Every year at Augusta National, a few lucky members of the media are chosen by lottery to play on the Monday after the tournament. We asked the writers and editors of Sports Illustrated, Golf Magazine and Golf.com to recount their memories of playing Augusta National on years when they won. Here’s what they had to say:
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Two words: “grip pressure.”
I played Augusta National for the first time last April and — at risk of sounding immodest — I drove the ball like a demon. My short irons and wedges were a different story. I hit the first green with a 9-iron, only to watch the ball skip and roll off. I skulled a short wedge on No. 2. I chunked a short pitch on five. It wasn’t until I’d made the turn that I realized what was happening. Intimidated by the tight fairway lies and slippery greens, I was trying to spin the ball more. To spin the ball more, I was playing the ball back in my stance and pinching it against the turf. Which would have been fine if I hadn’t started squeezing the club as hard as I was clenching my teeth.
I didn’t come to my senses until thirteen, where I lightened my grip pressure and hit a conventional pitch into the green. (It held.) I then parred in for … 90?
The azaleas, by the way, were gorgeous. I squeezed one.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I played in ’06, and we were off 10 tee in the cold early morning, with no time on the range to warm up since it was not allowed at the time. We were all pretty nervous, and my score was toast by 13, but I hit a nice bunker shot on 12, and one of my playing partners took a picture of it, which I have on my desk. (That’s it above.) I have never felt so small and insignificant on a golf course as I did there, with the towering pines and history. I birdied my last two holes and had a nice lunch buffet at the club. All I ever tell people now is that I birdied 8 and 9.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: I should have been overwhelmingly thrilled walking off the course, because I shot 78. But my most vivid memory remains a gaffe at 15. After a perfect drive, I had about 205 yards to the green. I wanted to hit a five wood. My caddie stuck a 2 iron in my hands. I gave him a quizzical look. “That’s more than enough,” he said. I flushed the shot and had visions of a low round. Then my world fell apart. The ball plunked into the water in front of the green. I didn’t say anything to the caddie. I’d caddied for 10 years growing up and knew too well that it’s always the player’s fault. I bogied 15. At 16, I dunked another ball, leading to a double-bogey, and my low round was out the window.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I first played Augusta National in 1990, when the course had no trees and no rough and I shot a 67, had lunch, and shot an even-par afternoon 72 with the peach cobbler settling in my stomach. I then played it in 2000, when it had turned into a U.S. Open course, and shot 103. I exaggerate, of course (well, not about the 103). The point being, the course has become much, much harder over the past 20 or so years. This has been said forever and it’s true: from the members tees, the course becomes more and more difficult as you get closer and closer to the hole. You can be near any green in regulation. You can take two chips and three putts on numbers 1 through 18. If you take two or three full shots per hole and five little ones, well, that ain’t too good. Hello 103.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Before I played Augusta in 2009, the day after Angel Cabrera won his green jacket, I never realized there are only two sets of tees on the course. The pros play from the Masters tees during the tournament and every other week members and guests play from tees that make the course about 1,000 yards shorter.
I also didn’t realize how easy it would be to hit the fairway from the member’s tees. Only playing the course made me appreciate what the pros mean when they talk about having to approach Augusta’s greens from the proper angle. I knew the greens would have me flummoxed, but I didn’t understand that their power extended 200 yards into the fairways. It does.
Like everyone else I remember all the shots I hit, the views from inside the ropes and the sound of the birds and the wind. Along with playing St. Andrews for the first time, it was the greatest day of my golf career.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: I played last year and got the full Augusta experience — the drive down Magnolia Lane, a spot in the Champions Locker Room (thanks for letting me use your locker, Angel!), breakfast in the clubhouse, warmed up on the new driving range and finally played a round on the big course, less than 24 hours after Phil had won his third green jacket. There were highlights (pars on 1, 2, 5, 6, 8 and 9), disasters (triples on 10 and 11) and stunning comebacks (pars on 12 and 13, birdie on 14). Standing on 16 tee I knew I had a shot at breaking 90. But alas the full Augusta experience also included my own version of a Greg Norman collapse. I finished quad-double-quad for a 91. But it was a hell of a ride.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I carry two green ticket stubs in my wallet. One says “Masters Golf 2002,” the other “Masters Golf 2009.” They are dog-eared now and a bit tattered, but they represent two of the best golfing days in my life, the two days when I finally made the grade. I can still recall every swing I made in both rounds, especially the 7-irons I played to No. 16 both years. Right to left draws to a Sunday pin that resulted in easy pars. There were tough moments, too: two balls in the water on No. 12 in ’09. A snap hook into the trees on 13 that same year. But most of all, it was magic, even the bogeys, doubles and others. I’ve never had as much fun failing to break 100. The seven-year wait between entering the media lottery is a long time, but I’m smiling as I wait. And I’m hoping that, one day, my wallet will get a little more crowded with a new ticket stub that reads “Masters Golf 2016.”