Incredibly and despite my nerves, my well-hit ball was flying in the right direction. It was my tee shot at hole 1 at Augusta. The shot was at the level of the bunkers on the right, in the middle of the fairway. It was 11 a.m. on Monday, April 12. A bright day, without a single cloud in the sky.
The previous Friday he had been drawn to play on the field, along with eleven other journalists accredited to cover the Masters, with the same flags as the Sunday of the final round. A long awaited dream.
It arrived on Monday and at 10 a.m., an hour before my departure time, and strictly following the instructions received at the post-draw briefing, I turned right from Washington Road and crossed the large gate to travel the 300 meters from Magnolia Lane. This mythical street, lined with enormous magnolias, is the main entrance of the Augusta National Golf Club, which leads directly to the Clubhouse building, built in 1854. In front of the door of the large white three-story building, I handed over my bag of clubs and They guided me to the “Champions Locker Room.” I was assigned a closet that said Tommy Aaron (1973) and Bubba Watson (2012, 2014). I left my shoes where Bubba had left his a week before.
I took advantage of that moment to tour the great house that was deserted. I went to the trophy room. There it was, on a huge pedestal, facing the large window, the original in pure silver that is a perfect model of the Clubhouse building. That trophy has the name of Maestro Roberto De Vicenzo engraved as second in 1968, with that lying score of 278 strokes. Also that of Pato Cabrera in 2009. Then I went out the way I had entered and a cart was waiting for me to take me to the practice field.
Already on the driving, in one of the places, there was a caddy with my clubs. “Hi Ignacio, I am Gibby”, a very smiling man appeared wearing the classic white romper. A huge pyramid of immaculate ProV 1 balls waited for submissives assuming he would mistreat them, and so it was …
With 20 minutes to go I went to the putting green, knowing that it would be much more useful to get used to the supersonic speed I had seen during the tournament, rather than trying unsuccessfully to improve my swing. My first contact with those greens was grotesque. I chose a flag that was about ten or twelve meters away, in the middle of that huge surface. I barely touched her. The ball passed near the hole at a constant speed and ended up traveling 25 meters to finish off the green. Hard hit. After ten minutes I managed to understand some of the encrypted language that those greens spoke.
At 10:55 I was standing on the tee at hole 1 with Tim, Scott and Andrew, my fellow players. An official photographer took us a plaque to remember and … go ahead and good luck.
As I walked to my ball, a bright white dot up there, on the pristine green of that huge fairway, I was thinking of everything I had waited for that moment. I had decided to enjoy the most beautiful walk of my life on a golf course without allowing a very possible bad score to ruin it.
The second shot was horrible. With the third I barely passed the green, but close to the flag, which was on the right side. Already with the putter and despite Gibby’s warnings about the subtlety that the shot required, my fourth shot went the other way, about 20 meters to finish again on the fairway, at the entrance to the green. The fifth was decent and was two meters for double bogey. I failed. Like I said, I wasn’t going to let a bad score ruin my dream day at Augusta. So, almost proudly, I scored a 7 on hole 1.
The course was absolutely empty, except for us, the twelve apostles on the first and last lap in golf paradise. This year no stands were installed, and as the ropes had already been removed, the field was just as the partners play it. A gift.
As I walked down every fairway and on every green, images of so many historic shots passed before me, those incredibly good and also those that led to noisy debacles.
On par 3 of hole 4, which was 185 yards from the members’ tee, I played a good shot that dipped in the middle of the green and ended up out about three meters. The flag was short, just past the large bunker in front. Trying to play Gibby I played with the putter a shot that traveled the first 15 meters outside the green, and that almost stopped when it entered the kind of asphalt that covers them. From there it accelerated little by little as it descended, to finish at the height of the hole, about two meters away. I failed to pair. A shame Or complete happiness, whichever you prefer.
On hole 9 I made par, the first. Very good drive and a 7 iron to the green. The ball was on the right side on the second layup. The flag was in the first, short and on the left side. The day before he had seen up close how Justin Rose played that same putt. As ridiculous as I felt pointing almost in the opposite direction from the flag, I relied on my memory and the experience of English. My caddy, Gibby, watched silently. The ball drew an unusual parable with the same result as Rose’s. I scooped for torque from 80 centimeters.
I finished the first leg in 47 strokes as a result of that beautiful seven from hole 1. I bogeyed from hole 2 to hole 6 and another from hole 8, with an unfair double bogey from hole 7. My happiness was complete except that I had already enjoyed half of this waking dream.
