When I arrive at Augusta National for the Masters, I get out of the car and walk down Magnolia Lane to the gates and think about all the memories I’ve made here, the special ones that stay with you forever.
I think of battling it out with Jack and Arnie so many years ago. I think of people at the club when I won my first Masters in 1961, men we admired like Bobby Jones, President Eisenhower and Clifford Roberts. I think of the shots I played that enabled me to win three times and others that left me with the misery of finishing second three times. I walk under the trees and say thank you for all of it. It all passed very quickly.
It’s going to be an exciting week. We’ve hired several houses here and invited our clients from all over the world to join us. Having this opportunity to be together and experience the atmosphere of the Masters is something that’s very, very special. This golf tournament just grows in leaps and bounds, and having attended this tournament for 57 years, I can see how international it has become.
There are people from all corners of the globe meeting here, from as far away as India and China, doing deals and structuring new projects for the players, people of all walks of life who love the game. One man here has been coming since the tournament’s inception: 77 years! This is my 57th year, and I thought that was the record. I’ll pass him eventually, but still, that’s amazing!
The atmosphere is a bit different this year. Sure, the tournament will miss Tiger Woods — galleries, ticket sales and ratings are all bigger when he is here — but I never place too much emphasis on one individual, and this new generation of young stars will keep the game growing.
It’s very possible that one of these young men could win for the first time this year. Personally, I think Rory McIlroy is ready to win it. Of all the young players, he will be the first to win the Grand Slam. Jason Day probably has the best golf swing since Ben Hogan, but he hasn’t played for a month because of a sore thumb, and that might hurt him. Henrik Stenson had an incredible year last year and this golf course is made for him, though he is struggling with his putting.
I played a few holes with Dustin Johnson on Sunday, and I realized what a different world young people live in today. Dustin hits the ball ridiculous distances, but he didn’t ask me any questions about how I played the course when I won the tournament. They’ve all got their coaches that they rely on — sometimes to their detriment — but when I was a young man, and I played with Ben Hogan or Sam Snead or Byron Nelson, as far back as Tommy Armour, I’ve always believed that you learn by asking questions. It’s free advice!
Anyway, it’s just wide-open field this year, and trying to pick a winner is like trying to win the lotto. I’m just as excited as any fan.
Gary Player will be sharing his thoughts on the Masters and recounting his adventures at Augusta National for Golf.com throughout the week. You can follow him @garyplayer.