Gary Player will share his thoughts from Augusta all week for Golf.com. Arriving at Augusta for the 56th time is really like coming home. It's a pleasure to see the old faces, to meet the new ones. And, of course, it's a pleasure to take my traditional walk down Magnolia Lane. It brings back a lot of memories – mostly of my good fortune, that I can have the record that I have at this club: Three wins, three seconds, 15 top-10s, the most consecutive cuts made with 23, the most number of Masters played with 52. It is always a thrill to return.
You're always thinking about this magnificent place. It's a tonic, the first major of the year. Lots of people are coming down here from the cold, coming into sunshine. And they all meet under the old oak tree by the clubhouse, old friends and new faces.
On Wednesday, I'll play in the Par 3 Contest, which will be broadcast worldwide. Only at Augusta. On Thursday, I'll be hitting the opening tee shot with Jack and Arnold. And throughout it all, I'll be hosting guests at the Black Knight residence, the house we rent for the week, seeing so many of the terrific people who are part of the game of golf.
But I am especially excited about playing the course Tuesday, as I haven't had a practice round at Augusta in at least four years. I'll be playing with South African golfers Branden Grace, George Coetzee, and the 2011 Masters champion, Charl Schwartzel. All in all, it's going to be a very exciting day. Hopefully we can advise and inspire some of these young players to go and win another green jacket for South Africa.
Back when I was playing, I would always practice downhill putts on Monday. I'd pick the spots where the greens were slickest, so I could fully feel their speed. The exercise would remind me where not to hit the second shots. Take the third hole. When they put the flag on the front, if you miss the bunker to the right you might only be twenty foot from the hole, but you cannot get down in two. Or at the 16th-if you miss the green to the right when the pin is on the left, you cannot get down in two.
(Unless, that is, your name is Arnold Palmer. He holed one from right of the green in 1962, when I had him by two shots with three to play. Hit it 25-feet wide of the hole, and it caught the flag like a steamroller before it dropped. By the time I'd finished counting my chickens Arnold had beaten me in a playoff.)
I may tell Branden and George and Charl stories like that, but only if they ask. They'll have to ask the questions. One thing I've learned is that I cannot tell you what another man is thinking, even when he is walking down Magnolia Lane.
Of course, I remember what was going through my mind when I first arrived, in 1957. I was absolutely in awe. I was going to see the man I considered to be the best striker of a golf ball ever to play the game: Ben Hogan. I've never seen anyone hit the ball tee to green like Hogan. I was also going to see the man I considered to be the greatest athlete ever to play the game: Sam Snead. He had the most naturally strong, supple, beautiful golf swing that ever existed. And then there was Byron Nelson. And, obviously, the great honor of meeting the host, Bobby Jones.
I thought about the history, the people. I tried to realize that for a week, I was going to be one of them, at the same dinner, in the same club, on the same course. It's a long walk down Magnolia Lane. You've got time to think about a lot of things.