Blog: Mark Townsend’s first visit to Augusta NationalApril, 2013
Gary Player, bouncing balls and dear old Seve
I AM unable to breathe. In the next few minutes I will be entering Augusta National for the first time and my ever-optimistic brain is working out various different permutations on how this can go wrong.
Heart failure, arrest and passing out just as I am about to be welcomed on to the property are all considered but the body, if not the mind, holds up and I am greeted by a particularly friendly person on the gate.
‘Good morning and welcome to the Masters, have a great day.’
I want to hug her, I want to pick her up and spin her round in a Highland fling. Instead I smile weakly and get a little, to say the least, choked.
This is all my dreams wrapped up in one – the late great European Sunday nights of the 80s all the way through to Bubba Watson’s quite ridiculous escape from the side of the 10th. I had been there for every single one and now I was standing where Bubba was a year ago trying to work out why he hadn’t just chipped out sideways.
We all know it’s hilly because that is all we hear about every year, what we hear less of is that it’s not an overly big piece of ground – from the banking on the 16th you can see eight holes – and why the roars spread so quickly.
Today is the practice day and the majority of the noise is coming for the attempts to skim the ball across the water at 16. Rory McIlroy, playing on his own, has three goes and comes up short each time. Others like Fred Couples, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker and Ty Vogel play in unison.
Come mid afternoon McIlroy completes his round in front of a handful of spectators in a garden party-like atmosphere. A few minutes later Tiger Woods begins his nine holes for the day, Couples switching to make up the twoball, with the patrons eight deep.
They might love Phil but this is like nothing else, this is reminiscent of the final round of any Major, this is genuine superstardom.
Otherwise the eight hours fly by with cheese and pimento sandwiches ($1.50), having photos with Billy Casper and Gary Player, reading the Spectator Guide from cover to cover and picking out various landmarks which have no plaque; Rory’s second to the 10th in 2011, Mickelson’s 6 iron from the pine needles at 13, Sandy’s escape at 18, and reliving the last 30 years.
And, just before we leave, saying a little prayer for Seve, my earliest memory of the Masters 30 years ago and when the distant love affair began.