AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Storm squalls shortened the first day of practice, but Masters Monday was hardly a bust.
With dark clouds closing in, fans and players were ushered away for nearly two hours around lunchtime, then removed for good at 2:30pm. But between the rains was an assortment of Masters moments that thrilled a crowd comprised of many first-time attendees. While the Thursday-Sunday passes typically remain with longtime badge-holders, practice rounds skew heavily toward winners of the ticket lottery held every spring.
“There’s a lot more people than I thought there would be, and it’s a lot greener than I thought,” said Dalton Stewart, a wide-eyed 11-year-old from Auburn, Ala., who was tagging along with his father at his first Masters.
Other rookies found a way in without the ticket lottery.
“We paid $325 apiece on Stubhub, and it’s been absolutely worth it,” said Tim Ash, who traveled with his wife, Melissa, from Chippewa Falls, Wis. “We tried for a few years to get them in the lottery, but I thought this year I’d just pony up and do it.”
Everywhere you turned, there was a moment to enjoy on the week’s most laid-back day.
There was Bernhard Langer on No. 2, dressed head-to-toe in black and preposterously fit for his 59 years, stuffing an approach shot to the crowd’s delight.
There were players skipping shots across the pond at the par-3 16th. Webb Simpson flubbed his attempt, Kevin Na nailed it, and one fan turned to his buddy and quipped, “That’s why they’re here and you’re not.”
There was Amen Corner, serene and enchanting. Masters rookie Mackenzie Hughes stood over his ball on the 12th tee with fellow Canadian Mike Weir at his side, when a breeze kicked up suddenly. Hughes turned to Weir, the 2003 champion, who grinned and said, “Yep.”
There were the famous spots from recent Masters lore. Under the pines off the 13th fairway, spectators leaned in while trying to comprehend how exactly Phil Mickelson split the uprights en route to winning in 2010. And deep in the trees right of the 10th fairway, another pack gathered where Bubba Watson hooked a gap wedge onto the green to win his first green jacket in 2012. That group happened to be led by a familiar tour guide.
“He hit it from right here,” said Steve Elkington, the former PGA Championship winner, while jamming the tip of his umbrella into the sod for emphasis. “That was some kind of shot.” Elk will be here all week with friends and family, and he was out doing what everyone does on Masters Monday: enjoying a walk.
The National is steeped in tradition, but there is one new addition this year: a magnificent new press building, from which originated these words and much of what you’ll read this week. In addition to gleaming wood desks and tall glass windows overlooking the driving range, it also features a full-service restaurant; the bacon has drawn rave reviews here in row F.
Back outside, fans of all ages soaked in the experience.
“I’ve entered the lottery for 15 years, so this is pretty amazing,” said Masters rookie Keith Metcalf, 54, who brought his son, Steven, and father, John. With Steven due to become a dad in a few weeks, the Metcalfs are already plotting their next Augusta trip.
“Maybe in a few years we’ll win the lottery again and we’ll have four generations here,” John said.
And why not? Optimism reigns despite the rain. More fans arrive tomorrow.