Whenever I walk on a golf course I have that special feeling of appearing to be the owner of that enormous space of the hole that I am playing, and that for a few moments has been given to me. In this case he felt the same, only that the immensity of that feeling being in Augusta was difficult to assimilate. A privilege.
There is no more beautiful place on the entire court than the corner where the green of hole 11 is, the exit and the green of hole 12 and the exit of hole 13. All that part, well known as Amen’s Corner, is Forbidden to spectators who can only see it in the distance from a natural hill that serves as a platform. Getting to that place walking down the 11th fairway is something unique. Crossing the Hogan Bridge over the creek and reaching the green of the fateful 12th hole is like entering a museum. I did not imagine that this green was so long and so narrow, for something it is so feared. Then I stopped at the exit of the 13th hole, perhaps the most beautiful of all the holes on the course. The view is breathtaking. At that moment I thought of all the champions who from then on had started their triumphal march on Sunday. Then I walked that fairway, with the divine creek running down the left side. I reached the “dog leg” and that impressive picture of the green appeared, surrounded by the flowers, the bunkers and the Rae’s Creek, so often portrayed. An icon of the court. That’s when I realized that the game, the shots and the putts no longer mattered much, even though I executed them with great concentration. But they were only the necessary acts to be able to enjoy that magical ride.
From the top of the fairway at hole 15 the view is impressive. From there, at a distance of about 230 yards, the professionals play their shot to the green. Beyond their obvious ability, they must be recognized as great value. How difficult that such a crucial shot, already at the end of the lap, demands such precision. The water seems huge and the green so small.
Another divine place is hole 16, with that always calm and dark lagoon. Then, almost at the same height is the treacherous green where so many tournaments have been defined … the day before, without going any further. It is impossible not to look towards the place from where Tiger Woods holed that chip that entered the hole with the last quarter of a return.
My walk up the 18th fairway, onto the raised green, was not applauded by anyone. Already on the green, it is impressive to stand in the place where almost always and every year, a Masters champion celebrates. Seeing him like this, like a tourist, he does not seem like the cruel executioner who every so often snatches joys. I glanced over to the left, where De Vicenzo must have hit his third shot on that green, after missing it. The flag, in the same place, witness of a bogey that embittered the return, before the misfortune … or luck.
On the return I bogeyed from hole 10 to hole 13. Par at 14. Bogey at 15 and another par at 16 (poor Schauffele …). A bogey at 17 and a silly double bogey at 18 to close out the second nine on 44 shots. Total: 91, which I think was fair, although as I said, just an anecdote on a day of glory.
The field from the members’ tee is not long, it has 6365 yards, 1000 yards less than from the Masters tees. The outputs of the par 4 and par 5 are wide in general and forgiving. The rough is benevolent and the forest is wide open, except in a few places. The problems begin with the shots to the green, either from the par 3 exits, or from the fairways. Whatever the distance, they are bewildering and easy to get into trouble. But once with the ball on the green, a demanding task, you are faced with the unknown. If the golfer’s life depended on playing a good first putt in Augusta, it would surely be a risky sport, more dangerous than mountaineering. At the top, like Everest or K2, I think there would be the green on hole 5. I would say that the greens are indecipherable on paper. Only intensive practice and many years can lead to a reasonable understanding. A genius Dr. MacKensie.
Lunch, just as we had ordered the day before, was waiting for us at our table on the terrace, under one of the many white and green umbrellas. We enjoyed it along with an extraordinary view.
Another duty of the day was to make a stop at the “members” pro shop. A charming place that occupies one of the houses near the Clubhouse. There I met Tony Sessa, the club’s professional, who happens to be married to an Argentine, Danila Fiore. Impossible not to take a couple of shirts and hats, memories for friends.
When I decided it was time to go I went back through the Clubhouse and out the door. A cart took me to my car, down “a long and winding road.” I loaded my bag into the trunk and walked very slowly back down the perfect asphalt that zigzagged between the flawless constructions on the left side and the incredible views of the par 3 court on the right. I took the last bend at the roundabout and went back down Magnolia Lane, in reverse. As we emerged again on Washington Road, it was already 6 in the afternoon. With an eight-hour hiatus, the world had returned to the same as it had been a couple of minutes before 10 a.m. on a bright Monday in April, just before we walked through the great gate and into Augusta National.