It's not quite that time of year yet, but already I've got Georgia on my mind. It doesn't seem to matter to me what occurs in the weeks that run up to the Masters, as any drama is always overshadowed by my sense of anticipation. My preparation is a little different also. In a normal week on tour, I get into town the day before the telecast starts. At Augusta I show up the Saturday before, and play the course on Sunday. (Suffer.) Then, for the next three days, I try to figure out the subtle differences from the year before. If this sounds like a thinly veiled excuse to show up a few days early and play, that's because it is.
Yet again, I've had my hole altered. The 15th hole that is. The curvaceous mounds on the right-hand side of the fairway have been leveled and trees planted just off the right edge of the fairway. We might see a lot more laying up, and consequently a lot more attempts at the world's hardest 85-yard pitch shot. Every year it seems that players have three options. Either strike it perfectly, or flub it into the water, or strike it too perfectly, over the back, and then chip it back over the front edge into the water. Ho, ho, ho .... I can hardly wait.
Speaking of that water, here's a good one for you. The Masters tournament committee likes for the announcers to putt their greens each morning before play starts, so that we might have some idea which way the ball will break, and by how much. It's a great idea, and I wish we were allowed to do it elsewhere. Anyway, the first time I did it was before the first round in 1997. Having been assigned to the 15th green, I took my cart down there, and with my trusty old bullseye and a sleeve of three Stratas, I strode manfully onto the back edge of the green. The flag was front left. Even though it was early in the morning, there was already a pretty good crowd out and about, staking their positions for later in the day. Not a sole, except the man behind the mower, had touched the putting surface that day, and as I dropped my three eggs and gazed towards the hole, the word "chrome" came to mind. Not wanting to make a fool of myself in front of a bunch of people who were obviously wondering who I was, and what the hell I was doing already, I went softly on the first putt. The ball glided gently down the slope, past the hole, off the fringe, and into the water. Hmmm .... that's quick, I thought. I heard a couple of muffled titters from behind the ropes, so I quickly shot an "I meant to do that" look in the general direction. Then, I feathered the next ball away. Into the water, again. Now I had one ball left, with which I was to supposedly putt the entire green. Worse than that, someone had recognized me and was shouting, "You moron Pate, no wonder you quit playin!"
Now, I've always been one to recognize a lucky break, so, I smiled apologetically, waved, and walked down to the hole, where I putted a few up the hill. Thank God I was wearing a hat.