual appeal of Augusta National with its flora threatens to unleash the Kevin Heinze or Peter Cundall in us all. The pristine fairways and the undulating, slick greens beggars belief. CBS golf pundit Gary McCord once described the greens as bikini-waxed. For this on-air remark, he incurred a life ban from commentating at Augusta. Cheerio Gary.

After spending our life-savings getting to Augusta, we were comforted by the very cheap food and beer prices. They’d want to be. Collo take notice!

You hear that the Augusta officialdom is really strict on its patrons. This is certainly true. On the Monday afternoon I needed a breather. Immediately adjacent to the 10th green, I fell asleep within seconds of lying down and promptly started snoring. After a couple of snorts, I was accosted by a green-jacketed official who threatened to remove me from the course if I transgressed again. A major faux pas at Augusta National is sitting down on the grass. An even bigger faux pas is to lie flat on your back and have a kip. From then on, Al and I considered the 10th hole (traditionally the hardest hole on the course) as a sleeper.

The other rule that is strictly enforced at Augusta is that you can’t run. It is difficult not to run when you wish to get to your desired vantage point in the shortest possible time. Rather than running, you end up waddling like Jane Saville. You half expect a green-jacketed official to appear from behind a tree brandishing a disqualification paddle to send you on your way.

A much-loved and not-widely-known Augusta tradition that occurs in the practice rounds involves players attempting to skim a golf ball across the pond at the 16th hole and then have the ball stop on the putting surface. While watching Seve Ballesteros attempt to skim his ball, we were left aghast when Seve hit a ball through his legs and onto the green. I have no idea how he did it. The greatest trick shot I’ve ever seen.

Another endearing tradition involves purchasing a Masters chair, putting your name and address on the back of the chair and positioning it at a desired vantage point on the course. This then becomes your home base for the day. You can leave your chair unattended, go and watch some action at other holes before returning to take up your reserved seat. This proved really handy over the weekend.

The practice rounds were superb. About 30,000 patrons attended each day. We watched legends such as Raymond Floyd, Fuzzy Zoeller and Gary Player strut their stuff. We experienced the roars, the groans, the indecision (caused by swirling winds) of what club to hit on the 12th tee, the risk-reward nature of the back nine and the golfing spookiness of Amen Corner. And the tournament hadn’t even started.

Besides some good bars and really friendly folk, Augusta the city is nothing to rave about. We now understand why the golf coverage never includes any footage of the city.

Was it worth it? It was way better than I thought it would be.

The above comment was made on the Monday night. We still had the week ahead.

Comments

  1. Inspirational Flynny,great laugh and gave me goose bumps,Al has told me many of your and his stories from Augusta and I cant wait to make my debut in 2011 or 2012,cheers mate see you soon for a beer. Go the mighty Glen Iris CC

  2. Flynnie – great story. You’ve been to some great sporting meccas. I always believed that no cameras were allowed in the course. Is that true?

    Every time I see this tournament on TV I feel like I’m looking at a TV set – its almost too pristine. Do people fart at Augusta? Were you ever tempted to yell out “You da man !!” just as a golfer was at the top of his swing? These are two of my ambitions.

  3. Peter Flynn says:

    Dips,

    Cameras are allowed in the practice rounds. They are banned during the tournament.

    I have a heap of photos from the Monday and Tuesday.

    As well as no weeds there is no rubbish.

    During ad breaks and between groups, groundstaff come out onto some of the greens and blow dry the leaves away.

    I’m not a “you da man” man.

    One day I’ll tell the tale of trying to urge Peter O’Malley to victory at Troon and Muirfield.

  4. Andrew Fithall says:

    Flynnie – Great story. I look forward to the next installment. You lead an extraordinary life. And obviously have the most extraordinarily tolerant wife. Annie – if you are reading this, I will be diappointed if we don’t see you over the spring carnival. Book in Derby Day at least. And we can work on Oaks Day.

    Yesterday I had to take an annual leave day to attend an appointment for my 15 yo son’s application for a passport. My own expired some years ago and is in no need of replacement. Sigh…

  5. Peter Flynn says:

    Cheers Andrew,

    At this early stage, lock the carnival right in.

    I wore that shocking hat to Augusta and I reckon the 2009 Almanac photo was from Augusta.

    PF

  6. Magnificent Sneak. I hear Jon Anderson’s job is up for grabs. Like the the Faldo “mentally fortified”.

    Love to retrace the holy grail myself one day … with my investments, probably best do as Al suggested years ago … via a green wheely bin.

