It was a cold morning today, and I got up early to go play with two South African boys, George Coetzee and Branden Grace, for my first practice round in four years. But I was thrilled to be back on the course, playing with these young guys and playing before the patrons again. The galleries were fantastic — to me, to everyone. That cold morning became an astonishing Augusta Tuesday.
It's remarkable how this golf course has changed over the years. It goes beyond the added distance. Augusta National is forever evolving. Even the practice range. They've had four practice ranges since I first came to the property. And this new one must have cost 100-million bucks! It has to be the most expensive practice area that's ever been thought of.
Some things, though, never change at Augusta. For instance, they always think of everything. Today, with that chill in the air, I went to wipe my club in the water buckets by the range and the water was warm. They've got warm water for your clubs! Things you'd never think of are taken care of in advance. But what else would you expect? Everything is immaculate. The poor greenkeepers work like they'd be fired if anyone found a single weed anywhere on the grounds. Who knows? They might.
These days, the greens aren't that much faster than some of the other courses that we play, but the slope here that makes them play much quicker. On some putts you get yourself in impossible positions to recover from. At Augusta it comes down to knowing where to miss — knowing when to play for the flag, and when to play for par. This idea that you've always got to go for birdie is hogwash; you cannot force Augusta National's hand. It requires great patience to play golf here. If you don't have it, you need be Houdini to make par.
I shared as much of that as I could with the young guys today. They kept asking questions, and I kept telling them about all the things I've picked up over the years. I told them about the years themselves, the history of the holes, how they used to be. (I showed them the spot on the right of 16 that I mentioned yesterday, from where Arnold made his birdie in 1962, when he beat me in the playoff. They didn't believe that putt could possibly be holed.)
In all, it was a spectacular morning. And tonight, I'm going to the Champions Dinner, one of the great evenings of the year. It'll be interesting to see what Bubba Watson serves. He's an old country boy — I wouldn't be surprised if he gave us grits and some jerky. We'll see what happens. By the time you've played all day, anything they serve tastes good. Walking 18 holes at Augusta is like walking 27 at a normal golf course. Up and down and up all day — television does no justice to the topography of this golf course.
No matter what is served, the Champions Dinner is a wonderful tradition. Having been attending since the days of Ben Hogan, who organized the first one, it's absolutely remarkable how today's players have carried the tradition in exactly the way it was meant to be. To have that room full of champions once a year — to hear their stories and catch up on their lives — it's like a class reunion.
In 1962, I was the first international to choose the menu. I didn't want to come across as cocky. I could imagine a room full of golfing legends all yelling, "Foreign food? You fool!" I told the cook, "Look, I'm going to have a little bit of grits, and some chicken." Then, as I thought about it, I became self-conscious again. I went back to the cook: "Well, maybe put some steak on the menu," I added. "Just in case they don't like chicken."
Now, it's nice to see a champion add a little bit of his home country's flair to the menu. Today people from all over the world play the Masters, and everyone gets a standing ovation. This morning at the gym I met Guan Tianliang, a 14-year-old from China playing at Augusta National. I only started to pick up a club at 14 and here he is. I tell you, it's got to be one of the miracles of golf. Maybe one day he'll earn a seat at the champions' table. Who can be sure? But I do know that he'll have many, many trips back to Augusta. Look at me: I've been attending the same dinner party for 51 years. That's a long time to keep a reservation. But as they say, the price is right. (Photo: Harry How/Getty Images)