I had been to several Masters as a member of the press before my number was drawn in Sunday morning's media lottery. I was congratulated by many fellow scribes, and warned by more than a few that the challenge of playing Augusta National the day after the Masters was going to be monumental. A GOLF Magazine Top 100 Teacher (who shall remain nameless) texted me and wanted to bet $10 on how many times I would three-putt.Augusta doesn’t give you first tee jitters — you get first green jitters. Since the club opened in 1933, the greens have been the gold standard for the game, so in the back of your mind, you know that your approach shot to almost every hole has to be nearly perfect. I was thinking about those greens before I drove up Magnolia Lane.Monday's rain helped to make the generous fairways play even wider. I got down in two on the first green, and somehow two-putted the second from above the hole, a position I continuously reminded myself I had to avoid.
I'm a 12-handicap player, and my goal was to break 100. Walking to the fifth tee as a heavy rain started to fall, I was four over. Bogeys were going to happen, and in my mind, that was fine. Eighteen bogeys would give me a 92. What wasn't fine was hitting into the bunker on the left side of No. 5 fairway. That was awful.Rob, my caddie, said: "You know, we had a caddie who went in there after a ball about a month ago. We haven't seen him since."I didn't see him in there either, but I can tell you that since Augusta moved those bunkers a few years ago and made them deeper, there is no way anyone could even think about hitting the green in two from there. I'm 6'4", and from the bottom of the bunker, the face towered over me. To get some perspective on this monster, click on the photo and pay special attention to how tiny that rake looks.All I could do was take a 58° wedge, whisper a prayer and hack out. When I made a 12-footer for bogey it felt as good as an eagle.After hitting a good drive on the seventh hole, as the rain continued to soak our group, I noticed that the sound of chirping birds had been replaced by a dull droning noise. Augusta's sub-air drainage system was working overtime, not only on the greens, but the fairways too. I had never noticed them from outside the ropes, but there are several small grates in the fairways at Augusta where air, and sometimes water, flow.But on Monday those pumps couldn't keep up with the water accumulating on the seventh green, and Rob told me that standing water near the hole meant the club's ATP (Automatic Two Putt) rule was in effect. I happily picked up my ball and accepted par after hitting the green in regulation.Making the turn in 44, I walked past the leaderboard near the 18th green. Angel Cabrera's name was still on top, and I noticed the punctures in the practice green where the tables and chair had been during the award ceremony Sunday evening. I also noticed that Augusta's member scorecard holds a strange little secret. The 515-yard par-5 second hole — which is a 575-yard birdie hole for the pros — is rated as the toughest for the members. In fact, the four par 5s have been rated the four toughest holes on the course. Tougher than the 11th (where I made a tap-in bogey), 12th (where I went just off the back of the green with a solid 7-iron from 155) and the fiendish 14th. The only hole without a bunker at Augusta, the 14th (named Chinese Fir) has the craziest green I've ever seen. It's like a black diamond ski slope with a yellow flag stuck in the ground. Jean-Claude Killy would take one look and say, "Non."After making a two-putt par on the par-5 15th, Rob, a 25-year veteran looper at Augusta, gave me another memorable pearl of wisdom. "You know how this baby works here on 16," he said in his friendly Georgia drawl. "Gimme a 165-yard shot at that there TV tower there in the middle an' she'll ooze on down to the hole 'fer ya."I'd seen Nicklaus, Phil and countless other pros do it, but could I? I flushed a 6-iron and the ball went straight as an arrow, but slightly short and right of the slope. It was safe, but 25 feet below the hole. (If you click the photo on the right, the tiny white dot in the middle of the green is my ball.) I played five feet of right-to-left break on the first putt but came up well short. After one of my playing partners took three shots from the bunker and sprayed enough sand near the hole to fill the Grand Canyon, my second putt lipped out as my fist was starting to pump. It was the only bogey of the day that really hurt.I honestly didn't know that the 8-footer I sank for par on the 18th was for a back-nine 44 and an 88 total. I was soaked to the bone, and when I went back and changed into dry clothes in the champions' locker room, I gave a tap to the name on the locker I had been assigned: Seve Ballesteros.Get well soon Seve … I left plenty of birdies out there for you, but took home photos and memories I'll never forget.