  7. Peter Flynn says:

    Cheers PD,

    It’s the trip of a lifetime.

    Cheers Kump,

    Sandwiches range between $1 and $2. Beers are $1.50 from memory.

    We met some blokes who knew some blokes that have spent the odd night shivering in the bushes and then appearing out of nowhere to take up a position at Amen Corner.

  8. johnharms says:

    Most surprisingly easy hole?

    Most surprisingly difficult hole?

    The hole which in reality looks least like it doeas on TV?

    You make me want to go there.

  9. Peter Flynn says:

    JTH,

    Phil had the guns this morning. It takes a brave caddie to endorse Phil’s choice of 2nd shot at 13.

    Answers are dependent on pin position.

    Q1: Since they’ve moved the tee back, I’d say the 15th. A lot more players lay up these days.

    Q2: The 3rd is a classic MacKenzie-designed short par 4. The closer your tee shot lands to the dance floor, the greater the challenge in landing on in regulation. Massive right-to-left slope on the green.

    Q3: Definitely the 10th. That vertical drop is staggering.
    The 4th (long par 3) has quite an elevated tee and is a really tough hole. Long right is to be avoided (bamboo).

    You could easily write a feature piece on the 12th hole. The green (and Rae’s Creek) faces away from you more than what you think on TV.

    I remember a journo once describing the 12th as something like:
    “The 12th is the Drew Barrymore of par-3s: small, gorgeous and sheer trouble”.

    Start saving. It’s worth every cent.

    PF

  10. Sneak, it is probably sacrilegious to say it, but personally I can’t see the appeal of golf (playing or watching) and I used to get great pleasure from hearing of the petulant Shark faltering under the weight of the monkey. But I wouldn’t mind meeting up with you & Al for a night on the tiles at that Wild Wing Cafe and/or Hooters. And if Big John and the man they call Tiger want to join us, all the better…I just hope they can keep up and attract their own fair share of talent.

    Corka

  11. Peter Flynn says:

    Corka,

    Golf isn’t everybody’s cup of tea.

    With our accents, we would play Tiger and JD on a break. “I just love your Aussie accent”.

    On another matter, the Chelsea double is starting to look a bit better.

    Cheers,

    Sneak

  12. Going to the Bridge this evening to hopefully see another large nail inserted in Man U’s coffin. My form this season is good 5-0 v Blackburn and 4-0 v Wolves, as you well know. I will pass on your regards to David Baddiel. Celery, celery…

  13. Peter Flynn says:

    Corka,

    3 points in the bag. Excellent.

    Did you see Chris Kamara missing who was sent off in the Portsmouth v Blackburn clash?

    Link below.

    Hilarious.

  14. Tense game, but all’s well…bring on the Spurs!

    Love the Kamara Calamity.

    Speaking of Jeff Stelling, I had last week off work and happened to switch on the goggle box to be confronted by said Jeff & the delectable Rachel Riley. See this link for a reminder:

    http://www.rachelriley.org/images-of-rachel-riley-f7.html

  15. Peter Flynn says:

    Corka,

    Could easily have been 3-0. Lampard hitting the woodwork etc.

    Carol who? Rachel plays her on a break.

    Countdown has always been one of my favourite UK-based quiz shows.

  16. Sneak, see the attached link for Michael Vaughan’s Augusta experience:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/golf/mastersaugusta/7601389/Michael-Vaughan-the-day-I-caddied-for-Lee-Westwood-at-Augusta.html

    Cheers
    Corka

  17. Peter Flynn says:

    Cheers Corka,

    Enjoyed the read.

    Geez he can name drop. As I was saying to the Pope the other night….

  18. Peter_B says:

    Fantastic stuff. Glad the site resurrected it. Can’t wait to read the 2012 live reports direct from our Man in Hooters, Augusta. That assumes he made it out of Perth alive, last weekend. I nearly didn’t. And reading the piece, I see that PJF was preparing for Olympic Snoring Gold even back in 2007. How dare they threaten to throw out an Olympian in training.
    John Daly was doubtless ‘on the wagon’ until his chance encounter with the Indominatable Flynn. What are the odds that they would both prove to be Hooters afficionados? I hope PJF is holing all of Jason Day’s downhill 5 footers this weekend. Australia needs Green, Green, Green from Augusta before the London Gold, Gold, Gold.

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