A Stroll to Savor

April 11, 2008

April10_augusta12th_600 The funny thing about attending golf tournaments for a living is that you often don’t get to watch much golf. I’ve spent many, many tournament days doing interviews behind the 18th green, or in the locker room, or on the driving range, or in the parking lot. Basically, everywhere but the golf course.
The Masters, blissfully, is a different experience. No matter what my work demands may be I always make time for long strolls around the grounds. Augusta National is, to me, the best spectating course in the world, because of its beauty, the strategic drama of the holes, the rolling terrain that provides perfect vantage points and the eight decades the club has spent fine-tuning every aspect of the fan experience. I set out today in the early afternoon and spent five glorious, sun-drenched hours soaking up the Augusta National experience. It was even better than I remembered. Having written a long story about Adam Scott for our Masters preview, I wanted to watch him play a bit. I caught him on No. 9, moments before he holed a gorgeous bunker shot for birdie to get back to one over par. It was a nice moment for both of us. I followed Scott’s powerhouse group — playing partners: Retief Goosen and Paul Casey — onto the back nine and was immediately rewarded for having left the press tent, as I bumped into Butch Harmon at the 10th green. He now has Phil and Ernie in his stable but the kid he calls "Scotty" will always be his favorite pupil. "Butchy-san" (as Scott calls Harmon) brought me up to speed on Scott’s rough start, three bogeys in the first five holes. "It takes balls to fight back the way he has," Harmon said.
Inexorably, I wound up hanging out in the heart of Amen Corner. If you position yourself in just the right spot you can have a view of the approach shot into 11, the dazzling sweep of the natural amphitheater that frames the 12th hole, and then all the action on the rollicking do-or-die par-5 13th.I watched a series of stellar groups go through, including the likes of Phil, Ernie, Vijay, K.J. and Sergio. The best shot I saw was courtesy of Andres Romero, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite players. On 13 he lost his drive to the right but went for the green anyway, ripping a long-iron off the pine straw through the trees onto the green. Serious juevos.
After the big boys went through the Corner I strolled over to the bleacher behind the 15th green, which also affords a view of the par-3 16th. These two watery holes demand bold shotmaking, and it’s as good a spot as there is on the course. As the twilight turned golden and long, evocative shadows began creeping across the course. I followed the last groups up the hill toward the clubhouse. Once again a jaded scribe had been turned into a fan, at least for a few hours. For me, that is the real magic of Augusta. (Photo: John W. McDonough/SI)