AUGUSTA, Ga. — It’s true, there are occasions when Internet headlines veer toward hyperbole. I really would love for that to be the case here.

First, some background: On Friday, the Masters held its annual golf lottery in which a handful of media members are granted a coveted Monday tee time at Augusta National. My name was chosen for the first time, and I was floating. It’s my 20th Masters, the weather looks perfect, and I’m coming off a winter in which I actually put some work into my game.

Between my usual golf group, my beer league hockey team (Go Strangers!) and the crew at work, betting lines were being set. Quietly, as an 11 index, I was anticipating the standard mid-handicap Augusta National experience: Some decent shots, a few costly gaffes, but memories for a lifetime.

In the hours after getting the nod, I even started asking a handful of credible people in golf for their advice. To prepare for the greens, I asked putting guru Brad Faxon for something tangible. “Soft grip and arm pressure,” Faxon replied.

The popular tour pro Joel Dahmen and I had played 18 holes on camera for a Golf Digest video, where he saw me fluctuate between decent and clueless. Joel was excited for me, but also cautious. “Go for all the big shots you can,” he said, but also: “Putt everywhere you can.”

More advice came from veteran caddie Paul Tesori, caddieing this week for Tom Kim (“Be aggressive into greens,” he said. “Who cares what you shoot. You’ll remember your birdies forever”) and sports psychologist Bhrett McCabe (“See the visuals you want to execute”).

In building out my plan, my excitement grew. The only wrinkle was I didn’t bring my clubs to town, and I was weighing whether to have them shipped or just borrow a set from a buddy.

Spoiler alert: This is no longer my biggest concern.

‘i have the shanks!’

The disruptive event shifting my initial rosy outlook to the sense of doom I am experiencing now was an otherwise innocuous night-golf outing Friday evening up the road at the pristine Sage Valley Golf Club.

Along with its Tom Fazio-designed main course, Sage Valley features a fully-lit par-3 course, and at the end of a Golf Digest dinner, a dozen of us ventured out, drinks in hand, to knock it around before midnight.

Sage Valley

It’s hard to overstate how lighthearted the vibe was meant to be in such a setting, and a few lubricated swings in, I was no different. Then on No. 2, I dropped a second ball on the synthetic mat used for a tee and saw my pitching wedge jump … right.

I chuckled, and chipped up to finish the hole, no big deal. Then on the third tee, I made another quick swing that sent the ball … even further right.

At this point nervous laughter masked a growing panic, which is apparent when scanning the heart rate readings on my Whoop.

I will spare you the details of everything that followed, only to say most of the group buzzed ahead to complete their nine while a merciful few hung back to coax me out of trouble. Golf Digest’s Daria Delfino has won state amateurs and played in the U.S. Women’s Mid-Am, but now she was testing out a new dual role of swing therapist and crisis counselor. I also texted Golf Digest’s instruction savant, Luke Kerr-Dineen, who I usually bombard with swing questions and updates. Now I offered four plaintive words.

“I have the shanks!”

Fast forward to Saturday, 48 hours ahead of go time, and the only encouragement I can cling to is that my last three swings of the night were less disastrous. Daria was the one who noted how my growing tension had me not turning my body, which led me to throwing my hands down so steeply that the hosel was exposed at impact. When I focused on opening my hips, then swinging my hands closer to the body, the clubface center, not the hosel, was now closest to the ball.

Problem solved? Well, I’ve seen this movie before. Even when the shanks release you from their grip, there is a nagging sense they can snatch you back at any moment.

You could call this brutal timing but only if you failed to see the connection between how I picture playing Augusta National in my dreams and how it could unfold in a nightmare.

Q: “What’d you hit on 12?”

A: “I hoseled another 8-iron into Rae’s Creek, picked up and then just sat on the Hogan Bridge and cried.”

(Here I would at least have company. Jack Nicklaus also hit a shank on 12 in the 1964 Masters, which he discussed this week, “I almost killed Bob Jones and Clifford Roberts,” Nicklaus recalled. “Shanked it right over their head.”).

Naturally once my new fears surfaced, the tenor of my texts to experts changed. “Strengthen your grip,” Golf Digest Top 50 Teacher Michael Breed said. “Embrace the fear and not fear it,” McCabe added.

Seemingly everyone in my orbit has chimed in with advice (CBS’ Jim Nantz: “Watch the shots they hit on Sunday”) and many return to the same sentiment: Don’t worry how you play. Just enjoy it.

I’ll do my best. But just in case, I’m spending Sunday morning in search of a range.

Update, 12 p.m. Sunday: Deep breaths. Another range session before the Masters final round was far less distressing, elevating my status from desperation to just typically neurotic. I appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers.

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