Best Augusta Story Told by a Woman
Friday, May 21, 2004 was the day. We traveled to Augusta from our home on Hilton Head Island on Thursday evening as a precaution against travel mishaps that might occur on Friday morning. It was a beautiful day. My husband was also invited to play, although he had played there on a few occasions. I had never thought I would have the opportunity, but it was now finally happening. The drive down Magnolia Lane sent goose bumps over my body. Thinking of all those greats who had traveled this Lane before filled my head. Our host welcomed us as we parked our car and ushered us to the Clubhouse where we met another gentleman who would be our fourth for the round. There being no locker room for ladies, my host took me upstairs to the Champions' Locker Room. He asked which locker I wished to use, and without hesitation, I chose Arnold Palmer's locker. What a thrill! With a warm smile, my host suggested that I should tell my women golfing friends of the fine hospitality shown to women at Augusta. But that was only the beginning. We then proceeded to lunch in the dining room which was delightful, served in the elegantly casual atmosphere which personifies Augusta National.
Then off to the practice range where we were reunited with our clubs and introduced to our caddies. After watching me hit a few shots, my caddie immediately tried to put me at ease by saying things like the course would be easy for me and that I would outplay the men etc. It was not working! On the first tee, and I must remind you, there are no tees for ladies, it was decided on the grounds that as this was my day, that I should have the honor. It was conceded that I would play from the front of the members' tees which probably reduces the yardage to about 6,100. At address my knees were shaking and I told the rest of the group who all laughed goodheartedly. I am not sure how but I was able to make a decent swing and hit the ball straight down the middle about 190 yards. The game was on. While I did manage to hit a solid three wood down in front of the green, I proceeded to run my chip shot over the green and take four more from there to finish my first hole at Augusta with a triple bogey. An auspicious start to say the least.
The par 5 second, Pink Dogwood, proved to be more satisfying. Following a good drive and another solid 3 wood down to the flat area, I hit my 8 iron approach into the left front bunker. From there I blasted out to about 12 feet of the back left pin and made the putt for par. My first par at Augusta...I was ecstatic. From there everything within me settled down and with prompting from my husband and my caddie I started to look at my surroundings. It is different inside the ropes and I think the hills are steeper than what the spectators experience in April. The azaleas are finished of course for the year, but the lush greenness remains and is every bit as beautiful. The fairways are still magnificent, but in late May there are tell-tale signs of the Georgia summer heat that is around the corner starting to show on the rye grass. The greens, while surely wearing a lower reading on the stimpmeter than during the Masters, are every bit as treacherous. I can vouch for that!
I made the turn in 46 and then like the course itself, proceeded downhill with three double bogeys in a row. Despite my determination to par No.12 and especially not to end up in Rae's Creek, I hit my tee shot long into one of the two back bunkers. Looking at Rae's from there was pretty scary and I failed to get out on my first attempt and a double bogey followed. With the greens snatching two possible pars from me on 13 and 14 ( the latter green the toughest of all I believe), I played Number 15, Firethorn, well after almost putting my second in the pond in front. My caddie was surprised and asked if I had been trying to duplicate Sarazen's double eagle. Instead I chipped to within 10 feet, lipped my birdie putt and marked a 5 on my card. I followed that up with a 20 foot putt on sixteen which was special for it is this hole we sit on Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the Masters. While I do not know the exact statistic, I believe more Tournaments have been won or lost on this hole than any other. It is my favorite.
Seventeen and eighteen produced two bogeys. Walking up 18, it occurred to me that the round was almost over and it had taken twenty minutes to play. Or so it seemed. The rush was so great...there was no tiredness, no aching bones on that long, last climb. My caddie, who had also graciously served as photographer, took some final shots of everyone on that last hill, some with the clubhouse ahead of us and others looking back down over the beautiful old lady now shimmering in late afternoon Georgia sunshine.
My final tally was a 95 and I felt very proud to have achieved that as an 18 handicap player. I also had felt the presence of Arnie with me for the entire round and it was good. We reminisced with cocktails on the veranda later and talked about the good shots and the bad shots and those that should have been. It was a day in my golfing life that will be remembered always. And it was good.
- June, Hilton Head Island, SC
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Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile
Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.
The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.
"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."
He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).
Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.
“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."
Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.
Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.
Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.
The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.
McIlroy gets back on track
There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:
He is well ahead of schedule.
Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.
“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”
To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”
And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.
After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out.
Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.
“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”
The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.
The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)
But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.
Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.
Everything in his life is lined up.
Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.
Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.
There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.
Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.
The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.
Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.
It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.
Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.
While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.