THE first time I drove up Magnolia Lane was a special moment in my life. Augusta’s mystique builds anticipation, and having read Jack Nicklaus’ record, Tom Watson’s heroics and Ben Hogan’s 1953 season, that history of past players made me feel in elite company just to be teeing it up.
▶ ▶ ▶ Augusta is very beautiful, but the most important thing, for me, was (my) playing credentials had been good enough to warrant an invitation to The Masters. Now, it’s a little different with the things TV can bring audiences. Not many people realise this, but in my day you never saw the first seven holes. Basically, they were a big mystery. All you saw was the ninth and onwards, so you went there with a lot of anticipation.
▶ ▶ ▶ Prior to 1983, you couldn’t take your own caddie as Augusta National had its own bagmen so you had to make that adjustment, which was interesting to say the least. But the speed of the greens and the firmness of the green complexes reminded me of Australia, which was comforting.
▶ ▶ ▶ Those experiences are what make Augusta so unique; that’s what I love about it. And while it was strange not to have my own caddie, once I got into the clubhouse and started meeting the members I completely understood their vision. I loved the way the golf club was run – almost perfectly and there was this harmonious, productive dictatorship. The way the golf club was run internally was exhibited by how the golf course was presented externally – everything was perfect. There isn’t a golf club in the world that could relate or equate to Augusta National and its positioning within the world of golf.
▶ ▶ ▶ I know a fellow Queenslander will make his first appearance at The Masters this month, Cameron Smith. He’s a very bright, young talent and my advice to him would be not to go to Augusta too early. If you do, you’ll change your routine and you’ll be thrown out. Going round and round and round, by Tuesday you’ll be spent and your energy levels, come Thursday, won’t be the same. Treat it like a regular golf tournament but, of course, savour the moments when you get there. But as you walk to the first tee, realise you have a job to do and that’s to go play golf .
▶ ▶ ▶ Everybody says Augusta suits a guy hitting right-to-left and that’s correct – off the tee. But the second shots almost always require a left-to-right flight; you have to hit the ball high and with a gentle fade.
▶ ▶ ▶ With so many technological advancements in golf equipment, I think Augusta has done a phenomenal job of staying competitive by bringing the trees into play so that driving the golf ball straight is crucial. Back in the early 1980s and before that, it was a wide, open golf course. You could hit it anywhere and extricate yourself from trees without a problem, so the premium wasn’t on driving the golf ball. When I first went there in the early ‘80s, the trees were 30 years shorter and I’d drive it over the corner of the trees on 13. I wouldn’t have to go around the pines with the 3-wood because I had massive length and carry on the golf ball. Then, in the ’90s, Raymond Floyd and I were involved with testing around Augusta because the club wanted to make sure the modern-day golfers were using the same irons into greens as their predecessors. It is incredible – the club has mapped out every player’s shot from every round of golf during the history of The Masters. They’ve lengthened the golf course, and rightfully so. Historians can say, “Jack Nicklaus hit an 8-iron into the seventh hole and 30 years on so will Jordan Spieth”.
▶ ▶ ▶ From day one, I said this golf course was perfect for the left-hander. Power drivers like Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson can get up and hit a driver on the 13th, where the right-hander usually has to hit a 3-wood. It’s a lot easier for the lefty to hit a hard fade than it is for right-handers to hit a controlled draw. Same goes for the second, third, eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th holes.
▶ ▶ ▶ One thing that has never changed about Augusta is your skills and repertoire of shots really get examined; you have to use all 14 clubs in the bag, simple as that. To me, that’s great course architecture.
▶ ▶ ▶ I loved being tested, and being in contention on many occasions was a huge thrill. What I took away from (surrendering a six-shot, final-round lead) in 1996 was you learn a lot more from a loss than a victory. When you’re a good player, everybody expects you to win. When you’re a good player and you don’t win, it’s all about how you handle it. It’s a reflection of the individual – I’ve seen other players not attend a press conference or slouch after a loss. It’s just a game. It’s a sport and when it’s done, it’s done. You’ve got to respect that everyone in that press room has a job to do. After that Sunday in 1996, I just did and said what I felt. Fortunately for me, the perception of 99.9 per cent of people after that Masters respected me for the way I handled it. It also helped to just get back on the horse, so I played the very next week at Harbour Town Golf Links. It showed me the true character of myself – I just move through life and I don’t let things affect me. You’re going to have good and bad rounds and the indication of someone’s character is shown on how you handle both.
▶ ▶ ▶ Nowadays, it’s fantastic for Australian golf that we have several contenders at Augusta. You only have to look at the last few years and there are three guys who keep cropping up on a regular basis – Jason Day, Adam Scott and Marc Leishman. Leishman is a phenomenal putter, so if you can putt the ball well in addition to being a great ballstriker, then you have an excellent chance. It will be interesting to see how Adam Scott handles the difference with the short putter on super-fast greens. But he’s been putting well on the US PGA Tour. Between all three of them, they’ve got a good chance – one of them has won it and the other two are just as hungry, if not hungrier, than Scott.
▶▶▶I know there is a call for Augusta to host a women’s Masters, but it’s not my place to say whether the club should or not. Would I personally like to see a women’s Masters? Yes, absolutely. But it doesn’t have to be at Augusta National – they can find their own place and make their own permanent home they can proudly call theirs. The quality of female players is certainly there internationally to warrant such a prestigious event.