I woke up just past five this morning to be the first person on the practice tee. The sky was still half dark, and I had hours to go before my 7:45 tee-time along side Jack and Arnold. As honorary starters, we would only hit one shot, but I wanted to be perfectly loose. It was so serene, out there before the crowds. That special Augusta peace. Turf so lush you’d swear it’s artificial. Warm water in the range buckets. The sun cutting through the pines. You have to wonder how a place like this is possible, seeing it all like that.
I wanted to outdrive them. That’s why I was out so early. You could bet Jack and Arnold wanted to out-drive me, too. It’s great fun, teeing off next to two people I grew up with. But there’s always a competitive spirit when the three of us get together. We’re terrific friends, and we needle each other all the time. You can’t turn that off. And I’ve got to tell you, I couldn’t believe how many people came out to see us tee off. As I came over from the range, there were droves of people, thousands, all lined up and cheering. Like when we were going head-to-head years ago. Arnold’s 83, so he can’t expect to get the distance that Jack and I do. He doesn’t have the strength. But he opened with a beautiful shot, right down the middle. I hit mine fairly well; I didn’t quite catch it, but I knocked into the fairway fine enough. Jack caught his solid, but he hooked it into the pine needles and it skipped and rolled into the trees.
Afterward, Jack turned to me. “Well,” he said, “Looks like I had the longest drive.”
“No!” I told him, “Your drive ended up in the pine needles! You know how much run you get over there. You’ve got to hit the fairway to count for longest drive!” He had a great laugh. When it comes to longest hit, I won this one -- ask anyone who was there. You’ve got to hit the fairway.
As for the golf, I must say I’ve never seen better conditions for scoring than Thursday. Not a breath of wind, the course is soft, the greens are holding. Augusta has never played easier in the 56 years I’ve known it.
That doesn’t mean I’m not impressed with the golf. I was very impressed with what Rickie Fowler did, double-bogeying the first hole, taking another double-bogey and still shooting 68. That's very tough to do and he must be very tough mentally.
Of course, it’s marvelous to see Freddie Couples at four under par. Freddie has the swing that every weekend golfer should try to emulate, and every teacher should try to teach. If you can move like him, you’ll play well for a long, long time.
Then there’s Guan Tianliang. I was anxious to see if he would break 80. I said this morning, if he could shoot 76 at 14 years of age that would be an unbelievable score. If he could break 76, it would be the round of the day. Just him being here is a golfing miracle. And to shoot 73!
After a good round at Augusta, I found it so difficult to calm down. The next morning, I forced myself to do everything in slow motion when preparing for my round. I spoke slower. I put my shoes on slower. I drove to the club slower, I took my first practice swings slower. All just to stay steady, to keep my mind composed. I hope Guan does the same. I cannot wait to see how he plays tomorrow.
As for the rest of them, it’s only Thursday. I never, ever let the first round influence my thinking. There’s no such thing as a lead at the Masters until you hole the last put on the last hole. Then you have permission to celebrate.
--Gary Player Photo: Matt Slocum/Associated Press