'Augusta debut? Try not to get too sucked in'
“Well I wasn’t sh***ing myself the second time.”
I’ve just asked Andy Sullivan the main difference between his first and second appearances at The Masters. The quip is accompanied by his big familiar laugh.
“The first time I got to Augusta, I was really, really nervous. I was in awe of the place and it just didn’t seem like it was real.”
That might explain his missed cut after rounds of 80 and 77, a full 18 shots behind champion Danny Willett. Only Darren Clarke, Steven Bowditch, Ian Woosnam and Costa Rican amateur Paul Chaplet finished below him.
Sullivan’s second appearance 12 months later yielded a better return, making the cut with rounds of 71 and 78 before a weekend showing of 76 and 73 to finished in a tie for 48th at 10-over par.
“The second time I was more settled and played well the week before so I knew I was playing well going into it and it gave me a little bit more confidence.”
So what does Sullivan remember about that first trip to north east Georgia?
“The first ever drive down Magnolia Lane is something that, when I was growing up, is something I thought I would never be able to do.
“To actually take that trip down and to know you’re playing in The Masters gives you goose bumps – even just thinking about it now.
“To step onto the tee is like a kid going to Disneyland. It’s an amazing feeling and something that will lives with me for a long time.”
Reflecting on what he might have done differently if he could go back and make his Masters debut again, Sullivan added: “The first year I tried to practice hard the week before and not play a tournament. I should have played the Houston Open the week before to be more tournament ready.
“Practising that week before, I felt I was swinging great. It’s like any golfer, you can practise your arse off but you can’t prepare for the mental errors you make during the tournament.
“It’s the rust you need to shake off. I played all four rounds in Houston last year and finished in the top 20 and felt like I pressed on into the Masters.
“But in terms of course preparation you can’t really do anything because there’s no course like it on this earth.
“Augusta is one of those courses that you can play a hundred times and you will learn something new about it every time, so it’s really difficult to try and emulate the shot you’re going to make.
“When I made the cut I played with former champions Mike Weir and Mark O’Meara which was really helpful. Those guys have been playing there for quite a few years and gave me a lot of tips about where to hit it and where to miss.
“If I could go back to 2016, I’d play the week before.”
So what advice would Sullivan give someone about to make their first appearance at the season’s first major?
“As hard as it is, stay calm as possible,” he says, suddenly more serious. “You need to try not to get sucked in too much.
“I don’t normally like to hang around the course too much after practising, but because it was Augusta I stayed there a lot in the run-up and was really tired come Friday.
“Stick to your routines and treat it as just a golf tournament. Sometimes that got away from me and I couldn’t be arsed and just wanted to go and watch because it’s the Masters and it’s difficult and it’s not just a normal event.”